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June 2015

Film Review - Dope


“Dope” emerges as a film of many perspectives, but none of them are particularly captivating. It’s the latest from director Rick Famuyiwa, helmer of tepid comedies such as “Our Family Wedding” and “The Wood,” while showing a more appealing side with 2002’s “Brown Sugar.” “Dope” is meant to sharp, satirical, and silly, but it’s often confused when it comes to tone, with a callousness that doesn’t mine any significant laughs. It’s not messy, but unfocused and non-confrontational when it comes to truly testing its characters and their supposed intelligence. It has style and caustic, primitive screenwriting, but its soullessness seems at odds with its cheery ambition, delivering a whole mess of unappealing behavior in a movie about an underdog. Read the rest at

Film Review - Madame Bovary


Gustave Flaubert’s 1857 novel “Madame Bovary” has been adapted for the stage and screen numerous times, with its tale of temptation and tragedy making a easy fit for dramatic interpretation, often gifting the lead actress a meaty role in an unusually itchy period piece. Director Sophie Barthes (“Cold Souls”) has plenty of insecurity to explore in her feature, but surprisingly little emotion sticks to the screen as intended. Instead, “Madame Bovary” is sumptuously crafted, highly detailed and lived-in, making it a visual event instead a poignant inspection of a lost soul. It’s incredible to look at, but once it steps away from pure cinematic storytelling, the latest round of tightly-corseted depressive desperation dissolves on impact. Read the rest at

Film Review - Gabriel

GABRIEL Rory Culkin

“Gabriel” is a dark odyssey into mental instability and obsessive behavior that also acts as something of a celebration for actor Rory Culkin. Typically stone-faced and mumbly, Culkin is tasked with creating a full-blooded character with deep-seated, cleverly masked issues, requiring thespian subtlety, not indie film mummification. He pulls off the role in spectacular fashion, delivering substantial work that aids writer/director Lou Howe in his quest to generate an unsettling atmosphere of determination, only the end game for the lead character and the movie is left a compelling mystery that’s worth a closer look. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Wolfpack


In 2010, the documentary “Catfish” debuted under criticism that some of the feature, if not all of it, was faked. In a world where fiction is frequently passed off as “reality,” it’s easy to see why “Catfish” was targeted for suspicion, especially when so much of the movie was poorly performed and, dramatically, a little too neatly designed. “The Wolfpack” conjures the same itchy vibes of manipulation, as audiences are asked to believe in the story of seven siblings locked away in a New York City apartment for most of their lives, despite evidence contained in the picture that suggests the opposite. Inconsistencies, mysteries, and exaggeration weigh heavy on “The Wolfpack.” If the events depicted here are true, it’s a horrifying record of abuse that should trigger an investigation, not observation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Me and Earl and the Dying Girl


Cutesiness plays a major role in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” Even the title of the movie is trying to be playful. Its joviality would be a blessing if the picture wasn’t actually about the slow drain of cancer, creating quite a problem for the production as it works to maintain light and dark without establishing a comfortable middle ground. It’s difficult to gauge the effort’s sincerity when it’s frequently working to show off its knowledge of film and home video history, but “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” does connect in a few areas of empathy. Unfortunately, it takes some work to claw away the preciousness of the project to get to its heart. Read the rest at

Film Review - American Heist


To pull off a crime movie these days, a production needs imagination or a decidedly thrilling show of force. The limply titled “American Heist” doesn’t have any personality or presence, electing to work on a to-do list of clichés instead of trying to rework known elements for optimal surprise. It’s dreary work, cynical and unfinished, using familiar beats of reluctant criminality and brotherly bonding to work through material we’ve all seen before. Not even performances can wake this sleeping film, which is primarily interested in camera placement, not searing storytelling. Read the rest at

Film Review - Anarchy Parlor


When considering the wide range of locations for a horror production, the basement of tattoo parlor doesn’t immediately present itself as a nightmarish playground of the damned. Attempting to redefine everyday artistry as a potential disaster area, “Anarchy Parlor” succeeds in being strange, but falters with just about everything else. A hackneyed, pitifully acted picture that’s roughly a decade behind genre trends, “Anarchy Parlor” is only truly interested in providing a grim arrangement of gore, nudity, and cursing. Expectations for anything more interesting or inventive are going to be left unfulfilled, as directors Devon Downs and Kenny Gage have zero patience for anything that doesn’t bleed, jiggle, or scream. Read the rest at

Film Review - Phantom Halo


“Phantom Halo” endeavors to simulate the Great American Novel. Co-writer/director Antonia Bogdanovich aims to create a drama that touches on insecurity, financial ruin, fantasy, sex, and crime, using the saga of an emotionally stymied family as a foundation for the picture’s multiple narrative directions. Ambition is big with this feature, which tries to take the viewer on a ride of suspense and heartbreak, stuffing the dead spots with Shakespearean flourish. Sadly, what Bogdanovich puts into the feature is more interesting than what ultimately comes out. Confused and tedious, “Phantom Halo” is a mess of a movie that struggles to keep itself together for 90 minutes, gradually disintegrating until all that’s left are good intentions. Read the rest at

Film Review - Charlie, Trevor and a Girl Savannah


Independent productions, the backyard kind, need something to attract audience attention. Gone are the days when the basics in emotion and conflict provide enough oomph to entice ticketbuyers, urging filmmakers to create a commotion in place of consideration. The distractingly titled “Charlie, Trevor and a Girl Savannah” is a picture that’s out to slam bang its way into being noticed, with writer/director/star Ty Hodges investing in a collection of editorial tricks to keep the feature alert. “Charlie, Trevor and a Girl Savannah” is blasted with style, but the story doesn’t support the viewing experience as sturdily as it should, coming across almost as an afterthought as Hodges orders up all types of edits and transitions to give the effort a sufficient spin. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Coogan's Bluff


In the years following his worldwide exposure in Sergio Leone's "Dollars" trilogy, star Clint Eastwood began a quest to define his American screen persona and career goals, spending 1968 on a collection of diverse releases, with "Hang 'Em High," "Where Eagles Dare," and "Coogan's Bluff" working to share what passes for range with the iconic star. However, "Coogan's Bluff" is perhaps the most important of the bunch, establishing Eastwood's creative relationship with director Don Siegel, with the helmer becoming a friend and mentor for the actor. While the pair would go on to make "Dirty Harry" in 1971, "Coogan's Bluff" is their first stab at creating an antihero, pushing the boundaries of good taste with this surprisingly gruff detective story. In many ways, the feature feels like a prequel to "Dirty Harry," but it retains its own personality, giving Eastwood a chance to play around with cop clichés as he perfects his famous squint. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Beguiled


1971 was a pivotal moment in time for Clint Eastwood and director Don Siegel. It was the year they gave the world "Dirty Harry," one of the most iconic police films ever made, launching a lucrative franchise that would carry on for the next two decades. However, earlier that year, the pair concocted "The Beguiled," looking to break away from the actioners and thrillers they were known for, setting out to adapt a 1966 novel that touched on uncomfortable situations of seduction. Playing slightly against type, Eastwood delivers strong work as the main character, pushed to rely on subtle bits of deception instead of pure intimidation. However, "The Beguiled" truly belongs to Siegel, who's taken a difficult story and transformed it into a fascinatingly bizarre suspense piece, bravely managing a tale where there isn't a likable character to be found. Exceedingly disturbing and evenly paced, the feature comes together splendidly, challenging viewers with scenes of predatory behavior and wartime anxiety, with Siegel extracting a few genuine ills out of a troubling saga. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Play Misty for Me


With 1971 already stocked with Don Siegel collaborations in "The Beguiled" and "Dirty Harry," star Clint Eastwood decided to strike out on his own during this especially fertile year of creativity. Interested in creating his own dramatic path, away from cowboy hats and guns, Eastwood elected to make "Play Misty for Me" his directorial debut, utilizing years of acting experience to help give what's essentially a simplistic stalker saga some much needed character and off-beat timing. "Play Misty for Me" isn't opposed to absurdity, but it's also an effective chiller that understands its audience, going big when necessary and silent when required. The effort also launches Eastwood's helming career on an unusual note, showcasing an interest in the strange and unexpected the icon would manage for the rest of his career. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Eiger Sanction


Hollywood wasn't shy about their lust for a James Bond-style success. Many spy parodies and knockoffs were issued after Ian Fleming's character became a pop culture sensation and a box office powerhouse, leaving it only a matter of time before Clint Eastwood would attempt to create his own version of Bond (after reportedly declining the role). 1975's "The Eiger Sanction," based on the best-seller by Trevanian, strives to recapture the Sean Connery 007 years, issuing a no-nonsense lead character who slaps around brutes, spanks women, and is generally one step ahead of every villain he encounters. Utilizing exotic locations and story that provides layers of conspiracy and uncertainty, "The Eiger Sanction" doesn't feature much of a mystery, with Eastwood's dry, unhurried directorial style at odds with the demands of the superspy genre. It's a tepid thriller, best appreciated as a travelogue with periodic bursts of violence. Read the rest at

Film Review - Vendetta


The prison revenge thriller has a formula, and “Vendetta” sticks to it closely. It’s the latest picture from directors Jen and Sylvia Soska, who impressed with their debut, “American Mary,” following up an original vision with 2014’s “See No Evil 2.” Maintaining their relationship with WWE Films, the Soskas return to the fray with “Vendetta,” a connect-the-dots bruiser that actually packs quite a punch, boasting a surprisingly meaty lead performance from Dean Cain. It’s a rough effort that displays encouraging speed and imagination with fight sequences, making it easy to forgive the relative nothingness of the plot. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jurassic World


2001’s “Jurassic Park III” was a wildly entertaining romp through dinosaur highlights first introduced by director Steven Spielberg in his 1993 classic, the last of the old-world blockbusters, “Jurassic Park.” Back then, it was clear the franchise didn’t have much room to grow, recycling horror beats to give a new group of visitors to the dino realm something to scurry away from, mostly consumed with adding fresh creatures to give the Universal Studios merchandise team something to sell. The series was retired, Spielberg grew up, and if you wanted to catch some dinosaurs on the big screen, you had to make do with inferior features. Resurrecting the brand name for one last thrill ride (or possibly reviving it for a new round of sequels), “Jurassic World” takes a slightly different approach to monster moviemaking. Instead of trying to top the first three efforts, it looks to celebrate the universe Spielberg created with author Michael Crichton. It’s a deafening, menacing, immersive tour of dino hunting/human survival, wearing its fandom like a badge of honor. Read the rest at

Film Review - We Are Still Here


Ghost stories are common fodder for low-budget horror productions, offering filmmakers an opportunity to stage eerie events in the near dark, playing up intensity without the need to spend gobs of money to execute broad visuals. “We Are Still Here” is the latest picture to try its hand at shadowy evil, emerging from the mind of writer/director Ted Geoghegan, who makes his feature-length filmmaking debut. Teasing routine, the endeavor instead spins off into its own strange world of poltergeists and family drama, supported by a full-throated moviemaking effort that gives “We Are Still Here” cinematic authority, punctuated with a killer third act. Read the rest at

Film Review - Heaven Knows What


“Heaven Knows What” is a difficult film to sit through. Directors Ben and Joshua Safdie aren’t interested in crafting an overview of heroin addiction and homelessness, they want viewers to live alongside the characters, feeling every drowsy step and rambling thought. It’s certainly a challenge to process the story and learn to accept discomfort, but the reward is an evocative look at lost souls in New York City, updating “Panic in Needle Park” for a new generation of ailing young people who don’t have a future. Again, there are mental and physical endurance issues to consider before buying a ticket, but underneath the thick layer of disease remains a potent look at the demands of self-medication. Read the rest at

Film Review - The 11th Hour

11th HOUR Kim Basinger

“The 11th Hour” is produced by Zentropa Entertainment, a Danish filmmaking company co-founded in 1992 by Lars Von Trier. Throughout their history, Zentropa has dedicated itself to becoming a European misery factory, churning out such pick-me-ups as “Antichrist,” “Brothers,” and “Dancer in the Dark.” They’re responsible for a few legitimate classics and a handful of absolute cinematic atrocities, but rarely do they play on the sunny side of the street. “The 11th Hour” is one of their bleakest endeavors, surveying struggles with miscarriages, human trafficking, drug addiction, and rape. Somehow, Kim Basinger found her way to the production, and while she’s strong here, it’s difficult for anything to register as more than simple provocation from a studio that has a template for this style of storytelling. Read the rest at

Film Review - Wild Horses

WILD HORSES Robert Duvall

Legendary actor Robert Duvall received universal acclaim with his third directorial effort, 1997’s “The Apostle.” Stepping away for a few years, Duvall returned helming duty with 2002’s scattered “Assassination Tango,” co-starring with his wife, Luciana Duvall. “Wild Horses” marks Duvall’s fifth trip behind the camera (in a Hollywood career that dates back to 1960) and could very well be the most random picture he’s even been involved with. A cowboy soap opera with murder, bigotry, politics, and bible quotes, “Wild Horses” is likely the end result of a ten-hour-long rough cut that just couldn’t be tamed. It’s a mess, a complete and utter mess, but shockingly, the movie is rarely dull, embracing just enough of Duvall’s dedication to realism to make it bearable. Read the rest at