Film Review - The Dark Below


Writer/director Douglas Schulze should be commended for at least trying to pull off something a little different. “The Dark Below” is thriller cinema, and a B-movie that’s searching for ways to unsettle its audience, also hunting for a gimmick that might help the feature to stand out from the genre pack. First and foremost, the film is partially set underwater, with the lead character struggling to survive under ice. Secondly, there’s no dialogue for the majority of the effort, with Schulze using silence as a way to shake up expectations. “The Dark Below” supplies an unusual viewing experience, but not a satisfying one, with Schulze coming up short in the chills department, exhausting the audience with iffy offerings of style that do next to nothing for the endeavor’s fear factor. Read the rest at

Film Review - Atomica


Like many B-movies, “Atomica” submits a vision for the end of the world. However, it’s a slow ride in planetary decay and filmmaking, with director Dagen Merrill struggling to make a picture that’s basically conversational in nature exciting. There’s some design effort at work in the feature, which gives it a visual presence despite a clear lack of funds to truly bring a dying Earth to life, but “Atomica,” which aims to increase tension through a story of questionable identities and industrial exploration, rarely has the emphasis an endeavor like this requires to rise above its limited means. Merrill wants to transform limited spaces and dark motivations into a Hitchcockian ride, but it rarely grips as tightly as the production would like. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - David and Bathsheba


The 1950s were an amazing time for biblical epics. Studios were attempting to best one another with different tales of Heavenly might, and they were spending serious coin to produce these varied tales, keeping productions immense, with thousands of extras, towering sets, and ornate costuming. The bible provides plenty of opportunity for flashy extravaganza, and a major player in the race was 1951's "David and Bathsheba," which turned to a particularly dark section of scripture to fuel a big screen journey that takes on life and death, sex and temptation, and giants and sin. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Steaming


Based on the play by Nell Dunn, 1985's "Steaming" is the last feature film for director Joseph Losey, the helmer of "Modesty Blaise," "The Trout," and "The Romantic Englishwoman." Losey's career ends on a confident note with this production, which preserves the movements of the source material, maintaining concentration on the lives of women who frequent a Turkish bath, sharing their stories, hopes, and fears with one another as the business becomes a center of therapy for the customers. Although it isn't a sophisticated transfer from stage to screen, Losey wisely preserves the flat look of the production, keeping concentration on the characters and the drama they encounter and periodically invent. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Revenge of the Blood Beast


An Italian chiller, 1966's "Revenge of the Blood Beast" (aka "She Beast") is a peculiar endeavor to merge horror with broad comedy, using extremes to give the picture a level of liveliness other productions tend to avoid. Director Michael Reeves barely holds the feature together, but he's rather good with macabre details, putting time and effort into gruesome encounters and fiendish turns of plot. But for every bizarre, demonic scene in the movie, there's a slapstick counterpart, including a conclusion that appears to be a tribute to the Keystone Cops brand of mischief -- an unexpected addition when dealing with a film that's primarily about a witch's rampage. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Ixcanul


Slow burn doesn't even begin to describe the "Ixcanul" viewing experience. It's a film of complete stasis at times, but the fact that writer/director Jayro Bustamante is able to find a mesmerizing creep to the picture is a major achievement. A full immersion into culture, poor decisions, and responsibility, "Ixcanul" is not a feature that exits the system quickly, gradually locating outstanding character detail and, surprisingly, potent social and political commentary, making it much more than an admittedly hypnotic series of thousand yard stares. Bustamante doesn't have much here besides his evocative vision, but he makes his moments count, following a plot that's filled with common adolescent blues and disasters, yet arrives at a completely unpredictable destination. Read the rest at

Film Review - Kong: Skull Island


With the release of 2014’s “Godzilla,” Legendary Entertainment kicked off the “MonsterVerse,” their answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, only instead of costumed superheroes, the company’s features will tie together building-sized creatures unsure if they want to tolerate or decimate humankind. From a moneymaking standpoint, it’s a tired idea, with seemingly everything open for franchise material these days, but Legendary has enthusiasm for their monsters, building on a best parts of “Godzilla” to inspire “Kong: Skull Island,” which turns the tragic super-ape into a ferocious defender of his jungle territory. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts keeps up the pace, but also spends time on his “Apocalypse Now” and “Jurassic Park” fandom, pouring his energy into a lively picture that brings out a fresh side of the titular menace, making the effort less about broken hearts and stunning beauty, and more about pummeling puny invaders. Read the rest at

Film Review - Don't Kill it


In 2013, director Mike Mendez broke through with “Big Ass Spider,” which miraculously turned a basic monster movie premise into an entertaining ride of thrills and comedy. The film showcased what Mendez was capable of doing with a limited budget and cast, giving the picture some scale to compete with trends in wink-happy schlockbusters. I didn’t make time for the follow-up, “Lavalantula,” which was more of a “Police Academy” reunion than a creature feature, and 2016’s “The Last Heist” was fairly forgettable. Thankfully, Mendez returns to form with “Don’t Kill It,” a wild and inventive comedic chiller that really doesn’t have much of a budget, with the production working extra hard to give the effort some presence with lighting and mayhem, putting its faith in the power of gore and the charms of its lead actor, Dolph Lundgren. Read the rest at

Film Review - My Scientology Movie


In 2015, director Alex Gibney created “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief,” a documentary that attempted to cut the religious organization deep, exposing its curious and possibly destructive practices to the world, with hopes to disturb its secretive methods of physical and mental control. The picture was a smash success, attracting near-record viewers during its HBO debut, bringing Scientology back into the national conversation, stirring up fascinating debate on its methodology. Last year, the show “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath” aired to high ratings, providing a look at someone once part of the machine now facing a future away from her once vital network of support, with the actress growing critical of Scientology, dissecting it with an insider’s perspective. And now it’s Louis Theroux turn to take Scientology for a spin, though his documentary, “My Scientology Movie,” isn’t nearly as dire, tracking the comedian’s attempt to replicate the experience of the religion instead of merely highlighting its fallacies, dangers, and mystery. Read the rest at

Film Review - Love & Taxes


There’s a cult following for 2001’s “Haiku Tunnel,” and those people are going to be very happy that brothers Jacob and Josh Kornbluth have finally decided to return to the source of their only big screen success, albeit unconventionally. In many ways, “Love & Taxes” is another pass at “Haiku Tunnel” without remaking the whole thing, offering writer/star Josh Kornbluth a chance to explain his tumultuous life during the creation of the earlier picture, and doing so in the monologue format, where he’s most comfortable. It’s a performance piece broken up with dramatic interpretations of key events, delivering a mischievous take on Josh’s profound tax problems while director Jacob tries to transform stage work into a beguiling no-budget version of his brother’s ruined life. “Love & Taxes” is a bit unsteady at times, but Kornbluth charm and eccentricity remains as potent now as it was 16 years ago. Read the rest at

Film Review - Brimstone


To his literal credit, writer/director Martin Koolhoven takes complete responsibility for his latest endeavor, which is titled “Koolhoven’s Brimstone” on the print, picking up where artists such as John Carpenter and Lars von Trier have left off. While there’s undeniable production heft on display throughout the picture, it’s Koolhoven who’s standing up for the effort, which concentrates on lessons of punishment in the American west, frosted with incestual appetites, ultraviolence, and a 148 minute run time. “Brimstone” is punishment, but that’s the idea, trying to inflict as much pain as possible as it explores kinks and sadism, bending genre traditions with an unnerving fixation on prolonged suffering. It’s a brutal film, in aggression and pacing, and I can only hope some of Koolhoven’s helming fee went to some badly needed therapy sessions. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Doomwatch


While it began life as a BBC show in 1970, 1972's "Doomwatch" hopes to bring its message of global health to a larger audience with a feature-film continuation. Mindful of repetition, the production alters a few elements from the television program, attempting to make the movie its own thing, which generally involves isolating the lead character from the comforts of big city science as the story plays out inside a coastal Scottish village. Perhaps this attempt to revive "Doomwatch" is best left for longtime fans of the series, who already have an appreciation for its blend of genre pursuits and procedural might, though newcomers to the concept aren't left hanging, as director Peter Sasdy tries to infuse the picture with a sense of environmental urgency, even if the overall effort has trouble unearthing chills and thrills. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Neptune Factor


1973's "The Neptune Factor" takes viewers into the depths of the ocean on a rescue mission that encounters its share of fantasy challenges and enormous amounts of exploration. It's meant to be engrossing escapism, showcasing actors concentrating on the moment, attempting to turn some crude filmmaking magic into a pulse-pounding ride of bizarre discoveries. Intention is there on the screen, often carried along single-handedly by co-star Ernest Borgnine, but "The Neptune Factor" can be quite ridiculous if one doesn't buy into the special effects wizardry on display. Its cheesiness is pronounced, making any viewing of the effort a game of stifling laughs and battling yawns, as director Daniel Petrie is so enamored with his submersibles, he forgets to build an engaging thriller, with long stretches of the feature devoted to characters staring out of windows, trying to project a feeling of awe the picture doesn't inspire. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Loophole


American bank heist movies typically take care of business in a more stylish, swift manner, playing up the inherent thrill of theft with pulse-pounding turns of fate and broad personalities to match the mission at hand. The British tend to take it easy on excitement, leaving 1981's "Loophole" more of a picture to accept than enjoy. An adaptation of a novel by Robert Pollack and directed by John Quested, "Loophole" is pretty much the opposite of suspenseful, taking a leisurely stroll through moral choices, near-misses, and the execution of criminal endeavors. It's not without merit, but the feature doesn't appreciate the value of pace, finding more to enjoy about the set-up than the payoff. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Biggles: Adventures in Time


Looking to compete with the sci-fi blockbusters of the 1980s, "Biggles: Adventures in Time" perverts its source material to transform itself into a high-flying, year-hopping adventure. The 1986 picture doesn't truly adapt the series of novels it's based on, which details the heroism of an ace WWI British pilot. Instead, the production merges the character of Biggles with a time-travel plot that allows the feature a chance to appeal to younger audiences who might pass on the idea of spending time with a stuffy character. It's a strange creative reach that doesn't make much sense as the movie unfolds, but small pockets of spirit remain in "Biggles," which takes time to find its groove, but eventually secures some thrills and spills once the screenplay focuses on wartime suspense. Read the rest at

Film Review - Beauty and the Beast (2017)


Disney has been doing very well with their recent corporate decision to make live-action versions of their animated classics, putting a new coat of paint on old stories and familiar characters, with passable interest in restoring elements of source material. “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Jungle Book” both made a billion dollars at the box office, while “Cinderella” made half as much but won the war of quality. Now the suits have turned their attention to “Beauty and the Beast,” which, to many admirers, is considered one of the finest Disney animated efforts of all time. And what better way to celebrate such an important chapter in the studio’s history than to mount a live-action take that’s largely without heart, soul, musical achievement, visual appeal, and judicious editing. Perhaps maybe, just maybe, we should all confront the reality that Bill Condon isn’t a very effective director. Read the rest at

Film Review - Before I Fall


“Before I Fall” isn’t a faith-based production (at least not an overt one), but it provides one of the more stimulating spiritual stories of the past filmgoing year. An adaptation of a 2010 novel by Lauren Oliver, the production does indulge its YA origins, keeping matters of the heart close to the humiliation of high school and home life, but there’s more here than initially meets the eye. Once the feature purges most of its juvenile behavior, it settles into an engrossing study of personal awakening and, gasp, kindness, staying on message as it files through the usual teenage concern. “Before I Fall” isn’t stunning, but that it works at all is kind of miraculous, treating its characters with dignity and taking their hidden concerns seriously. Read the rest at

Film Review - Table 19

TABLE 19 2

Director Jeffrey Blitz hasn’t made a feature film in a decade, and there’s a very good reason why. “Table 19” is his first big screen effort since 2007’s “Rocket Science,” and it’s an attempt to get his helming groove back after years in television, put in command of a screenplay co-conceived by indie golden boys, Jay and Mark Duplass. An overstuffed, undernourished attempt to turn a wedding reception into an intimate character study, “Table 19” isn’t funny and it certainly isn’t profound, stuck in neutral with deeply disturbing, virtually unexplained characterizations and random editing, helping to repeatedly disrupt what initially appears to be a farce, but soon reaches clumsily for something deeper. Blitz is lost here, flailing with terrible scenes, trying to make something meaningful stick with stillborn material and a dead-eyed cast. Read the rest at

Film Review - Catfight


There are days when one desires thoughtful, refined cinema, and there are days when one craves a movie where star Anne Heche and Sandra Oh beat the stuffing out of each other for 90 minutes. “Catfight” is the latest from ultra-indie director Onur Tukel, who’s inching his way into the mainstream sunlight, but doing so with his sense of humor fully intact. While the feature does present the visual of the two actresses locked in brutal combat, working each other over with fists, hammers, and wrenches, “Catfight” is also a reasonably sharp satire of motherhood, politics, and the art world, with Tukel putting in an effort to beef up his picture with satisfying, sly characterization. The film is also frequently hilarious, delivering bellylaughs to go with broken faces, keeping the bizarre endeavor wonderfully entertaining.  Read the rest at

Film Review - I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore


Actor Macon Blair made quite a favorable impression in 2014’s “Blue Ruin,” embodying a weary level of rage in Jeremy Saulnier’s outstanding revenge thriller. Blair returned to Saulnier country in last year’s stunner, “Green Room,” making something out of a supporting role. Now taking charge of his own filmmaking destiny, Blair graduates to the director’s chair for “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore,” which shares DNA with Saulnier’s work, but follows its own direction of quirk and violence. The feature is amusing, but also astute in its understanding of depression and loneliness, with Blair (who also scripts) trying to turn everyday malaise into a foundation for thriller-style developments with a collection of oddballs and vicious criminals. Read the rest at