Previous month:
July 2015
Next month:
September 2015

August 2015

Blu-ray Review - The Couch Trip


"The Couch Trip" is an attempt by director Michael Ritchie to make a screwball comedy with classic cinema timing in the 1980s, where broad humor was being eaten away by cynicism. The helmer of "Fletch" and "The Bad News Bears," Ritchie certainly understands the value of a wily punchline, but there's an unfinished quality to "The Couch Trip" that keeps the feature from connecting in full. The cast is game to play, with star Dan Aykroyd working at his usual speed with jokes and rubbery reactions, but "The Couch Trip" ultimately feels rushed, which is a shame when it initially appears ready and willing to work through a list of neuroses, accusations, and confrontations worth a little more screen time than what the production is willing to offer. Select moments are genuinely funny, yet the movie tends to muffle what works, clinging to a story that never comes together. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - War Gods of the Deep


Endeavoring to become Disney-style entertainment, 1965's "War-Gods of the Deep" (a.k.a. "City Under the Sea") does an impressive job matching the dramatic flatness of the company's live-action entertainment, but its spectacle needs some work. Starring Vincent Price, Tab Hunter, Susan Hart, and David Tomlinson, "War-Gods of the Deep" is a passable plunge into a mysterious underwater realm, offering monsters and impending volcanic disaster, but it's clear that a limited budget is in place, keeping the production on a tight leash while the story details Earth-splitting events and oceanic chases. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Front Page


1931's "The Front Page" was added to the National Film Registry in 2010, securing its place in cinema history and its preservation for future generations to enjoy. It's easy to see why the feature was picked, presenting a sharp, incisive look at journalism of the day, finding its depiction of sensationalism and the lure of personal corruption still resonate in 2015. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Diggstown


Director Michael Ritchie maintained a special interest in movies about sports. Not many of them were great (there was one masterpiece in 1976's "The Bad News Bears"), but they all retained a shaggy personality that inspected the minutiae of teamwork and the power of the individual. 1992's "Diggstown" (titled "Midnight Sting" on the Blu-ray) isn't explicitly a boxing picture, but it carries the weight of a production that understands the stamina and mental acuity of the sport, working to make the ring encounters hit as hard as the twists and turns of this con man story. Although it's ultimately a tale of trickery and revenge, "Diggstown" is most comfortable throwing punches, communicating exhaustion with confidence as the rest of the shenanigans remain diverting, but tonally unbalanced. Read the rest at

Film Review - Turbo Kid


“Turbo Kid” plays into a recent trend of retro cinema, with a generation of filmmakers raised on VHS rentals looking to revive the features of their youth through replication and exaggeration, trying to grasp the often violent innocence that was once commonplace in the 1980s. “Turbo Kid” is one of the more successful offerings of this welcome movement, playing as a satire and valentine to adventure cinema. It’s rarely without a wink, but it’s also imaginatively realized and marvelously performed, powered by a beaming spirit that delivers nothing but love for video games, post-apocalyptic actioners, and teen cinema. Read the rest at

Film Review - No Escape


Siblings John Erick and Drew Dowdle have proven themselves to be extremely disappointing filmmakers, taking passably intriguing plots and reducing them to pure absurdity, or worse, absolute stupidity. Last year’s “As Above, So Below” did nothing to disturb their track record of snoozers, and “No Escape” now joins the list, with the Dowdles once again proving themselves incapable or simply uninterested in telling a tense story effectively. A survival picture that’s never above stooping to cheap tricks to get a rise out of its audience, “No Escape” lumbers around without much purpose, putting its faith in a few stunt set pieces and panicky looks from star Owen Wilson. The rest is just a bunch of heavy breathing, a smattering of deus ex machina, and questionable ideas for suspense. Read the rest at

Film Review - Z for Zachariah


To appreciate “Z for Zachariah” requires an enormous commitment of patience from the viewer. Scripted by Nissar Modi and directed by Craig Zobel (“Compliance,” “Great World of Sound”), the feature is no hurry to share its drama, leisurely taking in agitation that fuels the story, making the audience feel time passing by instead of passively observing it. A difficult sit, “Z for Zachariah” is boosted immensely by its actors, with Margot Robbie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Chris Pine contributing challenging performances that bring tension to the tale, portraying desperate souls in a troubling position of survival and connection. The movie has difficulty maintaining an even pour of its intentional glaze, but provocative moments do emerge from time to time. Read the rest at

Film Review - Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet


“Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet” is an explosion of stunning animation. It’s the film version of Gibran’s 1923 book of poetry and essays on the ways of the world, with the production taking famous philosophy and transforming it into pure cinema, with managing director Roger Allers (“The Lion King,” “Over the Hedge”) overseeing a team of artists tasked with creating segments that celebrate the purity of Gibran’s teachings, which cover the range of experience between life and death. The feature sweats to come up with a dramatic hook strong enough to carry the movie, but as an animated event, “The Prophet” is dazzling and enlightening, reworking the author’s passions though a blast of color and design that’s mesmerizing. Read the rest at

Film Review - 7 Chinese Brothers


“7 Chinese Brothers” is a comedy that asks the audience to meet it on its own wavelength. It’s quirky but never insistent, traveling glacially but effectively as it studies the sustained failure of a habitual slacker. There’s truth to the movie underneath its idiosyncrasy, presenting a commentary on maturation and responsibility that’s agreeably communicated by writer/director Bob Byington. It’s also an absolutely hilarious feature at times, especially for viewers who enjoy star Jason Schwartzman, who comes to play (accompanied by his real-life dog) with an inventive take on Peter Pan Syndrome, vibrating with a nervous energy that encourages laughs and concern in equal measure. Read the rest at

Film Review - Digging for Fire


Writer/director Joe Swanberg believes in the healing powers of conversation. He’s built a career with semi-improvised features that highlight loquacious characters enduring personal crises, with recent efforts “Happy Christmas” and “Drinking Buddies” helping the helmer to prominence, refining his skill with bigger, brighter casts and a creative maturation that gives Swanberg plenty of grass to mow when it comes to the vast field of thirtysomething discontent. “Digging for Fire” assembles a Justice League of famous faces to help sell a tale of physical and emotional discovery, but familiar faces are only a small part of the pleasures found in this odd picture, which enjoys the art of exploration, achieving genuine dramatic surprises in a fresh, inviting manner. Read the rest at

Film Review - We Are Your Friends


Electronic dance music gets a rare shot at big screen stardom in “We Are Your Friends,” but the filmmakers don’t trust its appeal. Instead of big beats and an education in the creation of EDM, the feature chooses to pursue melodrama, feeling around twentysomething malaise to come up with a story that’s primarily about the heartsick woes of a young man in love, trying to make his way in an unfair world. “We Are Your Friends” is a little harder than the average After School Special, but it’s about as obvious, stumbling through dreadful scenes of location identification and male bonding before it’s back to the laptop and headphones, finally returning to the one place it should’ve never left. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mistress America


“Mistress America” is the third film from writer/director Noah Baumbach to investigate the freedom of youth as it collides with the bitter reality of aging. The 45-year-old helmer has become obsessed with the particulars of twentysomethings, already exploring a divide of maturity in last spring’s “While We’re Young.” A straightforward comedy, “Mistress America” is the lightest release Baumbach has had in years, but that doesn’t make it automatically pleasant. He’s still invested in the lives of obnoxious, self-involved characters, and any resistance to that particular dramatic frequency is going to make the film feel like running a marathon on ice skates. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein


With director Jess Franco, subtlety isn't a priority. Either is polish, leaving 1972's "The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein" just one of many in the filmmaker's oeuvre that comes up short in the artistry department as the production races to capture as much insanity as possible before the disturbingly prolific Franco is off to his next endeavor. While the promise of a cracked take on Mary Shelley's iconic source material is there for the taking, "The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein" falls short of horror goals, emerging as a "Manos"-style thriller with unrealized ideas and troubling storytelling deficiencies. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - He Ran All the Way


"He Ran All the Way" is a crime picture (adapted from a book by Sam Ross), but it finds a special position of paranoia to keep tensions taut. Hit with political troubles during its initial 1951 release due to Red Scare interest with screenwriters Dalton Trumbo and Hugo Butler, and star John Garfield, the feature emerges today as a fascinating look at claustrophobic intimidation, using guns and chases to provide entrance into a disquieting psychological thriller, supported by wonderful performances and an atypical sense of escalation for the moviemaking era. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Return to Oz


Somewhere over the rainbow, there's a little girl awaiting shock treatment.

The fantasyland of Oz, as brought to world by author L. Frank Baum, is many things. But to most audiences, Oz is only one thing: a 1939 classic film starring Judy Garland. Attempting to recapture the magic of "The Wizard of Oz," many sequels and knockoffs have failed to achieve the same level of wonder, whimsy, and song. 1985's "Return to Oz" offers a teasing title that hints at a revival of Technicolor awe, but it's a very different picture, taking a creative route that doesn't welcome musical numbers and one-liners. It's a stark, grim adventure that boldly returns to Baum for inspiration while trying to remain as far away from "The Wizard of Oz" as possible. Although certain elements of the feature miss their mark, "Return to Oz" is ambitious, daring, and delivers incredible technical achievements, offsetting initial disappointment and confusion by generating its own mood and dramatic objectives. Instead of amazement, it's foreboding and periodically scary, subverting expectations in the best possible way. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Toxic Avenger: Part III - The Last Temptation of Toxie


When we last saw the Toxic Avenger, he saved Japan and Tromaville from Apocalypse Inc., using his monster gifts to protect the innocent from pollution and corporate abuse. True to form, Troma Entertainment isn't about to let their cash-cow take a rest, reviving the "superhero from New Jersey" for 1989's "The Toxic Avenger: Part III – The Last Temptation of Toxie," a sequel that basically admits defeat from the opening act. Loud and cheaply made, the continuation of the saga tries to sustain irreverence and gore, utilizing Troma's silly sense of humor to fuel yet another round of one-liners and lethargic battles. The creative tank is clearly out of gas for this follow-up, but that doesn't stop directors Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz from trying to staple together a continuation made out of random ideas and footage from "The Toxic Avenger: Part II." Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Foreign Intrigue


Although it doesn't seem to be created as a sequel to a television series that ran in the early 1950s, "Foreign Intrigue" isn't one to pause and wait around for its audience. Diving headfirst into acts of secrecy and betrayal, the 1957 feature isn't covering new ground in the detective genre, with star Robert Mitchum looking unchallenged as he works through a routine of sleuthing, seduction, and attitude, this time sending him around Europe to gather clues. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sinister 2


In 2012, “Sinister” was a Halloween release, taking advantage of the spooky season to introduce a new boogeyman named Bughuul, a hulking beast who resembles a member of Slipknot and enjoys snacking on the souls of children. Despite serving up predictably noisy scares, the picture was a hit. As with any horror success story, a sequel was created, returning screenwriters C. Robert Cargill and Scott Derrickson to the scene of the crime, tasked with dreaming up a new nightmare for Bughuul and his fondness for 16mm cinematography. Bled dry of ideas, the duo gets into the recycling business with “Sinister 2,” constructing another tale of supernatural lure, this time dealing directly with a pre-adolescent perspective. Read the rest at

Film Review - American Ultra


“American Ultra” wants to be a number of different movies, never settling on a consistent tone to carry out its interests in dark comedy. It’s a mixed bag of highlights, and one that grows tiring the longer it meanders with bland character and jokes. The big draw is the opportunity to watch star Jesse Eisenberg, king of the nebbish performances, become Jason Bourne for the brief moment, portraying a killing machine with severe anxiety issues. “American Ultra” has promise but not much payoff, unless a steady stream of breaking glass, superfluous style, and miscastings are your idea of an enriching night at the multiplex. Read the rest at