Film Review - Pilgrimage


Medieval monks go on a mission in “Pilgrimage,” a bruising actioner that returns to a burgeoning world of fanaticism and the worship of magic. Director Brendan Muldowney isn’t interested in telling a superficial story of travel and combat, but sets out to make the viewer feel the pain of the journey, which keeps its characters in state of discomfort and confusion for the duration of the run time. That’s not to suggest the feature is a slog, as it highlights compelling characterizations and meaty conflicts, with a primary offering of mysticism fueling tempers in the middle of Ireland, finding Muldowney keeping his effort primal and propulsive, using limited locations effectively, tied together with a reasonable amount of mystery.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Armed Response


There was some hope that with his appearance in “The Expendables 3,” Wesley Snipes would be able to restore what was left of his career after years of participating in junk cinema and enduring personal problems. Handed a high-profile gig, Snipes followed it up with an appearance in “Chi-Raq,” the best Spike Lee movie in years, but his bad habits are back. “Armed Response” effectively ends the Snipes revival, returning him to dismal DTV fodder that previously padded his filmography. He couldn’t look more bored here, but it’s hard to blame the man for sleepiness when paired with director John Stockwell, who rarely, if ever, puts in a commendable effort (previously helming “Turistas,” “Cat Run,” and “Dark Tide”), barely piecing together this tedious supernatural chiller.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Malibu High


Marketing materials for 1979's "Malibu High" paint the picture as an R-rated romp featuring nude women and dirty old men, accompanied by a cheeky tagline about a failing high school student and her plans to restore her GPA without doing homework. The actual "Malibu High" is a bit crazier than simple sexploitation, emerging as a sort of distant relative to Luc Besson's masterwork, "La Femme Nikita," only with a very limited budget, little command of tone, and pronounced displays of goofballery at every turn. What begins with teen angst ends with a series of assassinations, keeping the feature on high alert as screenwriter Thomas Singer attempts to manage a crazy story that blends sex, violence, and bad grades, enjoying the permissiveness of the late 1970s to fill the tale with numerous couplings, disco, drugs, and bullets. It's not a particularly cohesive endeavor, but it's memorable, delivering all the B-movie nonsense a person can stand. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - The Hearse


1980's "The Hearse" is one of the last gasps of horror from the 1970s. Before the tidal wave of gore and sexualized teenagers served up for the slaughter, there were weird stories with Satanic inspirations, pitting hapless characters against unholy forces they don't understand. The feature strives to make something unsettling about a haunted car and evil influence in a small town, but there's not a lot of truly terrifying incidents to savor in "The Hearse," which tries to get plenty of mileage from the vision of the titular car ruling rural roads, but director George Bowers isn't motivated to move the plot along, working on his cheap fright film tricks and atmosphere instead. It's a game attempt to generate an unusual four-wheeled cinematic nightmare, but the production takes it time before it reaches the unknown, and doesn't do much with it once it gets there.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Indian Fighter


1955's "The Indian Fighter" is one offering in a wave of Hollywood westerns where the concept wasn't to vilify Native American characters, but try to understand the concerns of the First Nation as it dealt with the terror of settlers. With star Kirk Douglas around, deeply felt sympathies aren't readily available, but the production at least makes an attempt to be gentle around cultural divides, delivering a story that's big on action and debate, but also wrestling with a love story that doesn't belong in the mix.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Sheik


It's important to watch 1921's "The Sheik" with awareness of its age. It's the film that brought star Rudolph Valentino to stratospheric heights of fame, greatly complicating his burgeoning career with an iconic display of matinee idol charisma. It's also a picture that carries an uneasy appreciation for Stockholm Syndrome-style romance, created during a time when such a union wasn't open season for 1,000 think pieces on big screen sexism. "The Sheik" is period escapism, and it mostly comes together thanks to Valentino and co-star Agnes Ayres, who manage to make a credible connection in a story that needs something a bit more than soapy romanticism to penetrate the senses.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Kidnap


Managing a career filled with critical and commercial disappointments, Halle Berry found moderate success with 2013’s “The Call,” which required the actress to portray a character largely stuck in a stationary position, directing the survival of a kidnap victim from the pressurized environment of a 911 call center. It was mild exploitation, and it found an audience, reenergizing Berry’s career as Hollywood hunted for another “Taken” situation where a veteran actor could be transformed into mature butt-kicker for an older audience. Berry picks up where she left off in “Kidnap,” which also finds the star in a stationary position directing the survival of a kidnap victim, only here the action largely takes place on interstates, challenging Berry to come up with a commanding characterization that mostly involves a persona talking to themselves and making poor decisions for 90 minutes. “Kidnap” is certainly energetic, but before it gets stupid, it remains very dumb. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Dark Tower


Development on “The Dark Tower” has been brewing for a very long time. Many filmmakers, including J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard, have attempted to conquer Stephen King’s legendary series of novels, but only now has there been a production that’s managed to stick the landing. Perhaps the mere act of getting this byzantine material to the big screen is enough to brand the movie a success, but director Nikolaj Arcel (“A Royal Affair,” “Truth About Men”) doesn’t have the experience with such massive waves of fantasy. “The Dark Tower” offers a divisive viewing experience, with fans offered references and backstory, while newcomers are presented with the digestion of an entire universe in a mere 90 minutes. The picture speaks a different language, and if you’re not locked into position from the get-go, giant sections of the effort are terribly confusing, while the rest is just tiresome and dull.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Endless Poetry


Writer/director Alejandro Jodorowsky took a break from filmmaking after 1990’s “The Rainbow Thief,” or perhaps filmmaking asked for a breather. While never a prolific helmer, Jodorowsky’s absence was noted, making his return to screens with 2013’s “The Dance of Reality” all the more special. Going the autobiographical route, Jodorowsky distorted and amplified his life and times, emerging with another, slightly less extreme offering of surrealism that triumphantly reinstated his creative authority. Interested in scratching the same itch, Jodorowsky returns to his story with “Endless Poetry,” a continuation of “The Dance of Reality,” charting his maturity and artistic awakening, revisiting the point of impact when childhood melts away and more adult pursuits begin to take command. Sustaining the mood, Jodorowsky once again bathes the feature in oddity, personal expression, and grotesqueries, making this second chapter as captivating as the first.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Step


For a film titled “Step,” highlighting the struggles and successes of a high school dance squad, there’s surprisingly little choreographed movement contained within. It’s a documentary about young black women in America who use dance to escape from their daily lives and questionable future, but the feature isn’t strictly about rhythm. Director Amanda Lipitz is far more interested in the educational goals of her subjects, which is an amazing break from expectations, putting full attention on the battle to attend college and the war of passing grades. “Step” eventually gets around to dance and its substantial rehearsal time, but Lipitz has a stronger picture when exposing concerns about potential and showcasing intelligence celebrated and sabotaged. As empowerment cinema goes, it works, but not for the obvious reason.  Read the rest at

Film Review - A Ghost Story


After helming “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” director David Lowery elected to disturb his rise to indie film glory by taking on the considerable demands of a Disney production. Lowery was an unusual choice to take command of 2016’s “Pete’s Dragon,” but he managed to create something remarkable out of a remake, gifting the effort a sense of magic and sincerity that’s rarely encountered in family entertainment. It was one of the best pictures of the year. Getting something mainstream out of his system, Lowery returns to the low-wattage needs of no-budget cinema, going the esoteric route with “A Ghost Story,” which is as opposite a viewing experience from “Pete’s Dragon” as can be. Challenging the mind and the rear end, the endeavor is pure Lowery, who puts everything into a tiny feature about time, the afterlife, and relationships, crafting an art-house Rorschach test that demands a specific type of moviegoer in a precise mood for cosmic puzzling.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Savage Dog


Every now and then, a Scott Adkins actioner will come up for review. The next generation Jean-Claude Van Damme (starring in the recent “Hard Target 2” isn’t going to help quiet this comparison), Adkins likes to work, maintaining a steady stream of DTV titles that emphasize his martial arts training and cinematic stance, keeping up an action hero tradition that’s largely ignored these days for grungier, morally dubious tales of criminality. Looking to stretch a bit, moving away from contemporary headbangers, Adkins takes the title role in “Savage Dog,” which is actually a period piece, though one that’s not exactly interested in manners and political upheaval. It’s another bruiser from Adkins, who does what he can with a movie that’s not particularly attentive to detail or drama.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Fun Mom Dinner


The plight of the overworked mother is revived for “Fun Mom Dinner,” which once again pits harried females against the world of parental responsibility and spousal support, hoping to appeal to an exclusive audience with displays of raunchy sisterhood and heartfelt confession. We’ve done this a few times before, most recently with 2014’s “Moms’ Night Out,” which took a more religiously minded route to hellraising, never achieving a fever pitch. Mercifully, “Fun Mom Dinner” doesn’t soften easily, with writer Julie Rudd and director Alethea Jones putting in a commendable effort to give the feature a comedic personality before it loses its nerve, having fun with the messes of parenthood and the struggles of marriage while engaging in stretches of mischief.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Detroit


In 2008, Kathryn Bigelow helmed “The Hurt Locker,” a searing, restless Iraq War drama that restored her career, bringing her Oscar gold and industry respect, also kicking off a union with screenwriter Mark Boal, who also collected an Academy Award for his work on the feature. In 2012, Bigelow and Boal returned to the depths of Middle East hell with “Zero Dark Thirty,” delivering another pulse-pounding ride of heated conflicts, moral ambiguity, and military procedure, sustaining their box office success and maintaining a brand for tense, agitated storytelling. The pair turns their attention to America for “Detroit,” a dramatization of the “Algiers Motel Incident” from the turbulent summer of 1967 -- a harrowing display of murder and racism that reverberates to this day. In many ways, “Detroit” is an easy lay-up for Bigelow and Boal, offering an oversimplified take on dangerous cops and scarred civilians, but it’s impossible to deny the urgency of their filmmaking, using a docudrama approach to capture moments of unrest and horror, bringing viewers into the insanity of the moment.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Chronically Metropolitan


I’m not entirely sure “Chronically Metropolitan” is a finished film. It feels incomplete, like it was either rushed through production or neutered in the editing room, with major pieces of the puzzle barely registering during the surprisingly short run time (80 minutes before end credits). Or perhaps screenwriter Nicholas Schutt and director Xavier Manrique simply had a short story in mind when they decided to commit the tale to the screen, setting small dramatic goals for themselves to resemble a brief visit to another world. “Chronically Metropolitan” isn’t too problematic, but it doesn’t get under the skin either, going through the motions with troubled characters and easily avoidable problems while the rest of the feature carries itself with an appealing NYC mood and a few capable performances. Read the rest at

Film Review - Brave New Jersey


The premise of “Brave New Jersey” imagines the hysteria of a small town in 1938 that’s come into contact with the Orson Welles radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’s book, “The War of the Worlds.” Such a plot immediately brings to mind the potential for 90 minutes of comedic anarchy, watching everyday souls deal with a Martian invasion that never was. Weirdly, co-writer/director Jody Lambert doesn’t slam his foot on the gas when it comes to the vivid imaginations of those who believe Welles’s work to be a news report of mass destruction. Instead, Lambert makes a dramedy, putting more attention on the needy citizens of Lullaby, New Jersey, interested in their desires, dreams, and curiosity, with actual humor barely present during the viewing experience. It’s an odd choice, leaving “Brave New Jersey” underinflated and anti-climatic, though Lambert has select ideas that connect as intended.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Legend of Ben Hall


“The Legend of Ben Hall” is an apt title, as the saga of the famous Australian “bushranger” tends to mythologize his unsavory life, working to turn crime into a greater purpose from a decent man. It’s curious creative choice from writer/director Matthew Holmes, who’s poured his blood, sweat, and tears into the effort, trying to make it look and feel as authentic as possible on a limited budget. He’s made a cinematic picture, and one carried nicely Jack Martin, who delivers depth as the titular outlaw. Take “The Legend of Ben Hall” at face value, and it’s engaging with a modest sense of sweep and tormented characterizations. But as a celebration of a life lived on its own terms, it’s a bit unappetizing, trying to make a hero out of a man who spent the majority of his life making trouble for others.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Marjorie Morningstar


There's a long tradition of Hollywood melodramas, and there's always been an audience for them. However, 1958's "Marjorie Morningstar" takes considerable patience to sit through, working the subgenre in full with its depictions of shattered dreams, poisoned romances, and troubled families. An adaptation of a Herman Wouk novel, the feature does a reasonable job packing plot into two hours of screentime, but casting is often too odd to ignore, finding Gene Kelly fighting visible awkwardness as the 46-year-old actor tries to make believable magic with 20-year-old Natalie Wood. While the stars have been wonderful before, they fail to summon a proper pitch of melancholy to keep "Marjorie Morningstar" alert and appealingly sudsy. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - The Return of Sabata


The good news is that Lee Van Cleef has come back for 1971's "Return of Sabata," picking up where he left off in the 1969 original, reclaiming the character's cold stare from Yul Brynner, who portrayed the gunslinger in 1970's "Adios, Sabata." Van Cleef's return is welcome, reuniting the squinty actor with one of his best roles, but the celebration is half-hearted at best, as "Return of Sabata," while retaining the Looney Tunes approach of the series, remains largely stuck in neutral, trying to cut through substantial exposition to find the fun again, taking far too long to get going.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Adios, Sabata


After the unexpected success of 1969's "Sabata," producers scrambled to put together a sequel, ready to cash in on a cult legend in the making. However, star Lee Van Cleef couldn't return to duty, necessitating a casting change to Yul Brynner, who's pretty much the polar opposite of Van Cleef in every way. However, this lead actor shake-up doesn't bring 1970's "Adios, Sabata" down, forcing director Gianfranco Parolini to rework the iconic nature of the titular character, who's presented as more of a matinee cowboy for his second outing, with Brynner showing more flair and care for costume fringes than Van Cleef would be comfortable with.  Read the rest at