Film Review - China Salesman


The big draw for “China Salesman” is the pairing of stars Mike Tyson and Steven Seagal, who do battle with each other and the very art of acting in the Chinese production. Their names will bring attention to the movie, which saves a fight sequence for the duo, giving the effort its lone moment of excitement, and even that’s open for debate. The rest of “China Salesman” covers the experience of the titular character, who’s not a gladiator ready to pound opponents alongside Seagal and Tyson, but a meet telecom lackey trying to bring a 3G wireless network to the far reaches of Africa. While the material is apparently based on a true story, vague authenticity is no excuse for this hilariously miscalculated slog, with co-writer/director Tan Bing gifted a chance to put on a series of physical challenges, but is more interested in the particulars of business bids and long travel to remote cell towers. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Yellow Birds


Stages of the Iraq War and ensuing conflicts have been covered extensively in American cinema. Filmmakers tend to follow a template when isolating areas of domestic disruption and combat shock, but the more interesting movies figure out ways to attack common issues from a more personal perspective, waving away melodrama. Unfortunately, “The Yellow Birds” doesn’t think outside the box when it comes to the depiction of trauma, as director Alexandre Moors (“Blue Caprice”) plays it all very bluntly, trying to remain respectful to the military experience while still tending to the painful realities of service. “The Yellow Birds” aims to be poetic and insular, but it’s not a particularly compelling feature, slogging through the same old sights and sounds without inspiration to be anything more than disappointingly predictable.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Incredibles 2


When “The Incredibles” debuted in 2004, it was released during the infancy of the superhero movie movement that we know so well today. Writer/director Brad Bird was paying homage to the comic book stories of his youth, using blockbuster aspiration and fluid animation to fully realize his vision for big screen heroics, also examining the stresses of family life when up against nefarious supervillains and their persistent desire to take over the world. It was also a time in Pixar Animation Studios history when the company was dragged into sequels, with Bird perfectly content to leave the Parr Family alone after a single installment, much to the frustration of fans everywhere. Time has changed minds, and 14 years later, there’s “Incredibles 2,” which welcomes release during a glut of superhero offerings, hoping that the passing years haven’t diluted the appeal of the premise and Bird’s special touch with animated spectacle. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Indian Summer


After mining his youth for his directorial debut, 1992's "Crossing the Bridge," Mike Binder quickly returns to the creative well with 1993's "Indian Summer," which also details experiences from the helmer's formative years, only instead of drug-running troublemaking, the picture returns to summer camp. Binder stages a class reunion of sorts for his characters, who represent all types of thirtysomething blues, reawakening their spirits in the location that permitted them the most freedom in life and love. The director clearly has affection for his experience at Camp Tamakwa (a real camp, still in business today), and this enthusiasm helps to power "Indian Summer" though some iffy scripting, finding Binder excited about the stay in a woodsy paradise, but less interested in maintaining the cat's cradle of characterization the opening act of the movie promises to explore in full.  Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - The Devil Within Her


1975's "The Devil Within Her" was promoted as the next "Rosemary's Baby," but the production is actually more consumed with replicating "The Exorcist." However, the picture's competitive streak is a little odd, trying to dial back the horror of a possessed child from a little girl to a newborn, which is perhaps too much of a stretch when taking in a feature that showcases the baby terrorizing multiple adults. "The Devil Within Her" is a tremendously absurd endeavor, absolute catnip for B-movie fans, but for the casual viewer, such extremity when it comes to the conjuring of a teensy-weensy menace generally destroys whatever suspense director Peter Sasdy is hoping to achieve. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Tragedy Girls


There's going to be a generational divide when it comes to the audience for "Tragedy Girls." There will be those who understand, possibly even relate to the modern depiction of teenagedom, which is showcased here as a marathon of social media anxiety, bullying, and insincerity. Older audiences will likely spend the viewing experience being grateful they are no longer adolescents, forced to compete in a ferociously connected world. Thankfully, "Tragedy Girls" isn't a documentary, but a horror comedy, offering satiric touches and exaggerated performances to help viewers ease into the challenges of juvenile life, which, for this endeavor, include murder. Co-writer/director Tyler MacIntyre pulls off a bit of a miracle here, finding ways to connect to unpleasant characters, while the rest of the movie speeds ahead with macabre twists and turns, and shares a love for bloody mischief.  Read the rest at 

Film Review - Hotel Artemis


Jodie Foster doesn’t do much acting anymore, with her last screen appearance in 2013’s “Elysium.” She made some questionable (and reconsidered) accent choices in a film that quickly spiraled out of control, but her thespian authority was never in doubt. She faces a similar challenge in “Hotel Artemis,” which also presents a chewy role for the actress, only here she’s backed up by a flavorful ensemble set loose in a pulpy crime thriller that’s tight on surroundings but crammed with hostilities. Foster is excellent in the genre role, shaping something out of next to nothing, and writer/director Drew Pearce (making his helming debut) is lucky to have her around, as “Hotel Artemis” is supported in full by its performers, not plotting, helping to make the effort a breezy sit with a fair amount of suspense. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Ocean's Eight


The “Ocean’s” film series was last seen in 2007 with the release of the wildly entertaining “Ocean’s Thirteen.” It was the culmination of director Steven Soderbergh’s interest in the ways of smooth criminals, sending the franchise out on a high note after stumbling with 2004’s “Ocean’s Twelve.” “Ocean’s Eight” isn’t reboot of the brand name, but a semi-sequel to the Soderbergh pictures, with director Gary Ross picking up the thrill of illegal dealings with a new cast but the same surname, handing thievery over to Danny Ocean’s younger sister, Debbie. Ross attempts to mimic parts of Soderbergh’s staccato style and dry wit, which gives “Ocean’s Eight” a nice consistency with the previous chapters, continuing the screen celebration of shifty individuals coming together for a grand con. It’s slight, on the long side, but Ross gets the machine up and running again, using a talented ensemble to launch the felonious joyride. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Hereditary


Over the past two years, studio A24 has built something of a reputation for releasing challenging horror pictures, trying to capture an audience perhaps a little woozy from blockbuster consumption, in need of something slow-burn and slightly radical to help realign moviegoing chakras. There was “The Witch” and last summer’s “It Comes at Night,” with both efforts working to unsettle viewers instead of simply scaring them. A24’s latest addition to this ongoing experiment is “Hereditary,” which also samples from the slow-burn chiller playbook, along with several other films. Writer/director Ari Aster creates a mix tape of genre events for this deliberate endeavor, obsessing over mood and frenzied moments as he constructs something that’s difficult to decode in one sitting, but isn’t powerful or concise enough to demand a second. “Hereditary” is haunting in stretches, but Aster doesn’t know when to quit, threatening to ruin a good thing with needless overkill.  Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Jurassic Games


As the world awaits the release of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” there’s some time beforehand for a B-movie to sneak in and attempt to steal a little of its thunder. “The Jurassic Games” isn’t going to wow viewers with cinematic craftsmanship or sharp screenwriting, but as a slippery actioner with a limited budget, the picture provides some entertainment value, especially for those who enjoy the occasional insanity VOD releases provide. More “Running Man” than Spielberg, “The Jurassic Games” tries to give viewers an exciting ride with aggressive types and CGI predators, and with lowered expectations, it comes together intermittently, especially when co-writer/director Ryan Bellgardt leans into the potential of the premise, delivering violent game show challenges and roaring assassins from the titular age.  Read the rest at 

Film Review - 211

211 2

For his fourth film release of 2018, Nicolas Cage plays a cop caught in the middle of a particularly violent bank heist, forced to use his law enforcement experience to survive the event. And Cage has to summon his acting experience to make anything out of “211,” which is a bland actioner, stranded somewhere between procedural concentration and network television heroics. Cage isn’t exactly straining himself to command this feeble effort from writer/director York Alec Shackleton, but he’s offering something to a production that needs all the help it can get. “211” has moments of ferocity, but it’s not a convincing thriller, with clichés too pronounced and severity watered down to make much of a lasting impression.  Read the rest at 

Film Review - American Animals


Writer/director Bart Layton made an industry splash with 2012’s “The Imposter,” saucing up documentary formula by adding some sense of theatricality to the work, blurring the line between information and performance. He’s back with “American Animals,” which is a similar endeavor, only here the emphasis is on drama, putting actors partially in charge of recreating a true crime event that occurred nearly 15 years ago in Kentucky. While Layton’s already made other film and TV projects, he seems intent on proving his cinematic chops this time around, keeping “American Animals” steeped in style and attitude, but there’s little else that sticks after a viewing, finding the material too manipulative and the story too familiar to successfully keep the effort from resembling anything but a showy director’s reel.  Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Gospel According to Andre


“The Gospel According to Andre” feels like a Marvel Studios-style payoff for subject Andre Leon Talley. Finally, the focus is on the Vogue editor after years of bit parts in other documentaries such as “The September Issue,” “Unzipped,” and “The First Monday in May.” Of course, Talley is a superhero in a way, and it’s about time someone recognized that, with director Kate Novack focusing exclusively on the larger-than-life personality, delivering biographical details and fly-on-the-wall footage, making sure that at all times, Talley is the star of the show. “The Gospel According to Andre” isn’t always stuffed with dynamic interactions, but it does manage to isolate Talley’s vitality and expertise, working through his history in the fashion industry and his childhood in North Carolina to paint a portrait of an unusual man who’s lived an extraordinary life.  Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Kills on Wheels


A Hungarian production, "Kills on Wheels" makes an effort to depict the physically disabled in a unique way. Writer/director Attlia Till takes a creative route while showcasing a story of crime and emotional dysfunction, using the conventions of gangster cinema to shake up the norm when it comes to tales that feature wheelchair-bound characters. "Kills on Wheels" has its share of dark comedy, also highlighting blasts of violence, but there's an emotional foundation poured by Till that gives the material a little more to do than simply tend to formula, trying to form living, breathing characters to go with modest exploitation interests. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - The Return


It's hard to imagine director Greydon Clark didn't have Steven Spielberg's 1977 masterpiece, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," in mind when made 1980's "The Return." The film opens with a similar mood and visual style, watching a mysterious, glowing alien ship emerge from the sky to dazzle a few Earthlings before rocketing away. However, the production stops trying to manufacture awe soon after, switching to a more affordable invasion story, and one that favors chills over curiosity, with Clark more interested in breaking glass and shooting guns.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - 68 Kill


Shock value is easy, and it seems to work the best when there's thought put into it, with clever filmmakers managing to create a big screen mess and keep their effort somewhat approachable, either through dark comedy or dimensional characterization. "68 Kill" brings a cannon to a knife fight, with writer/director Trent Haaga trying his best to make the most repellent feature imaginable, focusing on pure ugliness as a way to achieve irreverence, making an exploitation movie for an age when such juvenile aggression is no longer a special event. Adapting a novel by Bryan Smith, Haaga is looking to master an atmosphere that showcases gruesome events and toxic behavior, yet somehow remains humorous enough for the endeavor to qualify as a comedy. "68 Kill" is specialized product for a certain type of genre fan, but boy howdy, does it ever test patience as Haaga stumbles blindly from one scene to the next.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Lucifer's Women


In 1978, director Al Adamson was tasked with turning 1974's "Lucifer's Women" into a different picture, effectively burying the earlier production (directed by Paul Aratow), which, apparently, never saw the light of day. The restoration efforts of Vinegar Syndrome have returned "Lucifer's Women" to life, bringing the "lost" feature to Blu-ray along with Adamson's "Doctor Dracula," offering cult film fans their first opportunity to watch both incarnations of the Aratow endeavor, with the first pass more of a softcore satanic panic chiller, while the second pass goes goofball with a patchwork quilt of exposition and additional characters, with Adamson laboring to leave his fingerprints on another helmer's work. It's not exactly a thrilling cinematic discovery, but for those who live for B-movie archaeology, this is a suitably strange viewing experience.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Action Point


At this point, there probably won’t be another “Jackass” sequel. The guys are getting up there in age, and wear and tear on the body isn’t a party in your forties. Johnny Knoxville seems to understand the shelf life of his stunt days, working to build a bridge between self-harm and acting with “Action Point,” which isn’t a sequel to 2013’s “Bad Grandpa,” but shares a similar interest in pranks and stunts, mixed in with some relaxed Knoxville mischief. “Bad Grandpa” was a surprise, offering good-natured nonsense and decent direction for its type of entertainment. “Action Point” is the opposite, handling a surefire concept with low energy and a limited appreciation for the finer points of slapstick. It’s not fun, which is a bewildering response to a movie that sets Knoxville and a cast of goons loose inside an amusement park where safety is of no concern. Read the rest at

Film Review - Adrift


It’s not easy to make a surprising film about a true story that was covered extensively in magazine articles and news reports, and inspired a popular book. However, the makers of “Adrift” are willing to give it a try, working a little movie magic to turn known quantities into renewed suspense, recounting the story of Tami Oldham Ashcraft, who entered a hurricane while sailing across the Pacific Ocean, only to come out the other side with a severely damaged boat, while her fiancé, Richard, was washed overboard. It’s a harrowing tale of survival, but in the hands of director Baltasar Kormakur, “Adrift” isn’t always about the details of self-preservation, maintaining a tight grip on the romantic aspects of Tami’s tale as a way to remain marketable to a wider audience. Suspense is there intermittently, but the screenplay doesn’t trust inherent dangers and tests of endurance, downplaying real-world horrors to coast along on Hollywood conventions. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ibiza


The market is saturated when it comes to raunchy, R-rated comedies that primarily use the scattergun art of improvisation to secure jokes, with recent efforts such as “Game Night” and “Blockers” trying to push make-em-up silly business on fatigued audiences. “Ibiza” doesn’t have a radical approach to funny stuff, remaining in line with similar productions, but it does possess a wonderful velocity for its madcap events. It’s a terrifically high-energy movie that’s certainly light on plot, only submitting basic romantic conflicts and travel challenges, but it has timing, with director Alex Richanbach working to keep “Ibiza” flowing along as fast as possible, creating an appealing screen party with game actresses and a throbbing EDM soundtrack, also providing a steady run of laughs to support all the goofiness.  Read the rest at