Blu-ray Review - Heartbreakers


"Heartbreakers" has every opportunity to become a flavorless collection of antics and quirks concerning the world of con artists and their elaborate schemes. And yet, under the direction of "Simpsons" vet David Mirkin (who also helmed the delightful "Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion"), the feature turns into a surprise. Sure, twists and turns await viewers, remaining true to the spirit of criminal misdirection, but "Heartbreakers" stuns with its robust sense of humor, never fearing a chance to sample silliness as it explores an extended sham. Lively atmosphere and a deep appreciation for the absurd keep the picture not only approachable, but downright hilarious at times. While excessive length takes the wind out of its sail in the third act, the movie remains a delight, offering wonderfully spirited lead performances from Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt. Read the rest at

Film Review - Misconduct


25 years ago, the pairing of Anthony Hopkins and Al Pacino would’ve guaranteed plump box office returns and film enthusiast concentration, finally bringing acting titans together to have an out-act-athon. In 2016, the thrill is gone, with both men currently scrambling to secure paycheck roles for reasons not entirely understood, willing to torch their legacies for a few extra dollars. While it’s difficult to judge such decision-making, it certainly easy to reject it, with “Misconduct” the latest in a long line of forgettable efforts from both Hopkins and Pacino, who sleepwalk through this dreary, nonsensical movie, professionally trading lines with co-stars as their eyes slowly glaze over. Read the rest at

Film Review - Pride and Prejudice and Zombies


“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” has an enormous amount of story to work though, and not a lot of time to do it. It’s an exposition festival peppered with visits from the undead, with nearly every scene packed with one character explaining the rules of this world to another, while the main titles are strictly devoted to a brisk education on the finer points of Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 cult novel. “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” is an exhausting picture, madly spinning plates to the best of its ability, but there are moments when the feature's outrageous premise finds inspired execution, or at least takes a minute or two out of its busy schedule to enjoy itself. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hail, Caesar!


Joel and Ethan Coen have been to Hollywood before. In 1991’s “Barton Fink,” they constructed a surreal vision of creative Hell, satirizing industry types with a dose of insanity. “Hail, Caesar!” doesn’t share the same interest in self-destruction, but it returns to a position of mischief for the legendary filmmakers, who use the moment to revive and ridicule the Old Hollywood way of business, with its blinding star power, big screen extravaganzas, and habitual troublemaking. While brightly crafted and more playful a picture than “Barton Fink,” “Hail, Caesar!” is missing customary Coen Brother snap. That’s not to suggest it isn’t wonderfully entertaining at times, but the production as a whole seems a little undercooked, perhaps too caught up in the rare opportunity to recreate a specific time in a turbulent business. Read the rest at

Film Review - Regression


What Alejandro Amenabar is looking to achieve with “Regression” and what ultimately ends up on screen are two different things. The director of “Open Your Eyes” and “The Others” returns to his chiller roots with his latest effort, which tries to marry traditional horror stings with a promising dissection of mass hysteria, attempting to bend formula into new and interesting directions. Amenabar doesn’t pull off the tonal experiment, but at least “Regression” strives to shake up expectations. It’s a frustrating sit at times, especially when it serves up the obvious, but there are kernels of invention scattered around the picture that keep it semi-involving, but overall storytelling satisfaction is never found. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Choice


“The Choice” is the 11th Nicholas Sparks novel to make the long journey to the big screen. At this point, it’s difficult to figure out what separates these productions beyond their stars, with the latest effort yet another foray into honeyed North Carolina coastal bliss, idealized romantic, and sudsy melodrama. Despite its comfortable predictability, “The Choice” comes across particularly inept, never paying attention to the toxic central relationship it’s selling and the weirdly dangerous moral it’s manufacturing. Sparks is never one to create gritty displays of human interaction, and the picture is eventually hobbled by its blind obedience to the author’s gooey formula. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Two for the Seesaw


Following up his triumph with the expansive, electric "West Side Story," director Robert Wise returns to intimacy with 1962's "Two for the Seesaw," which trades singing and dancing for the concerns of opposites gently working through their relationship issues. An adaptation of the William Gibson play, "Two for the Seesaw" feels like a cool-down for Wise, who brings some visual flourish and plenty of patience to the production, seemingly delighted to focus on the neuroses of only two characters. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Captive City


1952's "The Captive City" is a film noir that directly reflects its tumultuous production era, acting a response to Senator Estes Kefauver's participation in the United States Senate Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce, where the government went after the plague of organized crime. It's a rage against the (corrupt) machine movie, with star John Forsythe portraying a newspaper man discovering a criminal underworld in his own backyard, intent on exposing unlawful behavior while gradually becoming aware of its influence over everyone he interacts with. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Thundercrack!


The underground movie scene of the 1960s and '70s provided a Wild West experience for its participants. Free of studio control, often constructing pictures with hopes and dreams instead of money, the filmmakers were cleared to explore their imagination to the fullest, dissecting the world around them with bizarre creations steeped in provocative imagery and interpretational screenwriting. For some, pure insanity was the goal, with 1975's "Thundercrack!" a prime example of a feature that's primarily driven by curiosity and impulse, trying to disrupt expectation in every way imaginable. Directed by Curt McDowell and scripted by George Kuchar (who also appears in a supporting role), "Thundercrack!" is a wild viewing experience out to merge melodrama with hardcore pornography, leaving little to the imagination as feels around in the dark for a story to back up all the absurdity. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Last Horror Film


Obsession cinema hits the hotels and beaches of France in 1982's "The Last Horror Film," which boldly takes its inspiration from John Hinckley's 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, with the would-be killer hoping to impress actress Jodie Foster with his display of violence. It's a provocative starting point for co-writer/director David Winters, but it's not a plot he approaches with sincerity. Something of a goof, with a broad lead performance from actor Joe Spinell, "The Last Horror Film" is best appreciated as a travelogue for the 1981 Cannes Film Festival and as a showcase of style for actress Caroline Munro. Lowered expectations are perhaps best to approach the feature, which doesn't care much for suspense, far more interested in mild industry satire and pulled punches. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Knack...and How to Get It


After conquering pop culture with his vision for "A Hard Day's Night," essentially fanning the flames of Beatlemania via the all-powerful influence of the movies, director Richard Lester builds on his reputation for quirk and non-sequiturs with 1965's "The Knack…and How to Get It," which gifts viewers time with Swinging London during a particularly fertile period of style and sexuality. Lester doesn't miss a beat here, investing once again in the power of avant-garde filmmaking mixed with dry comedy. However, the game of love doesn't play to his strengths, with much of "The Knack" an exercise in visual experimentation, with Lester forgetting to add a little heart. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - How I Won the War


Adapting Patrick Ryan's satiric novel, "How I Won the War," for the big screen, screenwriter Charles Wood and director Richard Lester take on a considerable creative challenge, tasked with identifying horrors while poking fun at a never-ending cycle of misery. Overall, the feature fails to convey the details of psychological poisoning, but Lester-isms tend to define the viewing experience, watching the impish filmmaker struggle to find a balance between the slapstick he's known for and the severity of the story. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jane Got a Gun


It’s been a long, hard road to a theatrical release for “Jane Got a Gun.” Hit with contract disputes (original director Lynne Ramsay left the picture on its first day of shooting), casting woes, and distribution setbacks, it almost seemed like the movie was cursed, unable to establish momentum as multiple release dates was scheduled and abandoned. Heck, the original Parisian premiere of the feature was canceled in November due to terrorist attacks. And yet, “Jane Got a Gun” has survived, finally seeing the light of day. Perhaps greatness was never in the cards for the production, but it manages to stand on its own two feet, with a mournful atmosphere that’s nicely handled by the cast and crew, who try to make sense of an impossible creative situation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fifty Shades of Black


It’s fairly easy to lampoon “Fifty Shades of Grey.” The source material is already nearing parody due to its misguided amplification of sensuality, leaving co-writer/star Marlon Wayans with little heavy lifting when it comes to making fun of something that’s already culturally shamed. Of course, this doesn’t stop Wayans, who returns to his juvenile sense of humor with “Fifty Shades of Black,” taking on the E.L. James empire with a no-budget vision for pantsing that sticks close to bodily orifices and racial humor. It’s awful, but you already knew that. On the bright side, at least this isn’t “A Haunted House 3.” Just kidding. There’s no such thing as a bright side when dealing with a Marlon Wayans production. Read the rest at

Film Review - Kung Fu Panda 3


While the wait between the first two installments of the “Kung Fu Panda” series was a surprisingly tight three years, the road to “Kung Panda 3” has been a little longer, with the last screen adventure for hero Po released in 2011. That’s an eternity in pop culture freshness time, putting pressure on directors Jennifer Yuh and Alessandro Carloni to make sure the second sequel was worth the extended production time. Mercifully, “Kung Fu Panda 3” is a respectable continuation of the animated franchise, and while the story isn’t completely engrossing, character charms and creative visual design remain as beguiling as ever. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Finest Hours


“The Finest Hours” is a curious blend of a big-budget disaster movie and a modestly moving inspirational story of courage, politely refusing to commit to any single dramatic tone as it visits crashing waves and pained looks. It's an impressively mounted picture, favoring chaotic scenes of self-preservation as its details the horror of panicked men struggling to keep their ships under control and prevent loss of life as they face impossible odds of survival. And yet, as purely intentioned as it is, “The Finest Hours” isn't as emotionally charged as it would like to believe, gradually revealing an uncomfortable distance from the audience as ocean-based mayhem becomes a coldly realized visual effects display. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Veil


“The Veil” remains locked in a holding pattern between psychological horror and a ghost story, never prepared to take either extreme seriously. Yet another riff on the 1978 Jonestown Massacre, the picture isn’t particularly menacing, laboring to generate the claustrophobia of life inside a doomed cult without exploring its working parts to satisfaction. Director Phil Joanou is gifted a few provocative events in Robert Ben Garant’s screenplay, but the final edit generally strips the feature of intimidation, with cheap scares and lopsided storytelling diminishing attempts to introduce chills. “The Veil” has a certain way with menace, but it never follows through on the sinister business it introduces. Read the rest at

Film Review - Lazer Team


“Lazer Team” certainly has spunk, carrying on with extraordinary energy as it attempts to satirize and celebrate the superhero genre. That little of it actually translates to laughs is a disappointment, but the production definitely deserves points for trying. Submitting untested actors in a low-budget action extravaganza, “Lazer Team” tries to get by on noise, cranking up performances and visual effects, but aggression doesn’t encourage comedy, finding the effort gasping for focus as director Matt Hullum struggles to achieve an overall balance of mischief and mayhem. The picture is never quiet for long, which might be enough to please its intended audience, but as long-form parodies go, “Lazer Team” isn’t particularly sharp. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Downton Abbey: Season 6


It's difficult to imagine a pop culture world without "Downton Abbey," but its sixth season represents the final year of life with the Crawleys and their persistent trends of disaster and glory. The times are a-changin' for creator Julian Fellowes as well, tasked with creating an extended cool down for a series that's prided itself on exquisite melodrama, organizing closure for an enormous community of characters. "Season Six" doesn't live up a level of engagement found in previous years, but as "Downton Abbey" goes, Fellowes and Company do a fine job with finality, using nine episodes to explore heart and hatred, tea and contempt; pulling off the familiar while adding a few new twists to spice up the viewing experience. Read the rest at