Blu-ray Review - More American Graffiti


1973's "American Graffiti" is a masterpiece. While writer/director George Lucas would go on to become a filmmaking legend with "Star Wars," his second film is just as enchanting, detailing a special night, the last of adolescence for a group of teenagers, in 1962. It's an evocative, charming, painfully relatable endeavor that showcased Lucas's skills with performance and atmosphere, pouring his heart into a semi-autobiographical picture that was boosted by a killer soundtrack and gauzy, engaging cinematography. "American Graffiti" ended with a sobering epilogue revealing the fates of the participants, but the movie was a smash hit, and with "Star Wars" securing its position as one of the most famous features of all time, Lucas elected to return to the creamy nostalgia of his earlier success, concocting "More American Graffiti" in 1979 with writer/director Bill L. Norton, looking to create the next logical step for characters experiencing the pure potential of tomorrow in the comfort of their hometown: complete disillusionment. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Late Great Planet Earth


Perhaps it's difficult to imagine a world without the internet connecting lives and creating immediacy, but for the 1970s, a non-wired world permitted many to make their move, cashing in with wild claims of apocalyptic fury to frighten those without the instant ability to research and rebuke such grim claims. Author Hal Lindsey struck gold with his 1970 book, "The Late Great Planet Earth," which merged biblical interpretation with end of the world fears. Lindsey tried to match up details from the Book of Revelations with modern political and environmental events, creating his "evidence" that something major was brewing on the horizon, suggesting the path was being paved for God's return to mankind. It was a hit book, beguiling readers with examples of current woes matching ancient dreams, and with all the money being made, there was no way Lindsey's work was going to skip a cinematic adaptation.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Jericho Mile


The Michael Mann we know today is a beloved craftsman of sleek, violent tales of masculinity and world disorder. His reputation is monolithic, amassing a passionate fanbase that's been willing to forgive his recent career missteps. It's hard to image a helming legacy that's grown into event movie status started off so small, but 1979's "The Jericho Mile" is the first feature-length endeavor from Mann, who made his debut with a modest but potent television movie that was created for ABC, but often plays like something prepared for PBS. Early obsessions with imprisonment and boiling points are present here, but Mann is working on a much smaller scale, confined to a single prison location, challenging him to get into the heads of his characters, using such intensity of thought to propel the effort, keeping a film about running as claustrophobic as possible for network television. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - The Pink Panther Cartoon Collection: Volume 2


Last January, Kino Lorber released "The Pink Panther Cartoon Collection: Volume 1 (1964-1966), which explored the debut of the titular character, showcasing how he was developed and his antics refined by the creative forces at Depatie-Freleng. In "Volume 2 (1966-1968)," focus remains on the Pink Panther and his extreme habit of pursuing trouble whenever he can find it. While Depatie-Freleng (and director Hawley Pratt) mostly stay true to the proven animated formula of bop-bang-boom cartoonery, this round of "Pink Panther" shorts takes some time to swim around in the warm waters of the counterculture, with a few selections trying out psychedelic visuals and stories that concern the Pink Panther battling the limits of reality, giving the mischievous cat a few acid trips to go with his daily diet of destruction and easily triggered irritability. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween


2015’s “Goosebumps” didn’t exactly light up the box office, but it did the right kind of business for the spooky season, managing to entice families into the multiplex during October, which is a month normally reserved for more adult escapism. The film brought the world of author R.L. Stine to the screen, cheekily inserting the writer into his own adventure, delivering a self-referential romp with horror elements that took its time to get going, but once it did, highlights arrived, primarily due to the acting effort from Jack Black, who played Stine. Black is absent (at least in physical form) for much of “Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween,” which remains in the YA chiller universe, but moves on to new characters and a challenge of monster-busting that isn’t anything special, but it’s not difficult to digest either. Read the rest at

Film Review - First Man


It’s a credit to director Damien Chazelle’s creative drive that he decided to tackle “First Man” as his follow-up to 2016’s “La La Land,” which not only did excellent business, it brought him Oscar gold, reaching career heights with only his third movie. Instead of trying to milk the success with a knock-off, Chazelle heads the moon and back with this Neil Armstrong bio-pic, forcing the helmer to turn away from syrupy sentimentality and cinematic wonders and focus on the steely procedure that sent Neil into space. It’s an epic story told with as much breath-on-glass intimacy as possible, with Chazelle and star Ryan Gosling striving to respect the accomplishment, but also detail the ferocious inner drive of the astronaut. “First Man” is intense, with visceral highs and emotional lows, and it pushes the helmer out of his comfort zone, resulting the best feature he’s made to date. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Old Man & the Gun


As it has been often reported over the last year, “The Old Man & the Gun” has been marked as the final acting gig for star Robert Redford, who’s trying to find an elegant way out of his incredible career, at least for now. There’s really not a better role to retire on than this, with Redford required to use most of his charm to bring the picture to life, doing so with remarkable effortlessness. It helps that Redford has a fan in writer/director David Lowery, who does his best to make sure the actor is backed up with a quality feature, and one that shows off a lighter side to the helmer, who was last seen plumbing the depths of ennui with 2017’s “A Ghost Story.” “The Old Man & the Gun” stays with a slower rhythm of mischief, but it handles well, with Lowery paying homage to the cinema of his youth with the star of many of those movies. Read the rest at

Film Review - Private Life


Tamara Jenkins is a filmmaker, but she doesn’t work with any sort of regularity. I’m sure there’s a story there that either details industry ugliness or personal detachment, but when she finally does manage to put a project together, it’s usually quality work. In the last two decades, she’s made three movies, including 1998’s “The Slums of Beverly Hills” and 2007’s “Savages,” and now she returns with “Private Life,” providing another reminder that she’s a thoughtful helmer who should really be out there more often. Embarking on another story of startling intimacy, Jenkins turns her attention to the trials of conception, examining the process of fertilization as its endured by an older couple struggling to have a baby of their own. It feels autobiographical but it plays solidly dramatic, with Jenkins keeping her sense of humor and honesty when taking on a medical journey that has the capacity to decimate the human spirit.  Read the rest at

Film Review - 22 July

22 JULY 1

12 years ago, director Paul Greengrass made a potentially disastrous creative decision by trying to dramatize the events of United Airlines Flight 93, only five years after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Dealing with wounds that will never heal, Greengrass put his faith in the power of cinema, using evidence and interviews to deliver a searing understanding of fear and courage, remaining very careful with the experience of lives lost. “United 93” was one of the best films of 2006, and its creative concentration supports the very existence of “22 July,” which recreates the 2011 Norway terrorist attacks that took 77 lives. It’s not that this story needed to be brought to the screen, but Greengrass is the right helmer for the job, showing caution with the thin-ice viewing event, hoping to shed light on issues in Europe by transforming headline news into an achingly personal story of grief and survival.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Sadie


Writer/director Megan Griffiths has made a handful of movies during her career, with a few of them failing to inspire much confidence in her helming abilities. Stumbling through “Eden” and “Lucky Them,” Griffiths tried to make intimate films about personal issues, but phoniness was difficult to shake, coupled with a few troubling casting choices. The planets align for Griffith in “Sadie,” which has the benefit of a disturbing premise sold without much distracting exploitation, keeping to a low rumble of dysfunction and manipulation, permitting some behavioral authenticity to come through as intended. There’s a “Bad Seed” element to the tale that’s enticing, but Griffiths doesn’t go wild with thriller interests, electing to preserve a natural development of disillusionment to entice emotional involvement before strangeness starts to creep in.  Read the rest at

Film Review - All Square


From marketing efforts to screenplay nods, there’s a lot in “All Square” that’s meant to evoke the vibe of the 1976 classic, “The Bad News Bears.” Screenwriter Timothy Brady isn’t shy about his fandom, working to update the concept for a modern age, merging the innocence of Little League and the corruption of the adults in charge of raising the players. Despite some similarities, Brady generally pushes to do his own thing with the material, going darker with guardian motivations, while the kids are mostly pawns in a dangerous game of sports betting. “All Square” doesn’t succeed on the humor front, it’s a bit too oppressive to trigger laughs, but Brady offers a character study that’s textured, giving viewers a feel for life lived beneath a hardened exterior.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Stella's Last Weekend


The big draw of “Stella’s Last Weekend” is the reunion of siblings Nat and Alex Wolff, who’ve come together to act for their mother, Polly Draper, who wrote the picture for her children. Eleven years ago, they were a family on the uncomfortably titled Nickelodeon program, “The Naked Brothers Band,” and now the Wolff boys have gone their separate ways, with Nat making his way through independent productions, while Alex scored a hit with last summer’s “Hereditary.” Draper doesn’t have much for her stars to do in “Stella’s Last Weekend,” which provides only a loose narrative to keep itself on course, while most of the feature is filled with brotherly riffing and wishy-washy behavior. It’s not a sharpened drama, though it may appeal to those simply here to enjoy the view, watching Nat and Alex manage a meandering story as Draper tries to conjure a reflective mood, putting her faith in the moment, not an entire story.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Better Start Running


“Better Start Running” is trying to be a road movie, and one that’s populated with damaged people hoping to escape their lives for various reasons. It carries the illusion of a mild ride of shenanigans, with characters on a mission to cross the country, stopping at roadside attractions and getting to know one another. The screenplay by Chad Faust and Annie Burgstede gives off the impression that it was really supposed to be about something, with bits and pieces of real-world trauma detected in the fog of formula that blocks out the sun in this surprisingly joyless dramedy. Director Brett Simon visibly struggles throughout “Better Start Running,” always hesitant to give the feature a defined arc of emotional enlightenment, preferring to make a meandering, almost incomplete picture instead.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Night of the Lepus


1972's "Night of the Lepus" is best described as the "Killer Rabbit Movie," and that's pretty much the viewing experience director William F. Claxton provides. While based on a novel by Russell Braddon, the picture generally goes its own way with an animal attack premise, playing into ecological fears and cinematic history by pitting runaway rabbits against a small town of understandably panicked people. "Night of the Lepus" isn't refined entertainment, and once it sets up the central crisis, drama fades away, with Claxton clearing the way for lengthy rampage sequences that utilize crude special effects and bizarre creative choices, watching the production work to make rabbits the most fearsome villains of the film year. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - On the Beach at Night Alone


Sang-soo Hong is a celebrated and prolific South Korean filmmaker, creator of pictures such as "The Day He Arrives" and "Right Now, Wrong Then." For South Korean audiences and international film enthusiasts, Hong is a fixture of tabloid journalism, having embarked on an affair with frequent collaborator Min-hee Kim, finding love with the actress while still married to his wife. The situation has fueled headlines, and now finds a place in Hong's work, with "On the Beach at Night Alone" an insular, confessional look at the touchy situation, with Hong analyzing his life choices with help from Kim, who claims the lead role. It's couple's therapy in a way, but "On the Beach at Night Alone" doesn't become a joint effort, finding Hong focusing on Kim's journey through the wilds of regret, loneliness, and longing, speaking for the situation, not herself.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Body of Evidence


The influence of European cinema crept into Hollywood during the 1980s, emerging in the form of the erotic thriller, which blended harsher elements of violence with softer bedroom appetites, giving audiences a sampling of chills and titillation. A good portion of these productions were built for the burgeoning VHS rental market and late night cable programming, giving viewers a chance to enjoy the product without the discomfort of sitting in a theater with strangers. Theatrical forays were rare, but they managed to burst forth on occasion, and certainly 1992's "Basic Instinct" turned the subgenre into a potential gold mine, giving producers the foolhardy idea that they could replicate Paul Verhoeven's specialized, Euro-stained madness. While 1993's "Body of Evidence" isn't a direct response to "Basic Instinct," it certainly aspires to find the same audience, offering its own take on murder, kink, and suspicion with decidedly lower voltage. While helmer Uli Edel is no stranger to the ways of lustful behavior, previously guiding 1989's "Last Exit to Brooklyn," his vision isn't as distinct for this studio assignment, unable to rise above the crummy raw materials he's been handed and transform painful mediocrity into riveting cinema.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Under Capricorn


While a master of filmmaking, one of the all-time greats of the form, Alfred Hitchcock wasn't immune to a few failures during his reign. 1949's "Under Capricorn" arrived a year after his imaginative dramatic construction on "Rope," working to sustain such extended theatricality for a costume drama, and one that's largely missing conflict and certainly lacking pace. Hitchcock tries to find his way around the picture, delivering all the craft he can muster, only to find the general lethargy of the material smothering style at every turn. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Venom


Just over a decade ago, Sony attempted to do something with the character of Venom, adding the wily symbiote to an already overstuffed “Spider-Man 3,” assigning Topher Grace the challenge of bringing a vicious alien organism to life. It didn’t work, but there’s a distinct never say die attitude in the world of comic book movies, and Venom is much too bizarre a creation to pass up for good. The hulking black beast with Cadbury Creme Egg eyes and a Gene Simmons tongue has returned in “Venom,” finding a much more committed actor in Tom Hardy to portray the duality of man and symbiote. The picture is not without its problems, offering one of the weaker third acts in recent memory, but director Reuben Fleischer captures a particular spirit with “Venom,” which is violent and silly, juvenile and demented, summoning a compelling mess of personalities and property destruction. It doesn’t have the epic stance of its superhero competition, but the feature does just fine existing in its own world of impish behavior and premiere Hardy freak-outs. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Heavy Trip


The guys in the Scandinavian comedy “Heavy Trip” aren’t just a heavy metal band, they play “symphonic, post-apocalyptic, reindeer-grinding, Christ-abusing, extreme war pagan, Fennoscandian metal.” It’s the level of specificity that that makes the feature a complete blast, with screenwriters Jukka Vidgren, Jari Olavi Rantala, Aleksi Puranen, and Juuso Laatio (who co-directs with Vidgren) making it a point to pick up on idiosyncrasy whenever they can, braiding oddity and cartoony antics effortlessly. “Heavy Trip” is hilarious and a valentine to the primal release of black metal, but the filmmaking presented here takes special care of character and situation, keeping to classic comedy rhythms while going very particular with musical interests and cultural immersion, ending up with a wonderfully unique endeavor.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Hal


When one considers the kings of cinema from the 1970s, there’s plenty of information out there to explore their creative viewpoints, personality disorders, and career ups and downs. We’re talking Scorsese, Friedkin, Coppola, and Altman, and even more mainstream masters like Lucas and Spielberg. But Hal Ashby? The man’s an enigma, even with books about his life on store shelves. He’s the one with perhaps the greatest run of iconic features, and there’s really no sense of the man who pushed those pictures through production. Director Amy Scott is hoping to change that perception with “Hal,” her cinematic journey through the life and times of Ashby. Scott comes armed with interview audio and correspondences, ready to deliver a portrait of the helmer that’s never really been seen, especially in recent years. With “Hal,” Scott captures the essence of the artist, creating an active, enlightening documentary in the process.  Read the rest at