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February 2015

Film Review - She's Beautiful When She's Angry


There couldn’t be a better release period for the documentary “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry.” With online types spending substantial amounts of time debating the purity of feminism and its many forms, while such fear of empowerment has led to real world horrors, director Mary Dore returns to the beginning of the movement, restoring needed perspective when it comes to the deconstruction of gender politics, oppression, and liberation. Spilling over with news footage, charismatic interviewees, and enlightening information, “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry” is an appropriately sobering reminder of progress and sacrifice as a nation of women rose up to claim their voice during a politically volatile time. Read the rest at

Film Review - All the Wilderness


The swirling angst of teenagedom receives a glossy treatment in “All the Wilderness.” Writer/director Michael Johnson has his heart in the right place, searching out a way to communicate the inner life of his characters, questing to find a John Hughes-style sincerity for a generation that’s forged in cynicism. Johnson is also after a slick visual presentation that showcases his abilities as a stylist, and one that can dream up cinematic wonderlands with a limited budget. Sadly, “All the Wilderness” ends up more of a demo reel than a complete picture, watching the helmer forgo a plot to perfect his lighting, plasticizing the rise of adolescent awareness. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Last Five Years


Disliking “The Last Five Years” feels like kicking a puppy. A screen adaptation of Jason Robert Brown’s Off-Broadway musical, written and directed by Richard LaGravenese, the picture is packed with earnest behavior and big-lunged sentiment, out to capture the ups and downs of a specific relationship while keeping the singing constant. It’s impossible to fully fault lead performances from Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan, and LaGravenese obviously has great admiration for Brown’s work. However, spirit is missing from “The Last Five Years,” at least a cinematic one, finding much of the movie working diligently to keep away from becoming just another stage-bound reproduction, only to find itself handcuffed by visual limitation and overly emphatic acting. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Long Hair of Death


Director Antonio Margheriti made a name for himself with 1964's "Castle of Blood," a gothic horror effort beloved by fans of the genre. That same year, the helmer returned to duty with "The Long Hair of Death," a similar feature in tone and candlelit threat, continuing a career quest to explore dark shadows and eerie events. "The Long Hair of Death" is stocked with ghoulish developments and duplicitous characters, but that lack of pace ends up crippling a promising chiller. As much as Margheriti would like to scare the pants off viewers, he would be better off trying to keep them awake. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Offence

Offence Sean Connery

More notable than 1972's "The Offence" is the story concerning how movie was actually funded. Star Sean Connery, pulled back into James Bond duty for "Diamonds are Forever," contractually demanded a greenlight for two additional pictures of his choosing, hoping to burn off the 007 blues with a heaping helping of serious dramatic work. Well, he wasn't messing around, as films do not come more sobering than "The Offence," an adaptation of the John Hopkins play, which features an intense dissection of psychological strain and a particularly volatile sense of gamesmanship involving the law and human weakness. Directed by Sidney Lumet and co-starring Trevor Howard, the effort is bleak and unforgiving. No wonder Connery had to use his Bond clout to nudge it into production. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Young Ones

YOUNG ONES Michael Shannon

Jake Paltrow, son of Bruce and brother to Gwyneth, made his feature-length directorial debut with 2007's "The Good Night." A successful foray into dreamscapes and loneliness, Paltrow showed surprising confidence with the effort, overseeing strong performances and a distinct visual style to start his career on the right foot. "Young Ones" is his long-overdue follow-up, and the wait between projects may have hurt the helmer in the long run. An ambitious attempt to marry literary-style storytelling with a cinematic futureworld of misery, the picture is mostly paralyzed by its intentions, unable to gain much traction as a family drama or as an examination of dystopian panic. Although created with care, boasting impressive tech credits, "Young Ones" doesn't generate much tension or post-show reflection, working a bit too hard to emerge as artful and important when it's barely interesting, prone to wandering instead of remaining dramatically commanding. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Girl Hunters

Girl Hunters Mickey Spillane

While 1963's "The Girl Hunters" isn't the most rousing picture, it does offer the rare sight of an author portraying his own literary character on film. Mickey Spillane suits up for duty as private detective Mike Hammer for the feature, challenged to come up with a satisfying performance that matches his legendary writing. Pre-leathered, mumbly, and mischievous, Spillane is an interesting choice to topline this adaptation of his 1962 novel, but, in the end, he's not a performer, often revealing frustrating rigidity while his co-stars confidently manage lukewarm material. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fifty Shades of Grey


A literary phenomenon, one of the most widely read books of the last 25 years, finally makes its way to the big screen. “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the hush-hush best seller that introduced a large audience to the ways of BDSM, isn’t material that easily translates into stunning cinema, with the novel’s foundation poured within the imagination of the reader, encouraging the audience to make up their own visuals concerning bondage and romantic ache. As a movie, “Fifty Shades of Grey” is an Ambien pill, unable to snap out of its thick fog and truly capture the essence of submission or even love. Instead of dissecting obsession, the feature carries on as a bloodless creation, mixing melodrama and vacant performances as it handles all the greatest hits found in author E.L. James’s original material. Read the rest at

Film Review - Kingsman: The Secret Service


Director Matthew Vaughn loves comic books, a fact evidenced in his filmography, which largely consists of adaptations including “X-Men: First Class” and the graphic novel “Stardust.” Vaughn also has an affinity for the work of Mark Millar, author of “Kick-Ass” and “Kick-Ass 2.” Their reunion is “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” a big screen imagining of Millar’s comic series (co-authored by Dave Gibbons), which intends to celebrate the spirit of classic James Bond spy movies while indulging in CGI-laden ultraviolence. It’s a hurricane of a picture, authoritative and downright fun…for about an hour. The second half of “Kingsman” is a wipe-out of epic proportions, with Vaughn and Millar losing their sense of structure to whip up a painfully familiar frenzy. Read the rest at

Film Review - Home Sweet Hell


In a continuing effort to shake up her career, Katherine Heigl storms into “Home Sweet Hell” with the proper attitude, adding a touch of spunk and dead-eyed menace to a picture that needs all the help it can find. A pitch-black comedy about the price of infidelity and the physical exertion of murder, “Home Sweet Hell” has the right idea, but no secure grasp on madness. However, before it eventually loses its nerve, there’s a certain snap to the material that promises horror and a few chuckles along the blood-soaked journey, while stars Heigl and Patrick Wilson do their best to salvage a sinking ship, putting in fine performances that embrace ghoulishness director Anthony Burns eventually turns away from. Read the rest at

Film Review - Match


A legendary actor of stage and screen, Patrick Stewart rarely gives a flawed performance, and yes, I’ve seen “Masterminds.” Always the best thing in everything he appears in, Stewart manages to top himself in “Match,” which does offer the thespian an opportunity to play something other than a captain or a professor. Pulling Stewart out of typecasting, writer/director Stephen Belber (“Management”) captures a graceful performance of masked intention and deep-seated guilt. Not that co-stars Carla Gugino and Matthew Lillard are subpar, but Stewart has a way of taking the viewer on a specific dramatic journey, gifting “Match” a sense of surprise and buried pain that’s always riveting to watch. Read the rest at

Film Review - Everly


A great exploitation movie will encourage audience participation, triggering cheers and gasps as the material works through copious amounts of unsavory action, often in the bloodiest way possible. “Everly” is not a great exploitation movie. In fact, it’s not much of a movie at all. Screenwriter Yale Hannon and director Joe Lynch have a master plan of low-budget carnage, using a single location to its fullest potential as we watch the titular character slice and shoot her way through an army of baddies. It’s not rocket science, but “Everly” is unusually angry, showing tremendous hostility to its characters and the audience, making the bullet-and-sword show more about suffering than escapism, confusing the production’s ultimate entertainment goal. Unless Lynch and Hannon intentionally want ticket-buyers to immediately Silkwood shower off the ick this effort oozes, I believe they’ve blown a prime opportunity to celebrate cinematic carnage. Read the rest at

Film Review - Beloved Sisters


Labeled in marketing materials as bio-pic of German poet Friedrich Schiller, “Beloved Sisters” is actually more of a sampling of his history, lacking a birth-to-death arc common to the subgenre. Instead of tracking the origin story of an aspiring intellectual, the feature concentrates on his unusual relationship with two sisters who’ve fallen for him. The uneasy love triangle is perhaps the most enticing development in “Beloved Sisters,” which is best executed with churning emotions and period-specific cruelties, offering director Dominik Graf something to work his fingers through instead of passively recounting Schiller’s admittedly flavorful existence. Read the rest at

Film Review - Little Accidents


Elizabeth Banks doesn’t receive the opportunity to act in dramas nearly enough. Her gifts are usually put to use in comedies, where she frequently shines, showcasing a bubbly personality and skill with timing. “Little Accidents” offers no such distractions, offering a bleak view of humanity with its exploration of a coal mine accident and its toxic aftermath. Banks is a highlight, along with a secure cast of downtrodden types, allowing writer/director Sara Colangelo passage into troubling areas of communication situated around a black hole of guilt. “Little Accidents” doesn’t provide a comprehensive dissection of woes, but it chooses its moments carefully and often successfully. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Rewrite


When writer/director Marc Lawrence makes a movie, he always does so with Hugh Grant in the lead role. It’s like a modern day Scorsese and De Niro-style run of collaborations, only instead of churning out classics, Lawrence and Grant are addicted to mediocrity, stumbling through “Two Weeks Notice” and “Music and Lyrics,” and nearly committing career suicide with their last effort, “Did You Hear About the Morgans?” Never one to break tradition, Lawrence return to nothingness with “The Rewrite,” a cutesy inside-Hollywood, fish-out-of-water comedy that depends entirely on Grant’s way with a mumbled punchline. A solid supporting cast walks through the picture almost undetected, and the production shows surprising restraint with romantic comedy inclinations. While harmless, “The Rewrite” is ineffective, putting pressure on Lawrence to deliver a warm mood he’s already proven incapable of delivering. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Missouri Breaks


A film of unfortunate timing, 1976's "The Missouri Breaks" arrived in theaters boasting the participation of stars Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson. It was a heavyweight battle of thespians brought on by prior triumphs such as "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "The Godfather," solidifying the leads as legends in their field. Arriving in the shadow of future classics is a cruel fate for any feature, but Arthur Penn's "The Missouri Breaks" was hit particularly hard by its production position, delivering an askew, permissive western with no real shape to an audience expecting a clash of the titans. Time has been kind to the endeavor, allowing modern viewers a chance to embrace the picture's compelling eccentricities without the burden of outrageous expectations, at least those beyond the basic thrill of watching two of the finest actors in movie history slap on gun belts and chase each other around the old west. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - F.I.S.T.

FIST Sylvester Stallone

Before "Rocky," Sylvester Stallone was just an average working actor in Hollywood trying to make a living. After "Rocky," he was transformed into a screen legend, riding a reputation as a cinematic hero to box office success and Oscar gold, making him one of the biggest stars of the 1970s. The follow-up to his little movie that could was 1978's "F.I.S.T.," a feature that attempts to deliver a disquieting look at the rise of the labor movement in America, co-scripted by Joe Eszterhas (his first produced work) and directed by Norman Jewison. With Stallone's participation, "F.I.S.T." is more of a light slap when it comes to challenging methods of union influence, instead trying to find heroism in this thinly-veiled take on the Jimmy Hoffa story. Numerous elements flatline in the film, but Jewison does pull a fine performance out of Stallone, padding the picture with enough talent and sequences of fiery indignation that propel the overlong, undernourished effort along. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - At the Earth's Core

At the Earth's Core Caroline Munro

With the movie industry on the prowl for adventure stories during the 1970s, the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs was mined on several occasions, with director Kevin Connor leading the filmmaking charge on efforts such as "The Land That Time Forgot" and "The People That Time Forgot." "At the Earth's Core" was Connor's second round with Burroughs, with the 1976 endeavor using established creative momentum to plunge into the center of the planet, meeting all types of monsters and mayhem while keeping star Doug McClure employed as the go-to guy for Burroughs-inspired heroism. A B-picture with wonderful passion for the material, "At the Earth's Core" has its issues with pace and repetition, but it's immense fun at times, utilizing creative special effects and spooky villainy to support a run of gallantry and primal survival sequences, using the novel's influence to jumpstart an endearingly set-bound extravaganza that, at one point, features a fire-breathing frog. It's impossible to deny a movie that favors such a bizarre sight. Read the rest at