Previous month:
February 2014
Next month:
April 2014

March 2014

Blu-ray Review - Meet Him and Die


In the vast collection of Italian crime sagas, perhaps 1976's "Meet Him and Die" wouldn't rate very high on the quality scale. The story isn't energizing, with a blur of names and motivations competing for director Franco Prosperi's attention, and the resolution leaves much to be desired, electing for a blunt conclusion that doesn't retain its intended sting. However, looking past the picture's obvious shortcomings, and there's an entertaining tale of revenge to embrace, with heated performances and daredevil stunt work to wow viewers. "Meet Him and Die" gradually builds into an engaging underworld adventure, complete with double-crosses and near-misses, but its interests remain with visceral events, as Prosperi has a fondness for the physical stuff. Well paced and surprisingly scrappy, the feature contributes to the funky subgenre with a healthy dose of action, aggression, and a few gulps of the old J&B. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Return to Nuke 'Em High: Volume 1


When Lloyd Kaufman gets around to making a movie, he doesn't mess around. The co-founder of Troma Entertainment, Kaufman returns to directorial duties with "Return to Nuke 'Em High: Volume 1," a reboot of the cult splatter series from the 1980s and '90s. Opening with narration by Stan Lee, a starring credit for "Kevin the Wonder Duck," and seasoning the agony early with a scene of penile dismemberment and full-body melt, the feature doesn't waste any time trying to become the zaniest, goriest, more offensive picture of the year. Mission accomplished, but with Troma, a little ugliness goes a long way, and while "Return to Nuke 'Em High" retains a certain B-movie moxie, its chaotic nature fatigues the film long before it reaches its non-conclusion. Points to Kaufman for the hurricane of sick ideas, but would it kill Troma to show a little patience? Read the rest at

Film Review - Bad Ass 2: Bad Asses


Writer/director Craig Moss fancies himself a funny guy. With pictures like “The 41-Year-Old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and Felt Superbad About It” and “30 Nights of Paranormal Activity with the Devil Inside the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” it’s unlikely the filmmaker has his finger on the pulse of contemporary comedy. Between wretched parody efforts, Moss has been trying to build himself a franchise with 2012’s “Bad Ass,” his cinematic extrapolation of the “Epic Beard Man” meme that was all the rage for 15 hot minutes in 2010. You recall “Amber Lamps,” right? Refusing to let a cruel joke die, Moss continues to develop his thin ideas with “Bad Ass 2: Bad Asses,” which, mercifully, dials down the meme references to plunge ahead as an average DTV actioner, this time teaming star Danny Trejo with Danny Glover, who thankfully doesn’t play a character named Doge. Read the rest at

Film Review - Blood Ties


Beyond the fact that “Blood Ties” is a remake of “Rivals,” a 2008 French film, there’s nothing especially original about the picture, which takes on family dysfunction and NYPD hostilities in the thick of the 1970s. The twist here is that one of the stars of “Rivals,” Guillaume Canet, has returned to co-script and direct “Blood Ties,” giving him a unique perspective on this story of brotherhood. A French take on an American cop thriller, the feature has its passions and conflicts, and while it’s formulaic, the effort retains a fiery personality, making sure the audience feels the weight of contemplation facing the frazzled characters. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sabotage

SABOTAGE Arnold Schwarzenegger 2

Over the course of four movies, writer/director David Ayer has captured the gritty side of street life and how it intersects with fringes of law enforcement. It’s what he does best. In fact, it’s the only thing he does, with “Sabotage” trading bits of realism to come off as a bruising actioner, even going as far as to cast Arnold Schwarzenegger in the leading role, gifting the production a certificate of authenticity. “Sabotage” is a wild feature, and not always in a positive way, with Ayer’s scattergun dialogue colliding with his procedural obsessions, resulting in a fantastically violent murder mystery that splatters instead of unfolds. Punch-drunk and nasty, the picture has its amusing idiosyncrasies, but Ayer is too busy dreaming up unnecessary chaos, refusing to develop the positive elements of the effort. Read the rest at

Film Review - Noah

NOAH Russell Crowe Jennifer Connelly

With “Noah,” writer/director Darren Aronofsky endeavors to create a biblical story that’s never been seen before. Forget “The Ten Commandments” and “The Passion of the Christ,” this tale of godly might is more in the vein of J.R.R. Tolkien, complete with epic battles featuring faceless hordes, windy dialogue, and towering creatures that move with a distinct stop-motion animated lurch. The element of surprise works well for the filmmaker, but he can’t sustain the initial burst of invention, with “Noah” slowly grinding to a halt as it develops bland characters and protracted dramatic confrontations. Aronofsky is used to taking risks with his work, but this one slips out of his control, obsessed with overwhelming the audience instead of inspiring them with a depiction of spiritual courage. Read the rest at

Film Review - 13 Sins

13 SINS 2

In 2010, director Daniel Stamm invaded the horror scene with “The Last Exorcism,” a found footage-style chiller that cleaned up at the box office, allowing the filmmaker a chance to play in the Hollywood big leagues. His follow-up is “13 Sins,” a remake of a 2006 Thai production, and a picture that’s just twisted enough to make a successful leap to America. Although a consistent tone is elusive, Stamm proves himself up for the challenge with this uneasy morality tale, creating an enjoyable amount of tension and shock value to carry the effort through a few rough transitions. Read the rest at

Film Review - Breathe In


Writer/director Drake Doremus made a critical splash with 2011’s “Like Crazy,” a movie about young love experienced in a full-body manner, clouding judgment and derailing lives. “Breathe In” covers some of the same dramatic terrain, only here the fixation remains on seduction and the gradual developmental process of chemistry. Where “Like Crazy” celebrated impulses, “Breathe In” highlights restraint, slowly building a feel for personal connection in a disrupted domestic situation, trusting in the power of longing and reflection. Doremus wears filmmaking maturity well, achieving a palpable sense of attraction between the lead characters, making their journey into indecent behavior seem perfectly logical, despite the cold realities that surround them. Read the rest at

Film Review - Two Lives


“Two Lives” is a film one has to remain attentive to at all times. Answers aren’t immediately offered during the course of the picture, which uses flashbacks and unidentified character interactions to paint a portrait of a stained life that’s finally being revealed. It takes time to get moving, but the reward is a captivating drama that presents a few effective surprises and a standout lead performance from Juliane Kohler, who communicates a pitch-perfect blend of emotions that allows the effort to cut deep. Satisfactorily tragic and pained, “Two Lives” is sharp work that develops spellbinding turns of plot as it unfolds. Read the rest at

Film Review - Boys of Abu Ghraib


With “Boys of Abu Ghraib,” Luke Moran attempts to become a triple threat in the industry. Serving as writer/director/star of the picture, Moran picks an incendiary topic for exposure, creating a drama based on situations found in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal from 2004, endeavoring to master a corruption of innocence arc found in multiple war features. While it’s certainly a provocative subject, and early moments suggest the helmer is on the right track when it comes to the depiction of military desperation, “Boys of Abu Ghraib” eventually loses itself to a syrupy flow of sensitivity while presenting one of the worst endings I’ve seen in quite some time. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Swimmer

SWIMMER Burt Lancaster Janet Landgard

1968's "The Swimmer" is a dream and a nightmare rolled into a deceptively simple mission of memory evasion. It's a strange picture, but engrossingly so, taking the viewer on a journey of self-delusion and nostalgia that gradually exposes a richly tortured main character as he attempts to immerse himself in a life that's no longer available to him. Strikingly made and outstandingly performed by Burt Lancaster, "The Swimmer" (directed by Frank Perry and scripted by Eleanor Perry) deftly combines disturbing realities with the romance of fantasy, constructing a riveting psychological portrait of a man set loose in his own playground of emotional fragmentation. Beautifully shot and executed, the effort is generous with disturbing, puzzling behavior, yet wise enough to provide clear clues to aid interpretation. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Flesh and Blood Show


"The Flesh and Blood Show" opens with a shot of blood pouring down a pier pillar, setting a macabre mood for all the evildoing to come. It's a fantastic way to kick off the picture. Cruelly, it's the first and last bit of nasty business to cause a scene in the movie. A 1972 effort from director Pete Walker, "The Flesh and Blood Show" doesn't even seem particularly interested in scaring its audience, instead offering a mix of titillation and flaccid dramatics to fill the run time, while suspense is nonexistent, featuring extended sequences of horror that aren't the least bit frightening. Although the collision of egos, nudity, and infighting certainly has promise, it remains unfulfilled in Walker's feature, which is so glacial and mild, it's a wonder what the production was actually trying to achieve with its emphasized but underutilized genre elements. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Frightmare

FRIGHTMARE Pete Walker Shelia Keith

"Frightmare" represents my official introduction to the filmography of Pete Walker. A British director who specialized in low-budget horror features, Walker made a name for himself with efficient chillers and scrappy visions of brutality, with efforts such as "Schizo," "House of Whipcord," and "The Comeback" earning the respect of cult audiences who live their lives to make such discoveries. 1974's "Frightmare" is perhaps his most admired production, if only because it caused quite a stir during its initial theatrical release, upsetting critics at the time with its X-rated vision of cannibalism and murder, while offering a provocative condemnation of criminal rehabilitation services. In 2014, it's difficult to understand why such a fuss was raised, with the genre now exposing every perversion and evil known to man, but what remains under the aged layers of condemnation is a crafty chiller, wonderfully performed and executed with a refreshing grimness. "Frightmare" has its share of ugliness, but it's also considered work from Walker, who isn't merely out to sicken, but haunt his audience with this effective picture. Read the rest at

Film Review - Alan Partridge


It’s been a triumphant year for Steve Coogan. Last holiday season, “Philomena,” a film he co-write and co-starred in, picked up a few trophies and managed to find an audience despite an oppressive subject matter, while showing a pleasingly dramatic side to the performer few pictures have dared to explore. And now “Alan Partridge” makes its way to America, finally giving Coogan’s most famous character a shot at a global audience. Considering how hilarious the feature is, with a terrific wit, interest in silliness, and laudable speed, it’s a crime that it took this long for Partridge and his narcissistic antics to invade the states. Read the rest at

Film Review - Nymphomaniac: Volume I


The marketing for “Nymphomaniac” has been a cheeky onslaught of provocative imagery, some tied to shots of orgasmic bliss interpreted by the stars of the film. It’s been amusing, yet the reality of the endeavor (an epic study broken down into two parts) is decidedly grim, possibly confusing those on the prowl for an offering of adult cinema as interpreted by director Lars Von Trier. “Nymphomaniac: Volume I” is the first half of the journey, and it’s filled with dire situations of compulsion and punishment. Even when the helmer makes minor attempts to pull the premise out of a coffin, the general tone of the work remains in a state of emergency. Demanding a less lustful mindset from the viewer, the effort emerges as an artfully designed exploration of grief and gullibility, pockmarked with Von Trier fetishes and wild metaphors. Read the rest at

Film Review - Muppets Most Wanted


I was a great admirer of 2011’s “The Muppets,” which had the unenviable task of trying to make the Jim Henson legacy relevant to a younger generation while still tickling the old guard. Mixing slapstick with song and dance, the picture returned verve to the puppet community, even with a few missteps in pacing and character focus. Applying what they learned from the experience, director James Bobin and co-writer Nicholas Stoller return to the brand name with “Muppets Most Wanted,” a zippy, hilarious caper that ditches the endearing sensitivity of the reawakening to charge ahead as a traditional Muppet show of silliness, punctuated with a set list of fantastic songs by Bret McKenzie. Read the rest at

Film Review - Divergent


Of course comparisons are going to be made about “Divergent.” With the monumental success of Y.A. adaptations such as “The Hunger Games” and “Twilight,” it’s a given that studios would be hungry to bring Veronica Roth’s trilogy to the big screen, as it contains all the necessary elements to tempt young audiences into theaters. It’s derivative work, but what’s surprising about “Divergent” is how bland it is. Handing material flavored with sci-fi, action, and romance to a team of filmmakers and actors with little experience in the genre mash-up, the movie ends up flat and repetitive, unable to acquire the epic stance it dearly wants to achieve. It’s more than just bad timing, the feature simply doesn’t have the cinematic intensity necessary to launch yet another arc of careworn heroism set in a merciless world of government control. Read the rest at

Film Review - Le Week-End

LE WEEK-END Jim Broadbent

“Le Week-End” is no dewy romance about the reawakening of feeling shared between a couple who’s been married for decades. Director Roger Michell and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi have little interest in soft-pedaling contentious interactions between the main characters, electing irony as the twosome embarks on a soul-cleansing journey of bitter communication in the most romantic city on Earth. Consistently surprising and bravely raw, “Le Week-End” cuts right to the bone, and does so in such an intimate manner, it feels splendidly authentic, permitting access to the deepest, darkest desires of the duo as they battle to express themselves and define their marriage. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Birder's Guide to Everything


After 2011’s “The Big Year” turned out to be a colossal dud at the box office, I’m surprised any production would want to make another film about the birding hobby. Taking a slightly less madcap course when it comes to the act of spotting winged creatures, “A Birder’s Guide to Everything” locates a more fertile dramatic perch with its inspection of a teenager’s wounded heart and his attempt to lose himself in a chase, excusing him from real world concerns. Nicely acted and emotionally genuine, the picture doesn’t necessarily demand attention, but it earns appreciation through its delicate, nicely observed handling of sensitive issues. Read the rest at