Blu-ray Review - The Skull


Keeping their standing as titans of the horror genre, stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee move from Hammer Films to Amicus Productions for 1965's "The Skull," which keeps the actors busy with a different type of threat emerging from the haunted skull of the Marquis de Sade. Adapted from a short story by "Psycho" author Robert Bloch and directed by Freddie Francis, "The Skull" has the benefit of being just weird enough to work, exploring the limits of sanity and the perils of antique dealing, experiencing evil through a strange vessel of paranormal influence. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Fire at Sea


"Fire at Sea" takes a look at the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean Sea, but approaches the topic with a sense of distance at first, holding back on horrors as the documentary acclimates to the Italian island of Lampedusa, the setting for this story. It's the latest work from director Gianfranco Rosi and an often powerful presentation of extremes, contrasting the daily activities of locals and the waking nightmare occurring out on the waters, where migrants from Africa and the Middle East approach on ramshackle boats often filled with a sick and the dead. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Certain Fury


The theatrical trailer for 1985's "Certain Fury" is quick to remind viewers that the film stars two Academy Award winners, clawing for any morsel of dignity it can find to build the feature up as something more respectable than it actually is. It's true, Irene Cara (who collected an Oscar in 1984 for Best Original Song) and Tatum O'Neal (who brought home a little gold man in 1974 at the age of ten for her supporting turn in "Paper Moon") have reached the pinnacle of peer reward in Hollywood, but they're not exactly two forces of thespian power. "Certain Fury" is an exercise in B-moviemaking from director Stephen Gyllenhaal (father to Jake and Maggie), who makes his helming debut here, tasked with butching up Cara and O'Neal for a chase picture that resembles "The Defiant Ones," but mostly plays out like a television show from the mid-1980s, likely airing after "The A-Team." Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Man Who Could Cheat Death


Weird science is discussed at length in 1959's "The Man Who Could Cheat Death," which adapts a stage play for the screen, hoping a little oddity with a "The Picture of Dorian Gray"-style premise might be enough to satisfy horror fans. Frights aren't important to director Terence Fisher, and while he tries to summon a spooky mood of strange events and medical urgency, he can't avoid the reality that this is one talky endeavor. "The Man Who Could Cheat Death" isn't a whiff for Hammer Films, but it's far from their most suspenseful effort. Read the rest at

Film Review - Everything, Everything


While there’s an extensive history of teen-centric tearjerkers conquering the box office, the raging success of 2014’s “The Fault in Our Stars” has revived the art of tender manipulation, paving the way for “Everything, Everything,” which plays a similar game of grave illness and romantic liberation shared by young characters. An adaptation of a 2015 novel by Nicola Yoon, the picture doesn’t have the severity of “The Fault in Our Stars,” electing more of a grounded, tech-minded understanding of modern love, keeping its dramatic aspirations in check, investing in character as it explores an impossible connection between two lonely people. While pieces seem to be missing from the narrative, director Stella Meghie knows what she’s doing with “Everything, Everything,” creating a visual language for the feature that merges fantasy and reality without bumpy points of entry. Read the rest at

Film Review - Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul


Originally a series of YA books from author Jeff Kinney, the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” brand name found its way to the big screen in 2010, introduced with an uneven, unappealing adaptation that basically confirmed Kinney’s world was better suited for the page, where its cartoon shenanigans could be left to the imagination. Two terrible sequels followed (the last released in 2012), each met with flat box office returns and overall audience indifference. However, profits were made, inspiring Hollywood to try again, reawakening the saga of Greg and his hapless family for “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul,” which completely recasts and refocuses the franchise, though co-writer/director Dave Bowers (who helmed the last two movies) returns, hellbent on proving his unpleasant comedic vision for this feature, ending up with the worst “Wimpy Kid” sequel yet. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Quiet Passion


If there’s one person capable of bringing the life and times of poet Emily Dickinson to the screen, it’s Terence Davies. The director of “The House of Mirth,” “Sunset Song,” and “The Deep Blue Sea,” Davies has focused his career on artful pursuits, fascinated by social showdowns and private desires, all the while developing helming interests that lean toward the painterly, making beautiful pictures that value cinematic art. “A Quiet Passion” isn’t a traditional bio-pic of Emily, missing many years and life-changing movements. Instead, it remains tight on its subject, keeping poetic purging constant, but also setting out to grasp artistic drive, which is often motivated by an unquenchable thirst to be understood. Davies finds the edges of Emily’s life, but he’s primarily motivated by mood, keeping viewers immersed in the moment as the poet hones her talent and begins to share it with outsiders. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Survivalist


“The Survivalist” isn’t made to comfort its audience. It’s punishment from writer/director Stephen Fingleton, who’s determined to communicate the horrifying end of civilization with this survival chiller, which depicts savagery, betrayal, and sacrifice with a disturbing matter-of-fact tone. It works because it’s meant to be frightening, understanding an all-too-real possibility of global breakdown, but it remains intimate, focusing on the plight of three characters locked in an uneasy situation of trust, dealing with their own issues while threats from the outside world creep into view. “The Survivalist” is harrowing and savage, and Fingleton is largely successful with his tonal and visceral goals, only periodically allowing the ugliness of this story to reach beyond its grasp. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Compulsion


1959's "Compulsion" goes out of its way to avoid naming Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb as its inspiration for a tale of murder and intellectualism, but this adaptation of Meyer Levin book dramatizes most details from the heinous crime committed by the frightfully rational duo. It's a story that was already worked over in Alfred Hitchcock's "Rope," but "Compulsion" has a more direct link to the Leopold and Loeb case, with director Richard Fleischer going the "Law and Order" route as the details of a crime are examined in full before the tale turns into a courtroom showdown where punishment is debated, not innocence. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - 23 Paces to Baker Street


1956's "23 Paces to Baker Street" has often been compared to Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window," and the similarities are there, studying the increasing agitation of a murder witness who can't convince the world of his valid observations, soon embarking on his own investigation to help avoid a future disaster. Director Henry Hathaway does a passable job with mild escalation and characterization, but he's no Hitchcock, and "23 Paces to Baker Street" often struggles to sustain a rhythm of suspense that takes it from discovery to payoff with engaging speed. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Teen Witch


The "Teen Witch" that exists today is a major cult film, beloved by a certain audience raised on the movie through cable and VHS repetition, bending to the effort's strange magic through extensive study of its earnest details. The picture wasn't always appreciated like that, with its 1989 theatrical release disastrous, offered to audiences unwilling to accept the endeavor's eye-crossing mixture of musical numbers, teen anxiety, and dark arts, making it more of a fit for sleepover party analysis and lazy afternoon viewings. It's difficult to peel the reputation of "Teen Witch" away from its actual creative accomplishments, but director Dorian Walker provides something familiar that's appealing to those hungering for a surprisingly pure shot of sincerity, keeping the picture cheeky and bizarre, but also universal with its themes of social acceptance and displays of fantasy power. It's not impossible to comprehend why the feature is so popular these days, it's just more difficult to digest some of effort's broader scenes of personal expression and romantic intent. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Being 17


Love and desire hit normal adolescent roadblocks in "Being 17," the latest from co-writer/director Andre Techine ("Thieves," "Wild Reeds"). The 73-year-old helmer is an unlikely source for adolescent woes, but Techine taps into something very personal and primal with the picture, which attacks displays of universal dysfunction with raw passion, gifting the feature real spirit as it inspects teenagers and their personal battles. "Being 17" isn't the sharpest work from Techine -- it actually doesn't even have an ending. What the director gets absolutely right here are those abyssal feelings and paralyzing concerns that touch everyone's life, treating arcs of attraction and friendship with the concentration and realism they deserve. Read the rest at

Film Review - Alien: Covenant


In 2012’s “Prometheus,” director Ridley Scott’s was looking to take the “Alien” franchise in a whole new direction, moving past xenomorph mayhem to reach the very nature of existence, challenging ideas of gods and monsters with a promising concept that allowed very little time for Ripley-esque survival games. It was met with critical indifference and audience derision. “Alien: Covenant” isn’t interested in making the same mistakes, and while it’s a sequel to “Prometheus,” it mostly severs what little existential ambition remained at the end of a wildly disappointing movie. Scott would rather remake “Alien” than answer many of the questions left behind five years ago, using “Covenant” to recycle the same old cat and mouse game with a fresh assortment of blue-collar space workers. Scott is seriously spinning his wheels here, and what’s worse, he seems to be proud of all this inanity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Snatched


In 2015, comedian Amy Schumer made a strong impression with her starring debut, “Trainwreck.” Under director Judd Apatow, Schumer managed to be hilarious and heartbreaking, displaying impressive range in what ended up being one of the top performances of the year. For her follow-up, Schumer stays with the silly business in “Snatched,” a kidnapping/survival comedy that’s rarely consistent, but periodically hilarious. It’s Schumer’s attempt at a buddy comedy, and one where she’s wisely paired up with Goldie Hawn, famously coming out of semi-retirement (her last acting gig was 2002’s “The Banger Sisters”) to join Schumer, creating warm, amusing chemistry, helping “Snatched” crawl out of the tonal whoppers and dead spots it occasionally finds itself in. Read the rest at

Film Review - King Arthur: Legend of the Sword


After scoring two massive hits with the popular and surprisingly sly “Sherlock Holmes” series, which effectively refreshed a stuffy literary world with some clenched-fist energy and funky comedy, director Guy Ritchie attempted to bring the same firepower to another aged property, 2015’s “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” Lightning didn’t strike a third time, with woeful miscastings and lethargic timing hindering what should’ve been a jaunty spy game with distinct period style. Weirdly avoiding a third “Sherlock Holmes,” Ritchie now turns his attention to Arthurian legend, hired to jazz up material that’s been revived repeatedly for screens big and small, with each production striving to be the hot take on round tables and swords in stone. Cruelly, Ritchie remains in “U.N.C.L.E.” mode with “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword,” which takes the wilds of magic and action and transforms it all into a disappointing lump of a movie, but one that Ritchie does his damndest to keep alive with every trick he’s capable of producing. Read the rest at

Film Review - One Week and a Day


“One Week and a Day” is about parents going through the grieving process after losing a child, but its first image is one of household sport, watching the father battle opponents on the family ping pong table. It’s the first of many surprising directions for the story, which offers a more grounded, authentically human take on personal loss. The Israeli picture marks the feature-length directorial debut for writer Asaph Polonsky, who captures realistic response to an impossible situation of mourning, locating the comedy, fear, and frustration of life in motion. “One Week and a Day” contains moments of expected heartache, but its primary mission is to follow particularly scrambled characters for an eventful afternoon, studying the confusion of this aching new reality. Read the rest at

Film Review - Take Me


Actor Pat Healy has been involved in a few very uncomfortable films, playing unsettled types in “Compliance” and “Cheap Thrills.” For his latest directorial effort, Healy collects every darkly comedic trick he’s picked up while working in front of the camera, joining screenwriter Mike Makowsky for a twisted romp that examines escalations in violence and fetishism, making “Take Me” a decidedly weird and often surprising viewing experience. The production doesn’t always sustain momentum, but Healy manages his opening and closing to satisfaction, while leaving plenty of room for himself and co-star Taylor Schilling to communicate a specialized situation of mutual antagonism, making excellent scene partners as the oddity of the movie ebbs and flows, sometimes spilling over in the best ways. Read the rest at

Film Review - Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie


Comedian Jeff Garlin is an acquired taste, with his pinched voice, casual delivery, and fondness for the uncomfortable moments in life fueling successful careers in stand-up comedy and television, appearing on the popular HBO program, “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Along the way, Garlin has attempted feature film direction, helming “I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With” and the improvised comedy, “Dealing with Idiots.” Both were highly amusing efforts that showcased Garlin’s comfort with actors and stillness, trying to find the funny in awkward encounters and everyday frustrations. Taking a slight detour into genre moviemaking, Garlin mounts “Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie,” a strange whodunit that adds to his cinematic interests in weird wit, once again turning to a talented cast to make magic in a relatively calm, but silly, manner. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Wall


When one considers the filmography of director Doug Liman, a certain adrenaline level comes to mind. He’s a helmer who embraces the visceral possibilities of cinema, drawn to stories that emphasize physical peril and group mayhem, and he’s quite good at making a sweat-drenched mess. Think about efforts such as “The Bourne Identity,” “Edge of Tomorrow,” and “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” which all shared delirious peaks of bold action, mixing raw energy with precise chorography. “The Wall” brings Liman to the Iraq War, but instead of going haywire with an oft-used setting, he settles into a simple study of battling temperaments and survival skills in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, “The Wall” is a disappointment, carrying more of an iffy experimental tone than a richly suspenseful atmosphere, watching the production try to cook up something heart-racing with almost nothing to work with. Read the rest at

Film Review - Tracktown


“Tracktown” is all about the details. Making her feature-length co-writing/co-directing/acting debut is Alexi Pappas, an accomplished long-distance runner and recent Olympian trying to bring elements of her life to the screen. Playing to her strengths, Pappas tells the story of a young runner suddenly facing the pressures of a world beyond training and competition, joining fellow filmmaker Jeremy Teicher to give “Tracktown” a lived-in feel to help inspire a bizarre coming-of-age story. Delayed adolescence, first romance, and mother issues generate the drama of the effort, but Pappas and Teicher are at their best with the particulars of the running world, giving the movie a distinct personality when it moves away from formula and samples athlete routine, allowing its star to relax and simply exist in the world she’s creating. Read the rest at