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March 2015

Blu-ray Review - Grantchester

Grantchester James Norton

Sidney Chambers is a most unusual protagonist for a murder mystery show. While his calling takes him into the priesthood, Sidney retains his sins and vices, spending six episodes of "Grantchester" smoking, drinking, listening to jazz, womanizing, lying, stealing, and struggling with memories of murder while in service during World War II. He's not your average vicar, giving "Grantchester," based on the novels by James Runcie, an unexpected kick when dealing with its routine of death and investigation, permitting the material welcome complexity when confronting matters of the heart. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Way He Looks


"The Way He Looks" isn't a message movie, it's a human story about longing and self-exploration. Credit writer/director Daniel Ribeiro for its restraint, building a tale that isn't insistent with hysterics to make a point about sexual awareness. The picture has its clumsy moments, but it takes on a considerable dramatic challenge, searching for a way to showcase the warmth of burgeoning attraction and love while remaining careful with additional concerns involving parents and social circles. "The Way He Looks" tinkers with teen cinema formula, but it largely avoids crushing cliché, electing to play moments honestly and gently, allowing the viewer to process the delicate emotions in play. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Public Domain


“The Public Domain” takes place in the aftermath of the 2007 I-35W Mississippi River Bridge collapse that occurred in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It’s a delicate topic to handle, even after eight years, but to writer/director Patrick Coyle’s credit, the feature doesn’t utilize the horrific event for disaster movie purposes. Instead, the helmer has built a sensitive drama around the idea of unification through shared trauma, only periodically bringing up imagery from the nightmarish day to tie subplots together. While a low-budget endeavor with a few limitations, “The Public Domain” is a wonderfully open-hearted understanding of the ties that bind, featuring charming performances and a screenplay interested in the strange interactions of life, which provides a unique form of group therapy. Read the rest at

Film Review - Backcountry


“Backcountry” doesn’t break new ground in the man vs. nature subgenre, but it does play up the finer points of fear so well, it’s easy to forgive its familiarity. It’s a survival story, and a deceptively simple one at that, using the marketable aspect of a bear attack to mask numerous stages of panic that crowd the picture, allowing the movie to achieve a remarkable level of suspense. “Backcountry” marks the directorial debut for Adam MacDonald, and I hope he’s got a few more horror stories in him, as his way with scares emerges with a wonderfully primal sense of urgency, infusing the work with secure grasp on anxiety. Read the rest at

Film Review - Get Hard


Comedy doesn’t require rules, but formula tends to be a best friend of the genre. Typically, a humorous balance is achieved with a comedian and a straight man, creating a rhythm to the work that generates the proper timing to sell a punchline. “Get Hard” stars Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart, two performers primarily known for their ability to yell jokes at top volume. Creating a competition for most aggressive screen presence, Ferrell and Hart are unleashed for the effort, which doesn’t feature much of a script, just a series of tired scenarios for the comedians to bark through, sometimes quite literally. Frighteningly unfunny and surprisingly lazy for a movie scripted by three people, “Get Hard” plays more like a Funny or Die skit than a genuine feature. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Riot Club


There’s a fine art to making movies about reprehensible characters. It’s not easy to ask an audience to spend time with people born without a moral compass, who engage in arbitrary violence and embrace the opportunity to humiliate those perceived beneath them. “The Riot Club” features a collection of personalities best viewed through the bars of a prison cell, but director Lone Scherfig and screenwriter Laura Wade endeavor to understand corrupted behavior, tracing it back through generations of English privilege and youthful indestructibility. “The Riot Club” is coarse work, attempting to rile up viewers with troubling scenes of destruction and dismissal, but it’s also convincingly acted, with accessible emotions keeping the material fascinating. Read the rest at

Film Review - Serena


The pairing of actors Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper should inspire a great deal of moviegoer excitement. The duo has created magic before in hits such as “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle,” reinforcing their fluid chemistry and gift with sharp banter. “Serena” is their latest collaboration and it’s an ambitious drama, packed with betrayals, murder, and sex, yet a certain spark is missing from the feature, which has been edited in a way that strangely prevents momentum from building. It’s a handsome picture, and director Susanne Bier is a truly talented helmer, but something went awry here that’s difficult to pinpoint, leaving an enticing display of screen pain gasping for oxygen. Read the rest at

Film Review - It Follows


“It Follows” is a collection of compelling ideas trapped inside a movie that isn’t as sharp as it needs to be. It’s the second feature from writer/director David Robert Mitchell (“The Myth of the American Sleepover”), who maps out an unusual ghost story using familiar working parts, marrying a John Carpenter/Stanley Kubrick audio and visual aesthetic to contemporary indie film stasis, searching for ways to extract terror out of stillness. “It Follows” is accomplished work, always interesting to watch, but it doesn’t quite live up to its potential, finding Mitchell scrambling to reclaim suspense lost to budgetary and thespian limitation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Home


Most movies are perfectly content to offer a single ending to satisfy ticket-buyers. “Home,” the new DreamWorks Animation production, has about five, and none of them are especially effective at wrapping up the story. However, vague climaxes are only a few of the many problems that plague “Home,” which boasts exceptionally detailed character designs and a few amusing vocal performances, but can’t seem to land a single joke, while its idea of what a 12-year-old girl sounds like is up for debate. Weirdly frustrating, without a level of self-awareness that favors pace over laborious plot, the feature doesn’t connect in a significant way, reduced to a series of skits, poo-poo, pee-pee jokes, and commercials for the soundtrack. Read the rest at

Film Review - Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter


Mystery is a key component of “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter.” Little is outwardly explained in the picture, which employs enigmatic behavior quite well, keeping viewers guessing about the final destination of the story as they’re slowly surrounded by cinematic atmosphere. Writer/directors David and Nathan Zellner create an alluring package with “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter,” which is carefully made and intriguingly performed, but utterly airless at times, testing patience as the film moves along as slowly as possible. Despite its stasis, the feature is an original vision, best suited for those with high tolerance for art-house adventuring and an appreciation for the mischief the Coen Brothers conjured in their seminal 1996 hit, “Fargo.” Read the rest at

Film Review - Monsters: Dark Continent


2010’s “Monsters” was an unusual feature. The directorial debut for Gareth Edwards, the picture set out to find intimate spaces of human connection while standing in the shadow of building-sized alien invaders. It was low-tech and largely uneventful, but it had imagination, with Edwards’s strange vision contributing to an unexpectedly restrained sci-fi production. Five years later, there’s a sequel, and one without Edwards, who went on to make a true monster movie with 2014’s “Godzilla” update. His touch is profoundly missed in “Monsters: Dark Continent,” which attempts to keep the aliens-as-background-noise approach, while filling the foreground with an unreasonably oppressive, generic war film. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Gone with the Pope

Gone with the Pope

In 1974, writer/director/star Duke Mitchell debuted "Massacre Mafia Style," a rip-roaring take on mob violence and Italian heritage that acted as the creator's personal response to the phenomenon known as "The Godfather." A few years later, Mitchell attempted a follow-up, building "Gone with the Pope" over weekends, using favors and his internal drive to see the feature to completion. Unfortunately, production stalled as it was nearing the finish line, with reels of Mitchell's work tucked away in a storage space, destined to be lost forever after the helmer's death in 1981. Enter Grindhouse Releasing, who acquired the footage with plans to restore Mitchell's vision to the best of their ability. Devoting years to the effort, stitching together moments, ideas, and oddities, the producers managed to make a movie, delivering a valentine to Mitchell's indefatigable cinematic spirit and his unique screen presence. "Gone with the Pope" is undeniably rough around the edges, but it does find unmistakable personality in the midst of a potential mess, making what should've been a disposable curiosity into a formidable continuation of the "Massacre Mafia Style" aesthetic. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Owl Power

Nature Owl Power

Since everything these days is woven into the world of comic book heroes, "Owl Power" follows trends, exploring the "superpowers" of these secretive birds, on a quest to share significant facts about the stars of the show. The omnipresent bird, found in every continent except for Antarctica, makes for a fascinating subject, with the daily life of the average owl filled with sophisticated hunting duties, using natural skills to attack prey and keep safe as new generations are nurtured. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Rabid Grannies


Troma Entertainment isn't known for their commitment to quality film. They specialize in easily marketable schlock, often drawn to frightfully violent entertainment to secure interest from horror genre admirers. The company's purchase of the 1988 Belgian picture, "Rabid Grannies," comes as no surprise, finding the provocatively titled endeavor happy to share its fascination with the grotesque, developing a thin storyline to service what becomes a random grab-bag of nightmarish imagery tied to a loosely defined demonic possession. At 68 minutes, it's barely a movie, but that doesn't stop director Emmanuel Kervyn from trying to squeeze suspense out of absolutely nothing, playing to the back row with broad performances and a few tasteless encounters, all funneled into a senseless scare feature that's never authentically unnerving outside of frighteningly inept editorial decisions. Read the rest at

Film Review - Miss Julie


To bring the firepower of “Miss Julie” to life, director Liv Ullmann has recruited actors Jessica Chastain, Colin Farrell, and Samantha Morton to do the heavy lifting. It’s just these three performers for two hours of screen time, interacting with varying speeds of vitriol, playing insanely detailed mind games as one idyllic evening of celebration turns into a visit to Hell. This is not an easy film to watch but a fascinating feature to study, with Ullmann managing levels of fiery behavior as her cast bleeds through their eyes, making the viewer feel every jagged edge of misconduct presented here. While tiring, “Miss Julie” is thrillingly raw and ghoulish, making the most out of minimal cinematic ingredients with rare emphasis on pure human explosion. Read the rest at

Film Review - Insurgent


Summit Entertainment went hunting for a Young Adult franchise while their raging success with the “Twilight” movies was winding down. They found “Divergent,” the first book in a literary trilogy from author Veronica Roth. Released in 2014 with an omnipresent marketing campaign, working its similarities to “The Hunger Games” in full, “Divergent” went on to become one of those strange films that, while financially successful, didn’t inspire a feverish reaction with the public. Trying to extend beginner’s luck, the producers have gone ahead with the sequel, “Insurgent,” hoping that now, with introductions out of the way, Roth’s dystopian world can achieve a sense of hostility and blistering action that was sorely lacking from the previous chapter. Read the rest at

Film Review - Zombeavers


The title “Zombeavers” promises a specific viewing experience the production couldn’t possibly provide. A riff on monster movies, “Jaws,” and trendy zombie efforts, the picture isn’t exactly a barnstorming blend of chills and laughs, but it’s also not unpleasant, emerging as a film that’s primarily interested in meeting viewers halfway, content to provide the titular demons and an excitable cast. This isn’t fine art, folks, yet “Zombeavers” manages to deliver the goods in a perfectly digestible manner, with co-writer/director Jordan Rubin providing a reasonable sense of mayhem with his tiny, undead stars, only missing a true daredevil instinct when it comes to assembling a jokey nightmare. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Wrecking Crew


A documentary almost 20 years in the making, “The Wrecking Crew” sets out to put a face to a song. It’s the story of a group of studio musicians in the 1960s who took this newfangled rock and roll thing and turned it into a series of blissful symphonies, backing up the biggest and most enduring hits of the era, often without credit for their impressive work. Director Denny Tedesco positions himself as the guardian of the gang, using screen time to refresh memories and assign recognition, with his own father, legendary guitarist Tommy Tedesco, the point of entry into this celebratory, exhaustively illuminating tale of musical achievement. Read the rest at