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November 2017

Film Review - The Breadwinner


It’s fascinating to consider that, recently, the most potent stories of Middle East life and history have been explored through animation. There was “Persepolis” and “Waltz with Bashir,” and now the “The Breadwinner” joins the list. While the feature does inspect a particularly brutal time in Afghanistan history (the Taliban era), the story remains committed to arcs of heroism and perseverance, working to create a sense of hope in the midst of absolute madness. “The Breadwinner” is a thoroughly emotional viewing experience, and while it triggers tears, it’s also a powerful tool of empowerment. The production pursues a particular note of hope found in the bold actions of a little girl in a ruthless land, successfully achieving a portrait of bravery that’s inspiring and riveting, while animation brilliantly balances harsh realities with storybook fantasy. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Disaster Artist


Cult films aren’t made, they’re born, often from the strangest of people, with the best worst movies never made cynically or intentionally, finding oddity just pouring out of the creation naturally. The journey for “The Room” began in 2003, where writer/director/producer/star Tommy Wiseau elected to take his thespian dreams into his own hands, creating an awkward psychodrama to best display his acting gifts to the world. The end result was inept from top to bottom, but its passion for tuneless filmmaking launched the picture as a midnight movie oddity, snowballing in popularity as hip audiences latched on to Tommy’s wacky vision. “The Disaster Artist” tracks the construction of “The Room” from the perspective of its co-star, Greg Sestero, who also wanted to acquire Hollywood glory, only to be mortified by Tommy’s creation. For director/star James Franco, the opportunity to dramatize this prolonged agony of production is irresistible, and his wildly entertaining “The Disaster Artist” is a loving ode to the power of delusion.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Kepler's Dream


“Kepler’s Dream” is an adaptation of a young adult novel by Juliet Bell, giving it an inherent softness as the material is meant to appeal to pre-teen audiences. Co-writer/director Amy Glazer respects the potential softness of the picture, doing what she can to preserve Bell’s sensitive subplots and defined characterization. It’s not urgent work, but for family audiences, “Kepler’s Dream” is genuine and nicely performed, with Glazer working to combat melodrama as much as possible as she juggles Bell’s plotting, which moves from a broken family story to a detective movie of sorts, adding some surprises to the mix.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Inoperable


“Inoperable” suffers from a case of bad timing. Or perhaps its release is intentionally timed to follow the success of “Happy Death Day,” which attracted a young audience with an old concept. “Inoperable” also offers a slight riff on “Groundhog Day,” with co-writer/director Christopher Lawrence Chapman going the time loop route for this decidedly smaller take on persistent déjŕ vu. The horror endeavor doesn’t have much of a budget, and its plot either doesn’t make sense or requires Chapman to sit next to the viewer and explain it all at the story unfolds, creating a slightly underwhelming viewing experience. Gore zone visits are plentiful and Chapman appears to have the right macabre interests, but his feature is missing the noose-tightening appeal of recycled danger, playing far more lethargically than it should.  Read the rest at

Film Review - People You May Know


While the reality of social media is its current mission to enslave humanity as we know it, making movies about it always seem a little silly. It’s impossible to keep up with the movement of trends and technology, and the inherent shallowness of digital societies doesn’t translate well to the screen. Just look at internet-based films from the past (e.g. “feardotcom”). However, “People You May Know” isn’t any type of thriller or chiller, and it doesn’t take the subject matter lightly. Writer/director Sherwin Shilati is making a deadly serious feature about the disconnect of online life, offering a Faustian bargain story to examine the potential corruption of social media success, detailing all the lies it takes to achieve popularity. The message is interesting, but “People You May Know” is too heavy-handed, with moments of unpleasant preachiness and unwelcome comic relief.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Mudbound


Dee Rees is a gifted filmmaker with a clear interest in telling painfully human stories of race, identity, and struggle, always interested in richness of character. She arrived on the scene with “Pariah,” making a splash with a lauded indie production, graduating to more traditional creative interests with “Bessie,” which offered a shot at the creation of a bio-pic, dramatizing the life and times of singer Bessie Smith. With “Mudbound,” Rees’s moviemaking scope widens as she pursues a particularly bleak era in American history, sustaining career interests with an adaptation Hillary Jordan’s novel, taking viewers into the bowels of Alabama during the 1940s. It’s a feature drenched in suffering, hate, weather, and pain, making it a troubling sit. However, Rees does have a vision for the effort, helping to carry “Mudbound” through patches of familiarity, coming through with capable take on prejudice and rural isolation.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Thelma


“Thelma” is best described as an updated version of “Carrie,” even though Hollywood already tried to update “Carrie” recently, and it was awful. This time, Norway takes a crack at the horror of a young girl with telekinetic powers, with co-writer/director Joachim Trier (“Oslo, August 31st,” “Louder Than Bombs”) staging a spare, merciless journey of identity and unknowing menace, working in layers of sexuality, religious influence, and shock value along the way. Expectations for a more robust genre experience should be lowered, as Trier isn’t interesting in making a mess with “Thelma,” instead creating a slow-burn nightmare disguised as a coming-of-age drama. It rarely stuns, but the movie has select moments of effectively grim interactions and does well with its depiction of delayed adolescence.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Son of Paleface


Reuniting with star Bob Hope after their work on "The Paleface" and "The Lemon Drop Kid," director Frank Tashlin, a veteran of animated entertainment, goes full cartoon with 1952's "Son of Paleface." Technically, it's a sequel, but Tashlin and Hope treat the production as their own rocket ride to the moon and back, going insanely broad to keep audience attention, staging a highly bizarre romp that's truly unpredictable and utterly exhausting. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Red Roses of Passion


Joseph Sarno was a filmmaker not known for taking it easy. With over 100 directorial credits during his career, Sarno was happy to try anything to keep working, mostly sticking to sexploitation to inspire quickie productions. Sarno devotees largely consider 1966's "Red Roses of Passion" to be one of his best, offering a familiar no-budget look with the addition of a slightly sinister tale of demonic influence and sexual chaos, using salacious content wisely, helping to distract from the picture's obvious shortcomings.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Great Alligator


In the aftermath of "Jaws" and its startling success at the box office, there was a horde of rip-offs lining up to feast on audience interest in aquatic horror. 1979's "The Great Alligator" isn't a decent lift, but the Italian production has the right idea when it comes to staging underwater mayhem, especially with a limited budget. Director Sergio Martino has a plan to frighten audiences with direct shots of alligator aggression, but he's much better off with the feature's loose sense of native mysticism, which doesn't require the services of a rubber monster.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hide and Go Shriek


Slasher cinema arrives at one of its stranger settings in 1988's "Hide and Go Shriek," which details a murderous rampage inside a furniture showroom. The production wins points for originality, and commercial spaces are rarely utilized for the distribution of nightmare imagery, watching director Skip Schoolnik labor to transform a static location into a proper house of horror. The effort is noticeable, and "Hide and Go Shriek" manages to hit a few high points of suspense without completely falling apart, but sweat stains remain, often catching Schoolnik struggling to keep the picture on the move.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri


Writer/director Martin McDonagh has a special knack for behavioral insight, and the man loves his dark comedy. With “In Bruges” and “Seven Psychopaths,” McDonagh was cautious but somewhat glib with his characterizations, threatening quirk and a disruption of tonality. With “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” McDonagh finds a stunning cohesion between mischief and soul-splitting grief, putting the pieces of this puzzle together with flashes of violence. It’s a magnificent film, with McDonagh almost wizard-like in his ability to surprise with recognizable working parts, creating a powerful and intricate character study that finds tremendous value in the inner workings of damaged people. It always threatens to spin out of control, but McDonagh secures a buzzing atmosphere of threat to the effort, allowing “Three Billboards” to blossom in unexpected ways, and it possesses a few glorious sucker punches to keep viewers from becoming too comfortable. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Lady Bird


One year ago, there was “The Edge of Seventeen.” Written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, the feature sliced through the claptrap that normally fattens teen cinema to deliver a bruising but honest take on the trials of adolescence, crafted with care and emotional precision. Now there’s “Lady Bird,” and even more effective take on the teenage experience from a female point of view, with writer/director Greta Gerwig absolutely nailing the crushing, combative details of growing up, stripping away most of the requisite profundity to hammer an in-the-moment feel that’s positively miraculous. It’s a phenomenal film, finding Gerwig’s attention to the nuances of young love and life authentic and often hilarious, refreshingly content to simply understand the needs of the juvenile heart, never slipping into manipulation or artificiality.  Read the rest at 

Film Review - Mr. Roosevelt


Noel Wells is best known for her brief stint on “Saturday Night Live,” a high-profile position on national television she recently admitted was less than ideal, leaving her a bit disgruntled. Taking her career into her own hands, Wells makes her directorial debut with “Mr. Roosevelt,” bringing her comedic interests to the big screen with a feature that proudly announces it was shot on film in the main titles. It’s the first of many personal touches that help support this wildly amusing picture, which, as expected, showcases Wells’s enormous talents as a performer, working through impressions, reactions, and some dramatic challenges. She’s also surrounded herself with a fine supporting cast, giving “Mr. Roosevelt” a strong screen presence with big personalities and neurotic behaviors. It’s funny stuff, providing a proper launch to Wells’s helming career.  Read the rest at 

Film Review - Roman J. Israel, Esq.


Dan Gilroy made his directorial debut with 2014’s “Nightcrawler,” and it was quite the start for an impressive helming career. It was sinister work, wicked all over, achieving a curdled sense of threat for what becomes an inventive contortion of a traditional serial killer/stalker story. “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” is Gilroy’s eagerly anticipated follow-up, and it definitely lacks the filmmaking authority and tension that made “Nightcrawler” so hypnotic. Gilroy returns to some elements of suspense and psychological imprisonment, but he’s a bit lost with the rest of the picture, which begins as a character study before transitioning into a routine legal thriller, eventually ending as some sort of messianic examination. It’s a mess, but “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” isn’t an unpleasant one, maintaining signs of life with turns of plot and the sheer force of Denzel Washington’s lead performance, which manages to buttress the whole endeavor.  Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Man Who Invented Christmas


Charles Dickens’s 1843 novel, “A Christmas Carol,” has been subjected to countless adaptations, reworked for radio, theater, and screens big and small. It’s a holiday perennial that lends itself easily to dramatic interpretation, offering a creative challenge that merges the darkness of a psychological journey dressed up as a ghost story with a tale of redemption for the holidays, giving the season the optimism it now demands. However, “The Man Who Invented Christmas” is not another take on Dicken’s work, but a movie about Dickens and the pains of his literary victory, examining the writing process and how such creative frustration tends the mine the most brilliant ideas. Director Bharat Nalluri (“Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day”) tries hard to keep the cutes out of the story, but he’s not entirely successful, as “The Man Who Invented Christmas” is ultimately interested in being loved, not accurate. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Coco


I was a fan of last summer’s “Cars 3,” but it was far from Pixar’s finest hour. Returning to a wheezy franchise for a third helping certainly didn’t inspire confidence in the company’s creative direction, and the last decade of production has found the beloved company relying on brand names to keep the lights on, making original works few and far between. “Coco” restores faith in the Pixar system, and while it doesn’t quite nail the thrilling invention of “Inside Out,” the picture represents some of the studio’s most colorful and culturally defined work to date, taking viewers into a vibrant realm known at the Land of the Dead, which doesn’t sound like a place anyone would want to visit, but the fantasyland provides a striking backdrop to an emotional tale of growth and remembrance. “Coco” is a beautiful movie, and the ending is sure to reduce most viewers to pudding, but it also serves as a reminder of Pixar’s free-range imagination when they step away from formula and sequels.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly


It's the most famous of the Spaghetti Westerns, the picture that shot Clint Eastwood to worldwide fame, and remains arguably the finest movie Sergio Leone ever directed. In 1966, he unleashed "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," and westerns were forever changed, not to mention the industry itself. A power play among three morally dubious characters remains at the heart of the feature, all chasing the elusive promise of gold, but the effort is really more of a showcase for Leone's inimitable style, which becomes an unstoppable force as the endeavor unfolds. There have been many imitators, but there's only one Leone, and his guiding force, backed by Ennio Morricone's legendary score, is the true star of "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," capping his "Dollars Trilogy" with a humdinger of an epic conclusion. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Clambake


1967's "Clambake" is not one of Elvis Presley's most beloved movies. It's often the subject of mild mockery, with even Tom Hanks getting in a few shots on talk shows when his love for Elvis comes up in the conversation. Indeed, in the grand scheme of things, this is not the King's finest hour on film, but with lowered expectations and perhaps a great need for escapism, and "Clambake" can be entertaining, offering a jovial party and sporting mood that's helped along by a lively supporting cast, who do their best to keep a snoozy, woozy Elvis from completely checking out of the production. Read the rest at