Film Review - Southbound


While anthology films are all the rage these days, “Southbound” attempts to smooth out the inherently episodic nature of the subgenre by connecting, albeit loosely, the grim stories it’s out to tell. The extra attention to continuity is refreshing, giving the production a boost in pacing and overall connectivity, allowing its dark interests a little more room the breathe. “Southbound” is a nifty horror production, showing imagination with surprises and intensity, and it retains a cinematic mood, drenching the feature in synth and violent escalation to make sure each of the chapters has a fighting chance to disturb the viewer. Read the rest at

Film Review - Cabin Fever (2016)


2003’s “Cabin Fever” wasn’t a hit, but the micro-budgeted picture was profitable, urging distributor Lions Gate to figure out a way to milk the brand name without putting in much effort. There was a sequel, 2009’s “Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever” (a film director Ti West has disowned), and a prequel, 2014’s “Cabin Fever: Patient Zero,” with neither production managing to catch much attention. To reignite the franchise, a remake has been brought forward by original creator Eli Roth, who passes directorial control to Travis Z, tasked with using Roth and Randy Pearlstein’s original script to fuel a new round of flesh-eating horrors. Instead of reimagining “Cabin Fever” for a new audience, it’s simply been recycled, offering the same strained stupidity for a new generation of genre fans. Read the rest at

Film Review - Deadpool


As the big guys and gals of superhero legend slowly wind down their cinematic reign, more obscure characters are now being tested for multiplex domination. “Deadpool,” which, according the film, takes place in the “X-Men” universe, is perhaps the most daring comic book adaptation yet, with the red-suited antihero a troubling figure of cynicism, sarcasm, and murder, with his journey very different from the troubled but noble titans audiences are used to. Instead of soberly working through yet another origin story, “Deadpool” looks to spice up the norm with a freewheeling sense of humor and loads of R-rated mischief, separating itself from the pack. And it’s a successful experiment, jazzing up the genre with a blast of unexpected energy from an unlikely source. Read the rest at

Film Review - Zoolander 2


After taking a detour to make a meditative adventure with 2013’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” Ben Stiller is back in the business of being crazy with “Zoolander 2,” his long-awaited sequel to the 2001 hit. Stiller’s always at his best when hip-deep in mischief and slapstick, and while the freshness of the premise is lacking, the sequel’s preference for the absurd is divine, offering a nutso continuation that lives up to the brand name while finding new areas of fashion and media to lampoon. “Zoolander 2” not only satisfies, it explodes with a level of craziness that plays to Stiller’s strengths, making sure to leave the audience with a little more than just rehashed bits. Read the rest at

Film Review - We Are Twisted F***ing Sister


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When the band Twisted Sister comes up in casual conversation (I swear this happens), the first image that usually comes to mind is the cover of the “Stay Hungry” album, which features singer Dee Snider crouched on the floor of an abandoned house, clutching a giant leg of undefined meat while snarling at the camera. It’s the ideal introduction to the group’s legacy, and the entry point for a large number of fans in the 1980s, helping to launch “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock” as indefatigable hair metal anthems. And that’s the story most people know. “We Are Twisted F***ing Sister” takes viewers back to the beginnings of the group, with director Andrew Horn meticulously tracking every step of the group’s history, highlighting their unique tale of persistence, survival, and periodic dalliances with bad luck. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bad Hurt


There’s no doubt that “Bad Hurt” is a difficult film to watch, especially as a claustrophobic study of a blue-collar family in the throes of disintegration, filled with enough heartache and tragedy to fill five movies. Miraculously, co-writer/director Mark Kemble discovers a type of beauty in the midst of uneasiness, focusing on the numbing mechanics of routine, the power of myth, and the struggle of love. “Bad Hurt” is powerful work, superbly acted and surprising along the way. Although it makes sure to sand down a few of its rough edges in the end, the material remains startlingly sincere, leading with secure, profound characterizations and a sensational understanding of toxic environments. Read the rest at

Film Review - Standoff


As B-movie productions go, “Standoff” doesn’t try to be anything more than an intimate showdown between tough guys. It primarily takes place inside a single house, and relies on extended dialogue exchanges to shape most of its story. While other helmers fail to bring to bring their productions to a boil, writer/director Adam Alleca does a fine job with “Standoff,” beating predictability with two strong performances from Thomas Jane and Laurence Fishburne, who breathe life into the feature’s limited scope. Perhaps there’s not much to the effort, but suspense needs are met, while the screenplay preserves a few surprises along the way. Read the rest at

Film Review - How to Be Single


“How to Be Single” arrives in the guise of a female empowerment picture, where the lead characters are tough, independent women who don’t require the comfort of men to enjoy the revelry and adventures of life. At least that’s the idea of the movie for about five minutes, then it’s back to relationship woes and dating scene perils, quickly becoming the very thing it was condemning for a brief, obnoxious moment. A confusing effort from director Christian Ditter, “How to Be Single” at least enjoys pretending to be thematically and emotionally substantial, but the actual feature is a jumble of plots and characters, with no clear way to communicate the state of the sisterhood union. Read the rest at

Film Review - Where to Invade Next?


Michael Moore took a little break from filmmaking after his last effort, 2009’s “Capitalism: A Love Story,” failed to live up to box office expectations set by previous pictures such as “Bowling for Columbine” and “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Moore’s a little out of practice, but he’s lost none of his passion for the docutainment subgenre, returning to theaters with “Where to Invade Next?”, a mostly lighthearted expedition around the globe to collect examples of functional government and social systems that could be transferred to the United States, with Moore our guide into foreign lands working to benefit the greater good. Once again, America and its increasing ills is the helmer’s subject, only for this round of satire and sermonizing, Moore forgets how to juggle his examples, creating an uneven spanking machine that’s only periodically enlightening. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words


A Swedish actress with dreams of following her vocation to stardom, Ingrid Bergman managed to enchant a worldwide audience during her time in front of a camera, with classics such as “Casablanca,” “Spellbound,” and “The Bells of St. Mary” helping to solidify her status as an industry icon. However, after a charging through a career during her twenties and thirties, Bergman relaxed her desire to act, becoming a mystery to many as she relocated around the globe and enjoyed the comfort of several husbands. “Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words” is director Stig Bjorkman’s attempt to demystify the woman who brought special emotional power to the screen, using access to home movies, diaries, letters, and offspring to shape Bergman’s personality in a way that might surprise even longtime fans. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Mercy Street


In its quest to find a suitable replacement for "Downton Abbey," PBS turns to the Civil War for inspiration, with its wealth of class and combat-based conflict providing ample dramatics to fuel a limited series. Created by Lisa Wolfinger and David Zabel, "Mercy Street" is primed for grittiness, observing medical chaos and battlefield woes during the devastating conflict, setting the series in Alexandria during a transition period of power between the Union and Confederate armies. However, subtle antagonisms aren't encouraged here, with the production team going the soap opera route, encouraging heaving chests and wild-eyed close-ups, leaning more towards "Gone with the Wind" than a Ken Burns documentary. While the show only lasts for six episodes, it remains a struggle to work through the tepid conflicts contained within "Mercy Street," which seems allergic to any scene of authentic emotion, caught trying put on an opera with material that's best served as soberly and respectfully as possible. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The End


Suicide is an impossible topic for a movie to explore, especially one that's hoping to trigger a few smiles along the journey. Many films have tried to include such self-inflicted violence, but the act provides a tonal tightrope walk few are able to master. Perhaps the lone example of success is Wes Anderson's "The Royal Tenenbaums," which explores the sinking feeling of desperation felt by one of the main characters as he slits his wrists, and somehow the production manages to rebound from such horror to reach even greater comedic heights. A long form test of mood is undertaken by 1978's "The End," where Burt Reynolds (who also directs) portrays a terminally ill man who wants to end it all before medical suffering begins. And it's played for laughs. Thankfully, Reynolds brings his rascally wit and love of exaggeration to "The End," trying to create silly but life-affirming story about a man's darkest hour, bringing in a lively supporting cast to help him achieve jocularity instead of extended anguish. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Almost an Angel


Australian comedian Paul Hogan has enjoyed a lengthy career, entertaining audiences for over 40 years. However, he will forever be known for his work on "Crocodile Dundee," the 1986 blockbuster that turned him into an international star, known everywhere for his easy charms, twisty slang, and deep tan. Finding gargantuan big screen success with "Dundee" and its 1988 sequel, Hogan was challenged to find a follow-up that might allow a softer, more human side of a personality to shine, away from the Outback and considerably large knives. 1990's "Almost an Angel" was intended to be a slight change of pace for Hogan, scripting himself a more peaceful role of a crook urged by heavenly forces to become a heavenly hero. However, it's not easy to pull the star out of his comfort zone, with "Almost an Angel" a ridiculously mild affair that's supported entirely by Hogan's easygoing sense of humor. Trying to play it cool, the production slips into a coma instead, barely fighting mundane plotting as Hogan does what comes naturally. Read the rest at

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