Blu-ray Review - Star Time


Writer/director Alexander Cassini takes an experimental route when conjuring the ravages of mental illness in 1991's "Star Time." To describe the picture as strange is an understatement, with the helmer embarking on a Lynchian tour of psychological decay, clinging to a few horror traditions to preserve some sense of movement for a production that doesn't always prize forward momentum. It's not a slasher movie, but there's a body count and masked killer brandishing an ax, delivering a sense of threat to a feature that's interested in deconstructing the ways of serial killing. "Star Time" has moments of abstraction, but it works as a swan dive into madness spotlighting a truly unhinged individual coming to terms with the expanse of his treasured media-worshiping delusions. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - The Soldier


After trying his luck with a "Death Wish" knock-off in 1980's "The Exterminator," writer/director James Glickenhaus ups his game to the international level, trying on the world of 007 in 1982's "The Soldier," which positions Ken Wahl as a James Bond-style superspy trying to prevent the end of the world, or at least the end of affordable gas and peace in the Middle East. Obviously, Glickenhaus doesn't have the money to bring an expansive thriller to life, but he does have a few scrappy ideas for chases and confrontations. "The Soldier" is clunky, teeming with filler and drowsy acting, but when it makes the effort to lock into excitement and supply some crazy stunt work and multiple explosions, it remains passable entertainment, rarely working overtime to become something special. Wahl isn't easy to buy as a world-class master of assassination and political relationships, but he's much more appealing in panic mode, adding his special, slightly sluggish charms to Glickenhaus's vision for big screen adventuring. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea


To pull off a disaster movie set inside a high school, animation is the only art form left to handle the enormity and fantasy of the event. Death and destruction are contained within "My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea," a darkly comedic take on adolescent survival (both literal and social) from writer/director Dash Shaw, who examines the plight of a crumbling school with emphasis on quirky, psychedelic visuals and distinctive voice work. "My High School Sinking Into the Sea" isn't a major offering of animation, but it's wonderfully creative in its approach to doomsday, with Shaw arranging an idiosyncratic tour of behavior and physical challenges that permit him time to conjure a charmingly low-fi world of teen neuroses. It's strange work, but accomplished and quite funny when it wants to be. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Unfriended: Dark Web


2014’s “Unfriended” was a minor surprise during the film year, offering a desktop chiller aimed at teenagers that actually worked in many respects, keeping suspense alive and the strangeness of the setting active. It was small in design and supernatural to boot, but it managed to make something out of next to nothing, giving the computer-based thriller subgenre a nice boost of invention. Four years later, there’s a sequel, and one that does away with ghosts and jittery teenagers, graduating to a more mature set of victims and the grim evening they’re about to experience. “Unfriended: Dark Web” doesn’t have the element of surprise, and it doesn’t have much of a story either, finding writer/director Stephen Susco (screenwriter of “Texas Chainsaw 3D”) trying to be edgy by going bleak with laptop hellraising, engineering a strangely angry sequel that liberally borrows from better movies to feed its own mediocrity. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again


The world doesn’t need a “Mamma Mia!” sequel, but when a jukebox musical that wasn’t expected to make many waves at the box office ends up grossing as much as a superhero film, an attempt to make a second chapter isn’t surprising. What is unusual about “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” is that it took a decade to reach multiplexes, which is an eternity with this material, which generally thrives on in-the-moment charms, not waiting games. There’s some disappointment with this rusty installment of an unlikely franchise, which clearly doesn’t have the same spring in its step as the 2008 original, but writer/director Ol Parker tries to put on a big show with a limited scope, going the origin story route to establish a fresh perspective and inject a little youthful energy into a movie that always seems happiest when sitting down. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Cakemaker


“The Cakemaker” contains a lot of heartache, examining the ways of love and obsession, but writer/director Ofir Rual Graizer handles all the hurt in a most humane way, capturing unspeakable feelings with a powerful cinematic language. It’s a production from Germany and Israel, already bridging a few gaps in culture and history while the script sets out to do the same thing, with the titular character working through emotional divides while embarking on an unusual mission of observance as a form of grief. “The Cakemaker” is tender and often unexpected, and Graizer absolutely nails the confusing feelings and anxieties of the moment, creating a modest but open space for the actors and the craft to achieve a sublime rhythm of discovery, making the endeavor quite special.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind


When Robin Williams died in 2014, he took a part of the entertainment industry with him. The comedian, actor, and all-around madman seemed almost indestructible and definitely indefatigable, and when he passed, there were few words that could pinpoint exactly what the mood of the world was when Williams left it. “Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind” is an attempt to wrap both arms about the experience of being one of the fastest, funniest people of all time, and director Marina Zenovich almost touches fingertips, creating a documentary that’s light on extreme detail, but generally gathers the basic elements of Williams’s personal and professional experience, asking viewers to fill in the gaps with personal recollections while the feature covers most of the essential movements in an extraordinary life. Read the rest at

Film Review - Equalizer 2


“The Equalizer” started life as a television series for CBS in the 1980s, making Edward Woodward into an unusual force for justice, celebrating the steely authority of an older man. 2014’s “The Equalizer” handed the lead role of Robert McCall to Denzel Washington, who also projected wizened confidence as the titular vigilante, only instead of a mild reprise of network television heroics, director Antoine Fuqua cranked up the ultraviolence, with plans to make the pain McCall inflicts as vivid as possible. It was overkill in a dim movie, but “The Equalizer” found something of an audience, with the fanbase large enough to lure Washington back into McCall’s shoes for “Equalizer 2.” Keeping in line with traditional sequel mentality, Fuqua recycles most of everything that was found in the original picture, serving up the same scenes of intimidation and graphic punishment to stoke the fires of a newfound franchise.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Pin Cushion


Deborah Haywood goes dark for “Pin Cushion,” her feature-length debut as a writer/director. She’s made a movie that introduces itself with extreme quirk, and slowly but surely poisons it with tremendously unsettling scenes of emotional abuse. Haywood attempts to communicate the pain of the outsider, and one who isn’t adjusted to the cruelties of the world, and she’s amazingly accurate in her summary of despair. However, while bleak, “Pin Cushion” has its artful achievements, dramatic potency, and fantastic lead performances from Lily Newmark and Joanna Scanlan, who march into horrors as instructed by the helmer, but find ways to make doom relatable, especially for female audiences hunting for an accurate overview of juvenile bullying in the connected age, while most mothering fears are realized in this disturbing chiller.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot


In 2008, Director Gus Van Sant made “Milk,” his passionate bio-pic of activist and politician Harvey Milk. It was work that felt vital and intimate, with Van Sant’s focus on the nuances of the story resulting in a vivid depiction of a noble life tragically ended by another. And then there was nothing for a decade, finding Van Sant obsessed with quirk (“Restless”) and environmental issues (“Promised Land”), hitting rock bottom with “The Sea of Trees,” an unexpectedly inept pass at mournful cinematic poetry that was soaked in confusion and pretention, becoming one of Van Sant’s worst films. Mercifully, “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” is a return to form for the helmer, who offers a passion project that actually plays like someone who doesn’t want to let go of the moment, showcasing a newly recharged director eagerly exploring the struggle, dark humor, and unexpected grace notes of life.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Occupation


Writer/director Luke Sparke really likes “Red Dawn.” And who could blame the guy, as the 1984 actioner is an engaging ride with harrowing violence and a premise that toys with war film clichés while still delivering its own sense of honor. Sparke’s second movie is “Occupation,” and it’s basically a remake of “Red Dawn,” only instead of an Earthbound threat attempting to take control of America, the screenplay goes a little bigger, finding Australia under siege, with evil alien forces arriving from space, and they don’t come in peace. It’s the resistance versus the galaxy in “Occupation,” with Sparke layering on the clichés to fill his feature, which may be appealing to those who live and breathe this type of entertainment, but the helmer doesn’t bring anything new to the alien invasion subgenre.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Damascus Cover


Spy games are everywhere on television these days, with small-scale stories of suspicion within global conflicts ideal fodder for weekly shows, adding a serialized element to develop characters and motivations. “Damascus Cover” has to work extra hard to emerge as something special, offering a decidedly cinematic sway to coax viewers into theaters. And yet, co-writer/director Daniel Zelik Berk makes a creative choice to dial back thrills as far as possible, almost to a point of complete stoppage. “Damascus Cover” aims for retro entertainment, trying to set up a Middle East chess game between spy agencies and the people caught in the middle of hostilities, but there’s not enough gas in the tank here, finding star Jonathan Rhys Meyers doing all the heavy lifting when it comes time to add some intensity to the comatose effort.  Read the rest at

Film Review - How It Ends


With confusion. That’s how it ends. But writer Brooks McLaren senses a creative challenge with the doomsday effort, playing a careful game of mystery with the pieces of this puzzle, exploring the end of days without actually identifying the steps toward extinction. McLaren doesn’t want to make a disaster movie, which is commendable, using elements of panic to create a character study, but one that indulges in action film cliches one too many times, diminishing the integrity it’s working to achieve. “How It Ends” delivers the vague shape of the apocalypse, but it’s a frustrating sit, continually interrupting compelling stretches of drama and terror with low-wattage stunts and tedious sequences of back roads survival.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - American Gothic


Slasher formula finds its way back into the woods for 1988's "American Gothic," which reunites hapless, inconsiderate outsiders and the mass murderers they often meet in the middle of nowhere. Writers Burt Wetanson and Michael Vines seem aware they aren't working with the freshest of premises, so they try to up the mental illness factor of the material, endeavoring to merge real-world agony with B-movie shenanigans that result in a hefty body count. Surprises are limited in "American Gothic," but the picture does have the advantage of a strong cast, with the agents of horror a familiar team of character actors in their golden years, enjoying a chance to menace the screen with thespian idiosyncrasies and veteran timing. The feature as a whole doesn't wow or intimidate with any noticeable force, but director John Hough seems to understand what he's working with, wisely putting emphasis on the most oddball and charismatic performers to get the effort all the way to an ending.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Master: The Complete Series


The 1980s were filled with strange fads, including the Rubik's Cube, breakdancing, and Cabbage Patch Dolls, but the oddest pop culture uprising from the decade has to be the surge of ninja-themed entertainment. While there's nothing wrong with a good ninja adventure, the '80s were chock full of them, triggered in part by the cult success of 1981's "Revenge of the Ninja," which spawned a few sequels and partially inspired "The Master," with franchise star Sho Kosugi returning in a supporting role, reclaiming his position as the go-to actor for all cloaked martial arts business. Crazily, the production didn't give Kosugi a weekly shot at impressing American audiences with his physical skill, handing starring duties to Lee Van Cleef, then a 60-year-old man stroking a filmography had him playing all types of hard creeps and antiheroes. When one thinks about the basic flexibility and weapon mastery of a stealthy ninja, Van Cleef and his slight limp doesn't come to mind, but "The Master" has a funny way of making the crazy casting work, finding Van Cleef the most appealing element in the action series, which plays like much of the kid-centric escapist fare from the era, mixing Eastern culture with "A-Team" antics, keeping things sufficiently kick-happy and shuriken-spinning.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Covered Wagon


1923's "The Covered Wagon" is a silent production that's largely credited as having a role in the birth of the big screen epic. Director James Cruze doesn't want a simple tale of Oregon Trail travel, going as big as possible to accurately detail the arduous cross-country trek, masterminding spectacle as the screenplay (an adaptation of a novel by Emerson Hough) secures simplistic but effects swings of melodrama, creating a love triangle to hold attention between wild displays of barely controlled chaos.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Prey


The behind-the-scenes story on 1977's "Prey" is extraordinary, with the picture conceived, shot, and released in a matter of months, delivering a sci- fi/horror tale with the minimum of second thoughts, basically committing to the screen anything that was conjured during production. It's important to remember such creative speed while watching the feature, with the low-budget endeavor often struggling to find things to do between scenes that advance the story. "Prey" is minor, but director Norman J. Warren does what he can with his frightening creative challenge, preserving a few provocative ideas screenwriter Max Cuff inserts into the work.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Divine Order


While "The Divine Order" shares a story of gender discrimination, misogyny, and marital woes, it's almost refreshing to find the tale taking place in Switzerland, avoiding American hostilities for once. The change in location is most welcome, with writer/director Petra Biondina Volpe examining the pains of womanhood from a different perspective, and while American influence remains, the screenplay showcases a distinct cultural fingerprint as it details the jail sentence of being a woman in 1971. "The Divine Order" has its melodramatic urges, but it's an excellent overview of personal need with sharply defined characters, returning to an era of global change with a few details that mirror today's social turbulence. Volpe taps into the zeitgeist and shares a period saga of equality, creating a picture that's essential viewing for those interested in a wider perspective on feminist challenges. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Sorry to Bother You


“Sorry to Bother You” marks the feature-length directorial debut for musician Boots Riley and, for this grand occasion, he’s elected to construct a picture that’s often defies description. Imagine if Mike Judge and Michel Gondry joined forces to make a Spike Lee Joint, and that’s part of the experience watching “Sorry to Bother You.” It’s a unique vision of the world as it exists today, using wit and blunt force to comment on racism, greed, and powerlessness, but it’s also a silly movie for the first half, with Riley showcasing surprising chops with absurdity, trying his best to undermine expectations as the story begins to reveal layers of insanity. It’s not an especially tight creation, but Riley’s enthusiasm for his big moment is understandable, on a mission to go crazy with his first film, with hopes to make a lasting impression on the audience. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Skyscraper


For his third release in the last seven months, Dwayne Johnson once again portrays a mighty hero up against impossible odds. There was the video game world of “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” and the…video game world of “Rampage,” but “Skyscraper” aims to be a more traditional offering of search and rescue, mashing together elements from “Die Hard” and “The Towering Inferno” to make a modern blockbuster, with gobs of tech tossed into the fiery chaos. Writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber (“Central Intelligence”) keeps his influences close, but doesn’t learn much from them, manufacturing a flat, routine Rock-against-‘em-all thriller that’s big on CGI spectacle but very limited when it comes to the creation of true heart-stopping sequences. Other films have done what “Skyscraper” is doing, and they’ve done it better, rendering the feature numbing instead of nail-biting. Read the rest at