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January 2018

February 2018

Film Review - Annihilation


“Annihilation” is the second directorial effort from Alex Garland, who issued “Ex Machina” in 2015, starting a career that’s apparently going to specialize in deeply unnerving sci-fi. Already an established screenwriter (with credits such as “Sunshine,” “28 Days Later,” and “Never Let Me Go”), Garland’s helming interests have been drawn to nightmares, first with the lure of A.I., and now the end of the world. “Annihilation” isn’t easily digestible or even quickly identifiable, but it’s hypnotic and, at times, quite frightening, with Garland trying his hand at an alien invasion story that offers no defined antagonist for much of its run time, requiring the audience to take a journey, often to places they won’t want to go. While “Ex Machina” was modest but disturbing, Garland attempts a bigger canvas for his idiosyncratic ways, coming up with a humdinger of a horror show that’s sure to be polarizing, but difficult to shake. Read the rest at

Film Review - Game Night


“Game Night” has a terrific premise, and one that’s been used multiple times in television and film. However, the concept of clueless gamers expecting fun but embarking on a very real quest to solve a murder mystery remains ripe for recycling, giving any production a wide open shot at silliness, with potential for real suspense. “Game Night” feels like a botched opportunity to have some major movie fun with naive sleuths as they inch close to danger but aren’t quite aware of impending threat, but it remains a modern mainstream comedy, spending more time fishing for punchlines and sticking to scripted formula, never showing interest in transforming into a delicious romp. “Game Night” is strangely free of imagination and timing, with only a handful of moments hinting at the possibilities of a production brave enough to embrace the madness in full.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Golden Exits


A few years ago, writer/director Alex Ross Perry masterminded “Queen of Earth,” his valentine to mental illness. In a career that’s already welcomed any sort of behavioral erosion, the feature played right to his interests in unraveling people and overall powerlessness. “Golden Exits” is merely about bad relationships, which is something of a change of course for Perry. Obviously, he doesn’t take it easy on his characters, sending them through trials of communication and jealousy, but the end game isn’t complete exhaustion, and that’s a welcome development. “Golden Exits” isn’t as thunderous as “Queen of Earth,” but accepted on a smaller scale of disturbance, and Perry’s windy screenplay and care for actors is fascinating, creating a movie with no defined direction, but still involving as it negotiates claustrophobic environments.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Lodgers


Those in the mood for a creepy gothic chiller might respond highly to “The Lodgers,” but the picture seems intentionally made for fans of Hammer Films and their unique legacy of horror endeavors. Director Brian O’Malley makes a distinct effort to replicate the deliberate moves of the studio’s creepy productions, and screenwriter David Turpin fills the story with enough guarded perversion and unease to maintain interest in the unfolding tale. However, “The Lodgers” is a slow-burn viewing experience, almost to a point of complete stoppage at times, finding O’Malley so caught up in the atmosphere of his work, he periodically forgets to nudge it along. There are enough macabre interests to maintain an absorbing sit, but to reach a point of actual momentum, one must accept O’Malley’s overly cautious handling of the feature’s fright factor.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Half Magic


Heather Graham has been making movies for over 30 years, but “Half Magic” marks her directorial debut. It’s a personal project for the actress, often resembling a to-do list of grievances in love and work, dressed up as a mischievous comedy to best reach its audience. Graham gets halfway to her goal with the screenplay, which introduces itself with authority and concludes in a winded state, with the helmer seemingly overwhelmed by the demands of feature-length storytelling. “Half Magic” has a distinct fingerprint for some of the run time, and that’s a good thing, showcasing perspective in the battle of the sexes, with Graham trying to make a war cry for women that teaches a thing or two about self-esteem and communication. Intentions are pure, but inspiration slowly dissipates.  Read the rest at

Film Review - 7 Guardians of the Tomb


It’s tough out there for a monster spider chiller. SyFy productions such as “Lavalantula” have ruined the freak-out factor when it comes to the sight of rampaging arachnids, making a joke out of what would normally be an alarming cinematic situation. A Chinese-Australian co-production, “7 Guardians of the Tomb” seeks to return a little fury to the subgenre, mixing creepy-crawly spider attacks with Indiana Jones-style adventuring, hoping to find a balance between horror and small-scale spectacle. Co-writer/director Kimble Rendall can only do so much with the limited budget and thespian talents gathered, leaving “7 Guardians of the Tomb” straining to be the high-flying good time at the movies it wants to become.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Cured


There’s a lot of competition out there for the zombie lover’s dollar, inspiring filmmakers to find new and interesting ways to refresh genre particulars, refusing to submit the same old stomp to moviegoers demanding a little more from their flesh-chewing entertainment. Making his directorial debut for “The Cured” is David Freyne (who also scripts), who twists the subgenre in a more allegorical fashion, using the menace of “infected” types to explore political history in Ireland and the violent extremism that plagues all corners of the world today. “The Cured” isn’t light, bloody fun, retaining an impressively curated heaviness about it, with Freyne laboring to making something different with familiar working parts, coming up with an impressively forbidding tone and emotional urgency to reach beyond expectations.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Nostalgia


Nostalgia is a powerful feeling, triggering a range of emotions as encounters with items or events invite a flood of memories, which can sometimes be an unwelcome development. Screenwriter Alex Ross Perry (“Queen of Earth”) and director Mark Pellington (“Henry Poole is Here”) come to “Nostalgia” with a profound interest in the anguish remembrance inspires, working to craft a haunting poem to the process of reflection, mixing a series of thousand yard stares with episodic storytelling that’s depressing to watch. Not that sadness isn’t welcome, but the production’s approach to communicating pain is to make an irritatingly protracted movie that lacks refined editing and necessary bits of sunshine to help illuminate depths of darkness. “Nostalgia” is a rough sit, and while it initially seems that Perry and Pellington have a master plan for their relay race of misery, it doesn’t take long to realize that they don’t.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Curvature


For a time travel movie to work, it doesn’t have to offer a big idea, but speed is appreciated to help digest the particulars of this type of science fiction. Math and science is often most effective with some passion behind it, but “Curvature” doesn’t trust the value of excitement. Brian DeLeeuw has scripted a small-scale mind-bender, but he’s often stuck searching for emotional resonance with a story that seems built for exploitation interests. “Curvature” is dull, requiring a director who’s dedicated to the essentials of cinematic pursuit, but helmer Diego Hallivis seems overwhelmed here, trying to preserve DeLeeuw’s characterization while delivering limp action. The basics of time-leaping and broken hearts are here, but the production doesn’t come alive, weakening a passable detective story.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Irreplaceable You


There are no spoilers here: “Irreplaceable You” opens with the acknowledgment that the lead character is already dead, narrating the picture from the afterlife. It’s a startling way to begin a movie, and if screenwriter Bess Wohl wanted to attempt any sort of suspense that typically comes with unknown fates, she erases the possibility right away. Sadly, such a loss is the last offering of surprise “Irreplaceable You” is interested in gifting the audience, quickly embarking on a quirky, undercooked tearjerker that appears willing to examine the process of grief and fears of the future, but doesn’t make time to go deeper than teary dialogue exchanges and awkward turns of plot. Wohl only wants the gushing emotions, not the intricacy of mortality and romantic responsibility.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Corpse Grinders


Some people will go a long way to make a buck. The premise of 1971's "The Corpse Grinders" is a hoot, detailing the struggle of two men using dead bodies to manufacture cat food, hoping to make a fortune by feeding felines rotting human meat. Certainly there are more efficient, less disgusting ways to pay the rent, but lunacy is part of the film's charm. There's no logic here, no moment of thought to consider alternate vocational routes. There are only cadavers and cat food, with director Ted V. Mikels making sure to keep the macabre study of food processing at least passably revolting. While "The Corpse Grinders" is ultimately more of a detective story than a gross-out extravaganza, there's still plenty of ghoulish fun to be had with the feature's low-wattage charms and strange misadventures with kitties. Sure, it could be more, but this is Mikels, and he rarely goes above and beyond what's necessary to sell a picture. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - A Woman's Torment


1977's "A Woman's Torment" is an adult movie made by a writer/director who simply didn't care to add any eroticism to the effort. Roberta Findlay has different ideas for this horror/sex picture, and I'm not sure any of them are translated to film properly, with the helmer striving to create a cold- blooded feature that's covered in blood and other bodily fluids, making strange points about sexual anxiety and resentment while teasing titillating visuals. "A Woman's Torment" is an odd endeavor, caught somewhere between a need to thrill and repulse, resulting in exploitation that's interesting to analyze but difficult to endure.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Rolling Vengeance


According to "Rolling Vengeance," when life gives you lemons, you retreat to your farm and build a fire-belching monster truck capable of killing anything in its path. The 1987 revenge picture has a special way of doing business, trying to sell the specialty of a monster truck used as a lethal weapon, and why not? It gets the job done, with as much property damage as possible. It's an amusing premise, but screenwriter Michael Thomas Montgomery doesn't know the fine line between manipulation and punishment, keeping the feature on the nasty side when all it truly takes to inspire pushback is a lot of attitude and some mild maiming. The movie could do with less child murder and rape, but for those capable of absorbing overkill, "Rolling Vengeance" eventually becomes the film the marketing promises, pitting dim-wits against the might of an enormous truck stocked with weapons.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Avanti


Nearing the end of his illustrious filmmaking career, Billy Wilder attempts one from the heart with 1972's "Avanti," which still rings loudly with his particular sense of timing and silliness, but strives to be more than just a series of jokes. Wilder's had greater success with this type of tone before, but all is not lost with the painfully overlong "Avanti" (which runs 144 minutes), which offers pronounced charm from leads Jack Lemmon and Juliet Mills, while the screenplay by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond (adapting a Samuel Taylor play) remains interested in twists and turns, working to keep the audience engaged as the pair refuse to trim any tangents and bad ideas.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Black Panther


As the Marvel Cinematic Universe expands, fringe characters are starting to take center stage, joining the ongoing examination of comic book heroism as it emerges from all shapes, colors, and sizes. Now that Ant-Man and Doctor Strange have found their footing at the box office, here comes Black Panther, perhaps the most regal character found in the MCU. While the ways of T’Challa were introduced in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War,” the King of Wakanda becomes the sole focus of “Black Panther,” bringing heightened fantasy action, vivid characters, and African pride with him. While co-writer/director Ryan Coogler doesn’t always maintain stamina when it comes to the fine details of the crime and punishment showcased in the script, he has a wonderful sense of culture and costumed authority, creating a vibrant solo showcase for the world of Wakanda and all the political turbulence and fierceness it contains. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Early Man


Leave it to Aardman Animations to make a picture featuring cavemen that’s also about the birth of soccer. It’s typically strange stuff from the company that gave the world “Wallace and Gromit,” “Chicken Run,” and “Shaun the Sheep,” but the production offers a commitment to the absurdity, trying to find the funny in every frame of this stop-motion animated event. Significant laughs are missing from the mix, a rarity with Aardman, but “Early Man” delivers on charm and technical achievements, supplying a breezy sit with a bizarre premise, which marries sports movie formula with Monty Python wit. Director Nick Park aims for a slightly younger audience with “Early Man,” which is heavy on slapstick and exaggerated personalities, and while the film is perhaps something of a disappointment in the grand scale of Aardman achievements, it remains pleasant and periodically inspired.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Looking Glass


For his second release of 2018, Nicolas Cage goes the voyeur route in “Looking Glass,” which offers almost enough provocative moments to pass, only to weirdly pull back just when the effort hits major areas of disturbing behavior. It’s the latest endeavor from Tim Hunter, the helmer of “River’s Edge” and “Tex,” and a director who’s spent a significant amount of time guiding TV shows, gifting him ease with tiny budgets and small ideas. “Looking Glass” offers both, and it doesn’t emerge with any real sense of screen authority, but Hunter captures a few blasts of unguarded behavior and thriller-esque twists, laboring to make something exciting out of a slow-burn journey into the mind of defeated man. It certainly could be better, but it’s mildly impressive to watch Hunter make sure it’s not worse.  Read the rest at

Film Review - When We First Met


Adam DeVine is relatively new to the world of leading men, having previously shared shenanigans with larger casts in supporting roles (“Pitch Perfect,” “Why Him?”), and joining Zac Efron in 2016’s “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.” “When We First Met” is the first time a picture is dependent entirely on DeVine’s charm, skill with a punchline, and capacity for emotional communication. Director Ari Sandel (“The Duff”) puts a lot of faith in DeVine to manage the inner life of the film, and it’s not the best casting in the world, with the habitual jokester trying to make a Jack Black comedy while the helmer attempts to nudge the tone of the effort to something more bittersweet. “When We First Met” has some positive energy and a tried-and-true premise ripe for silly business, but a little DeVine goes a long way, with the feature not nearly as hilarious or meaningful as it aims to be. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Female Brain


“The Female Brain” is an adaptation of a book by Louann Brizendine, a neuropsychiatrist who has spent the majority of her career studying the chemical changes in women as they encounter the daily worries of life. The material doesn’t seem like a natural fit for a big screen adaptation, but comedian Whitney Cummings, who’s never directed a film before, has elected to take on the challenge of turning science into entertainment. Obviously, Cummings strives to turn “The Female Brain” into funny business, giving her cast wide open spaces to improvise and horse around while the script struggles to manufacture something resembling a plot. Cliché eventually suffocates the movie, but it’s a long road of unfunny business before formula reigns, with Cummings and co-writer Neal Brennan arranging a pedestrian battle of the sexes where only the audience loses.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Blood Beat


Most low-budget horror pictures tend to play it safe with narrative construction, keeping things simple to appeal to a wide audience, trusting in frights to define the viewing experience. 1983's "Blood Beat" does away with story altogether, submitting what should be an abstract extravaganza where anything goes because it simply can. It's filmmaking without rules, but something tells me the pronounced confusion of "Blood Beat" wasn't intentional. Writer/director Fabrice Zaphiratos has ideas but no real clue as how to implement them into a dramatic saga of psychic forces, deer hunting, and samurai armor. Instead of giving it all some thought, he makes a mad dash through nonsensical scenes and empty characterizations, almost relishing how little clarity the endeavor has to offer its audience. Perhaps some viewers will get off on the confusion, but to reach a point of comfort with Zaphiratos's randomness takes a substantial amount of patience I doubt few are willing to give. Read the rest at