Previous month:
October 2014
Next month:
December 2014

November 2014

Blu-ray Review - Christmas Evil


In the Killer Santa subgenre, 1980's "Christmas Evil" (aka "You Better Watch Out," which is the title on the print) is the best of the bunch. It's not the goriest or the most aggressive of the collection, but it explores a psychological unraveling with unsettling precision, playing up the manic highs and lows of a man obsessed with the holiday with interest in creeping out the audience, not bludgeoning them with gratuitous violence. It's dense work from writer/director Lewis Jackson, who employs seasonal iconography and mental instability to generate a suspense effort that genuinely disturbs, keeping viewers in the dark as the picture surveys possible catastrophe from a decidedly non-jolly man in a bulging red suit. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Dirt Bike Kid

Dirt Bike Kid Peter Billingsley

After "A Christmas Story" put him on the map, there were few career steps Peter Billingsley could take. A child actor, Billingsley knew how to perform in front of cameras, but few productions could offer a starring role as juicy as his turn in Bob Clark's holiday perennial. 1985's "The Dirt Bike Kid" is an admirable effort to keep the money train moving along, putting the young pre-teen in the driver's seat of a wily family comedy, a production that trusts in the outrageousness of classic slapstick routines and Hal Needham-style vehicle stunts. It's the type of movie that includes two scenes that involve food fights and presents a flying motorcycle without explanation. It's weird stuff, but never clever and rarely enticing, leaving "The Dirt Bike Kid" more of a curiosity for Billingsley completists and those who've felt shortchanged by films that only offer a single food fight. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dumb and Dumber To


At this point, I’d say they peaked with 2000’s “Me, Myself, and Irene.” Even since the release of their last major hit, Peter and Bobby Farrelly have endured a creative tailspin where they’ve lost their directorial mojo, gradually exploring a mental fatigue that’s prevented efforts such as “Hall Pass,” “The Three Stooges,” and “Stuck on You” from achieving comedy bliss. They’ve become reliant on their formula of shock value and excessive heart, and now they’ve arrived at their first sequel. It’s been two decades since the release of “Dumb and Dumber,” with fans hungry for a new adventure featuring lovable idiots Lloyd and Harry. Sadly, “Dumb and Dumber To” isn’t much of a reward for such patience, finding the Farrellys once again muzzling their instincts to play it safe, essentially remaking the now-classic 1994 feature. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Homesman


Trying to create a film as severe as he is, Tommy Lee Jones saddles up quite a grim picture with “The Homesman,” his fourth directorial effort and first western since 2005’s “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.” A casual viewing of “The Homesman” is not advised, as Jones is determined to communicate the harsh conditions and mental drain of prairie life. The feature requires a special mindset that’s open to exceptionally managed filmmaking and an evocative sense of location, because when the movie gets dark, and boy does it ever, it also retains a strange beauty about it that’s a testament to Jones’s talents behind the camera and his way with casting. Read the rest at

Film Review - Beyond the Lights


It takes a special touch to make this type of entertainment work. Audiences have seen romantic melodramas time and again, with most barely putting in the effort to engage on an emotional level, merely content to display love, not feel it. “Beyond the Lights” has considerable flaws, but it manages to find intimacy in a way that feels natural, with such warmth smoothly communicated by leads Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker. Writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood indulges hysterics on occasion, but her mission to bring an organic chemistry to the screen is successful, while also targeting the toxicity of current pop queen standards, aiming to spank the music industry while caressing her characters. Read the rest at

Film Review - Listen Up Philip


Rarely does a film about a misanthrope achieve any level of laughter. “Listen Up Philip” concerns the daily adventures of a narcissist, a complete monster of a man, yet, in the care of writer/director Alex Ross Perry, the titular character is handled as a full-blooded human being, with his toxic ways played for horror and hilarity. This fine blend of reactions keeps “Listen Up Philip” in motion, allowing the viewer to enjoy the shock value of the ghoul and still settle into his complex domestic situation and curdled social viewpoint. While it eventually falls apart, the feature sustains an intriguing personality and daredevil tone, asking the audience to spend time with total jerk and enjoy it. Read the rest at

Film Review - Rosewater


After forging a career in comedy, most recently presiding over “The Daily Show” for the last 15 years, Jon Stewart is finally ready to direct movies. Naturally, the funny man has gravitated toward the story of Maziar Bahari, a journalist held captive in Iran, locked inside solitary confinement for 118 days. Granted, “Rosewater” does offer a few points of humor along the way, but it’s primarily interested in sobering sequences of interrogation and hopelessness. It’s nice that Stewart is hungry to show off another side to his creative focus, and “Rosewater” is accomplished work. However, it’s exactly the type of viewing experience expected from an Iranian imprisonment story, leaving surprises few and far between. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jessabelle


“Jessabelle” is the latest entry in the low-budget horror sweepstakes, with company Blumhouse Productions trying to sustain their run of hits with another chiller of limited scope. A ghost story of sorts with a bayou tilt, the picture attempts to scare with images of menacing spirits and a mysterious past for its lead character. Sadly, all director Kevin Greutert can muster is limp chills and formulaic atmosphere, making “Jessabelle” look like every other fright film in the marketplace. Perhaps screenwriter Robert Ben Garant (“Balls of Fury,” “Herbie Fully Loaded”) once held an interesting idea for a possession story, but the work has been stripped of identity and anxiety, blandly going about its business. Read the rest at

Film Review - Low Down


Jazz is nothing but suffering, at least according to the movies. “Low Down” is the Joe Albany bio-pic, surveying the pianist’s life as he disrupted his musical gift with drugs and selfishness, neglecting his only daughter in the process. This is not a story of sunshine and clarity, but prolonged mistreatment, watching characters struggle for nearly two hours, never quite learning anything about themselves or their demons. “Low Down” has a specific glaze that’s certainly tended to by director Jeff Preiss, but rarely does it hit a note of profundity that revives interest in the gradual unraveling of an irresponsible man. Read the rest at

Film Review - Wolves


“Wolves” is writer/director David Hayter’s obvious attempt to jump-start a werewolf franchise with superhero overtones. It’s expected work from the co-screenwriter of “Watchmen” and “X2: X-Men United,” who tries to reenergize horror and action with this collection of stunts and heavily made-up actors growling at one another. “Wolves” is ambitious but never completely in Hayter’s control, striving to build a mythology that could be covered in numerous sequels without ever establishing a reason to care about the first installment. It’s loud and violent, but the feature drags more than it should, struggling with iffy performances and lousy visual effects to raise a properly furry screen commotion. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Killer Fish


The title "Killer Fish" is a blunt instrument, but it doesn't precisely describe the 1979 feature. Instead of being a movie solely dedicated to an underwater massacre, "Killer Fish" is actually more of a disaster extravaganza mixed with a heist film, with piranha activity worked into the effort at a few choice moments. Instead of conjuring a frenzy, director Antonio Margheriti keeps the picture low to the ground, working a routine of double-crosses and explosions instead of celebrating the unique threat the titular menace provides. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - True Confessions


1981's "True Confessions" is a strange entry in the filmographies of stars Robert De Niro and Robert Duvall. Both actors were at the top of their game when they agreed to participate in this adaptation of a John Gregory Dunne novel (he scripts along with Joan Didion), with Duvall coming off "The Great Santini" and "Apocalypse Now," while De Niro was king of the hill after his work on "Raging Bull." Perhaps looking for a change of pace, the stars dial down their normal intensity to take part in "True Confessions," a considered examination of murder, brotherhood, and moral choices. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Werewolf Woman


With a title like "Werewolf Woman," a certain viewing experience is promised. However, this is no monster movie, despite an opening that's exactly a monster movie. Instead of obvious thrills with a she-beast, director Rino Di Silvestro takes a turn into the dark recesses of physical and mental trauma, with abuse, rape, and deceit forming the feral aspects of the lead character. "Werewolf Woman" holds to certain grindhouse cinema highlights, but it's a deeper picture about troublesome issues, in dire need of a filmmaker who could take it all seriously. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Los Angeles Plays Itself


The story of "Los Angeles Plays Itself" and its decade-long road to distribution is nearly as entertaining as the movie. Director Thom Andersen pulled together an elaborate patchwork quilt of film clips to tell the story of a city through the prism of its cinematic representations. However, paying for the rights to bring the documentary to screens proved to be cost prohibitive, leaving the effort to languish in limbo, only receiving appreciation during its initial festival run and through internet file sharing, where the picture developed a cult appreciation. Now ten years later, "Los Angeles Plays Itself" is revived with a slight re-edit, new source materials to beef up the examples, and an opportunity to reach the wide audience it was always made for. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Merry Friggin' Christmas


At this point, it would be strange to see a sincere holiday picture that values family time and trusts in the special fantasies of the season. “A Merry Friggin’ Christmas” is the umpteenth variation on the dysfunctional ways of parents and children thrown together for the holidays, and it will receive the bulk of its publicity due to the death of star Robin Williams, who appears in one of his final screen roles. Predictable and largely unfunny, “A Merry Friggin’ Christmas” doesn’t make much of an effort to subvert clichés, wasting a perfectly skilled cast on lukewarm relationship woes and a yuletide appreciation that’s meant to lean toward the farcical, but mostly comes off unimaginative. Read the rest at

Film Review - Big Hero 6


Superheroes are big business these days, grossing billions at the box office as characters both famous and obscure score high with audiences hungry for fantasy heroism. It makes sense for the Marvel Comic Universe to hit CG-animation, with “Big Hero 6” providing an opportunity for Disney to bring comic book adventure to a more family-friendly audience. Although considerable changes have been made to soften the source material for the screen, “Big Hero 6” retains its basic sense of courage and high-flying action, while Disney-esque formula brings the heart. This is not groundbreaking work from Walt Disney Animation, but the movie remains fabulously entertaining, with colossal visuals and an endearing character in Baymax, who more than earns his lovable status. Read the rest at

Film Review - Why Don't You Play in Hell?


This review contains strong language.

Insanity comes easy to “Why Don’t You Play in Hell?” A Japanese production from writer/director Shion Sono (“Suicide Club”), the picture is a wild ride of comedy and action, taking great care to preserve brutality and winks as it winds around an askew tale of revenge. The effort is also something of a valentine to 35mm filmmaking, a dying artform that Sono revives with a vengeance in this berserk creation. Funny and frightening, “Why Don’t You Play in Hell?” is a singular piece of moviemaking, thrillingly committed to screen chaos with marvelous comic timing. Read the rest at