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May 2015

Film Review - Welcome to Me


“Welcome to Me” is a story about mental illness, though it’s difficult to tell if writer Eliot Laurence is celebrating or sympathizing with his main character’s gradual emotional breakdown. It’s a film of details and obsessions, with star Kristen Wiig delivering customarily strong work in the lead role, finding all the little behavioral beats required to find humanity in the supposed hilarity. Wildly uneven, “Welcome to Me” comes off as a cry for help, yet the production tends to process instability as quirk, attempting to find the bright side of psychological decay. It leaves the picture uncomfortable to watch, and this is perhaps the exact response director Shira Piven is looking for. Read the rest at

Film Review - 5 Flights Up


“5 Flights Up” teases dramatic arcs and directions, but it’s primarily a character piece about memory. It’s a surprisingly fussy movie, carrying a nervous energy typically reserved for more plot-driven efforts, but its momentum is valued, especially when articulated by stars Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton. Director Richard Loncraine generates a New York City ambiance that’s fascinating, but the screenplay by Charlie Peters does most of the heavy lifting, capturing the rusty hinges of marriage and the panic of change with, at times, startling accuracy. “5 Flights Up” doesn’t always feel whole, but its perspective on aging and domestic partnership keeps the story engaging with periodic poignancy. Read the rest at

Film Review - Maggie

MAGGIE Arnold Schwarzenegger

A film career revival after a decade in politics hasn’t gone well for Arnold Schwarzenegger, who’s been trying to return to his previous glory with a few satisfactory action efforts, only to have the pictures disappear quickly from theaters. “Maggie” is a necessary change of pace for the global star, who drops overt brawn to portray a broken rural father facing the most difficult decision of his life. “Maggie” isn’t a sharply paced feature, with director Henry Hobson taking his time to develop mood and remind viewers of the sacrifices contained in the story. Adjust expectations accordingly, and the movie has moments of real heartbreak, turning what appears to be a traditional zombie exploration into an intimate study of paternal devotion. Read the rest at

Film Review - The D Train


“The D Train” is a very strange movie, but in a positive way. It’s the debut for writer/directors Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel, who use their first shot fired to create a feature that’s surprising, uncomfortable, and periodically hilarious, making sure obvious directions are refused along the way. Tonality isn’t achieved in full, finding the picture unsure what it wants the audience to feel at certain times, but “The D Train” manages to secure a strangeness that encourages unpredictability, while the cast makes a concerted effort to support Paul and Mogel and their plans to marry laughs with serious acts of personal corruption. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hot Pursuit

HOT PURSUIT Sofia Vergara

Attempting to make an action comedy, “Hot Pursuit” decides on overkill as a surefire way to laughs and thrills. It’s the latest effort from director Anne Fletcher, who keeps getting hired to helm funny pictures despite a spotty track record (“27 Dresses,” “The Proposal,” “The Guilt Trip”), only here there’s a manic energy to manage. Instead of taking it slowly, developing intricate stunt sequences and massaging punchlines, Fletcher encourages broad antics and chunky pratfalls one would expect to find on an elementary school playground. “Hot Pursuit” isn’t funny or exciting, it’s just loud, gifting stars Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara a holiday to let loose with caricatures, trusting volume to be the cure-all for a dud script. Read the rest at

Film Review - Noble


“Noble” isn’t shy about piling on acts of misery. Telling the story of Christina Noble and her fight to protect orphaned and abandoned children in Vietnam, the feature has a wealth of cruelty to cover, with much of the script devoted to hardships in dire need of conquering. Miraculously, writer/director Stephen Bradley infuses the picture with spirited determination and purpose to lend the material some needed oxygen, with the viewing experience certainly bruising, but not suffocating. “Noble” largely works due to its clenched-fist approach, tending to the particulars of Christina’s war against suffering while maintaining its message of hope, making it the rare faith-based film that’s more show than tell. Read the rest at

Film Review - Skin Trade


There’s a fine line between nobility and exploitation, and “Skin Trade” is just barely able to maintain balance between the extremes. Co-scripted and starring Dolph Lundgren, the feature endeavors to expose the evils of human trafficking, using the action genre as sugar to help the medicine go down. It’s impossible to argue with such intention, especially when dealing with the world’s wickedness. However, “Skin Trade” doesn’t follow through on its potential for horror, quickly devolving into a roughhouse revenge picture that consumes cliché by the pound, spending more time perfecting explosions, kicks, and chases than it does sharpening its focus on human violations. Purpose is pure, but the execution favors anarchy over sympathy. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Mafia Only Kills in Summer


While it’s an accomplished and engaging dramedy, “The Mafia Only Kills in Summer” is perhaps most valued as a tonal tightrope walk writer/director Pierfrancesco Diliberto (making his helming debut) pulls off with remarkable balance. Here’s a film that takes on Italy’s blood-stained history with the mob, filled with assassinations and general chaos on the streets of Palermo. And yet, “The Mafia Only Kills in Summer” is work filled with slapstick comedy and reverence for real-world figures who stood up to deadly intimidation. It’s funny and shocking, often in the same moment, securely positioning a coming-of-age story on top of reality, developing all the awkwardness and awareness with enticing wit, timing, and horror. Read the rest at

Film Review - The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared


“The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared” will forever be compared to “Forrest Gump.” And there’s a good reason for that: it’s practically the same movie. Testing legal powers at Paramount Pictures, this Swedish production launches a strange tale of a simple man somehow finding himself in the nooks and crannies of history, unaware of the sights he’s seen. Giving the effort its own identity is a dark sense of humor, which helps encourage interest in familiar shenanigans. Unfortunately, the material’s bite doesn’t last long enough, finding “The 100-Year-Old Man” coming down with a case of the cutes as it lurches from scene to scene. Read the rest at

Film Review - Playing It Cool


In 2014, during promotion for “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” actor Chris Evans let it slip that he’s grown tired of acting, fatigued by his Marvel contract and recent gigs. It was a moment of honesty in an intensely guarded industry, making it clear that Evans’s heart just wasn’t in the work anymore, save for a few extraordinary projects (including “Snowpiercer”). After viewing “Playing It Cool,” Evans’s latest release (actually shot in 2012), his disappointment is understandable, caught playing a creep in a movie that ultimately seeks to endear itself to its audience, stroking the same romantic comedy clichés it strives to satirize. It’s dreary, unfunny work, but as a catalyst for future career reinvention, Evans couldn’t have made a better professional choice. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Woman of Straw


As a twisty crime picture, 1964's "Woman of Straw" is a slow-burn affair, attempting to beguile audiences with a little heat generated between stars Gina Lollobrigida and Sean Connery (in the same film year, the actor would conquer the globe with "Goldfinger"), and incite some hatred for Ralph Richardson, who plays a broadly loathsome character. The movie doesn't offer an especially tight screenplay, content to draw out the obvious for as long as possible, but as a mid-level thriller with a few interesting left turns, "Woman of Straw" manages to satisfy, perhaps best appreciated when it dives into abhorrent behavior. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies


How does one even recommend a documentary about the history of cancer? The title alone, "Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies," establishes its severity, promising six hours of heartbreaking tales concerning loss and struggle. And the show does offer that level of gut-punch realism, but it's also superbly crafted and critically informational, with director Barak Goodman setting out to demystify cancer through an examination of its rise to prominence. The disease touches the lives of everyone, but instead of encouraging fear and ignorance, "Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies" (adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee) takes the subject head-on, using extensive research, visual evidence, and personal details to dissect the science, celebrate breakthroughs, and reflect on a time not so long ago when a cancer diagnosis was an automatic death sentence. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Wolf Hall


With "Wolf Hall," the BBC steps into the "Game of Thrones" business, digging into English history to rework known tales of treachery and violence, bringing a new spin to the oft-told tale of King Henry VIII (Damian Lewis) and Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy). Adapted from a pair of novels by Hilary Mantel, the six-episode series strives to find an entry point into the familiar story, settling on the life and times of lawyer Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance), whose steely sense of duty and intelligence permitted him access to Henry's kingdom, bearing witness to rampant rumor, accusation, and royal gamesmanship that spilled over to the wrath of Boleyn. "Wolf Hall" isn't about contact highs of swelling drama and twisty turns of fate (after all, there's only one ending to this saga), but slightly agitated interactions among corrupted individuals, with these charge encounters representing the extent of excitement the show is willing to offer. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell


The musical "Mamma Mia!" has been celebrated on a global scale, becoming one of the most popular theatrical productions in history, also sustaining outstanding business as a 2009 feature film. While its true fingerprint originates from the music of ABBA, exploring a subgenre known as the "jukebox musical," the story has also captured imagination, romanticizing the idea of an older woman reuniting with three lovers after decades apart, unsure which individual is the true father of her adult daughter. It all appears jovial, madcap, and perhaps a little amorous, but "Mamma Mia!" apparently owes a debt to an obscure 1968 comedy titled "Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell." Trading Greek islands for an Italian village, the picture creates a farcical take on paternity and long-held affection, only skipping on the ABBA tunes and wild costuming. I'm honestly surprised there wasn't some type of legal action taken against writer Catherine Johnson, who liberally takes from the amiable but overdone "Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell," reworking its key elements to fit primary dramatic demands of the initial West End production. Read the rest at

Film Review - Reality


In 2010, writer/director Quentin Dupieux made his filmmaking debut with “Rubber,” a horror/comedy about a killer tire. The premise was enough to draw interest, but the picture’s command of absurdity and atmosphere kept the feature fascinating. A second bizarre comedy, “Wrong,” followed, also hitting wonderful notes of weirdness while remaining periodically hilarious, quickly chased by another winner, “Wrong Cops.” Dupieux enjoys the strangeness of cinema, but he’s managed to retain some sense of subversive gravity to his work. With “Reality,” the helmer aims to pull his own effort inside out, endeavoring to build a comedy that messes with perception and manipulation while mining laughs out of pure oddity. For those who enjoy their brain-bleeders with a significant sense of humor, “Reality” is truly something to experience. Read the rest at