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August 2015

Film Review - Hitman: Agent 47


We already endured this less than a decade ago. 2007’s “Hitman” was an attempt to launch another video game-inspired franchise after a few others titles, notably “Resident Evil,” began to dominate the box office, hoping to lure players in with a big screen exploration of genetically-modified ultraviolence carried out by a bald man with a barcode on the back of his head. The feature underperformed and slipped out of sight, but a little profit is still profit. The producers have decided to try their luck once again with “Hitman: Agent 47,” a decidedly more plasticized version of the same old story, replacing previous star Timothy Olyphant with Rupert Friend, though I doubt anyone will notice. The emphasis is on CGI and scowling, and “Agent 47” is filled to the brim with cartoon imagery and angry faces. Anything more challenging simply confuses an already brain dead production. Read the rest at

Film Review - Listen to Me Marlon


Marlon Brando spent the first half of his life seeking fame, and the second half rejecting everything stardom had to offer. As a Hollywood enigma, he was one of the most enticing, with most of his filmography made up of curious creative choices and pure money gigs, while his personal life was a mystery of social withdrawal and tragedy, finding the blinding spotlight too much to handle as youthful careerism gave way to maturation and concern. “Listen to Me Marlon” isn’t a straightforward documentary on the legend’s life, but it does file though the highlights. However, instead of an outside narrator guiding the experience, director Stevan Riley cuts together Brando’s own words, filing through recordings the actor made while in the mood for confession. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ten Thousand Saints


“Ten Thousand Saints” marks the return of directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, who, a little over a decade ago, made a splash with “American Splendor,” only to stumble with follow-ups including “The Nanny Diaries,” “The Extra Man,” and the unpleasant “Girl Most Likely.” “Ten Thousand Saints” frequently struggles to put together a sizable story with interconnected characters, but it finds warmth, humor, and heartache along the way, allowing Berman and Pulcini a chance to explore dimensional personalities in a flavorful setting. It’s far from a perfect film, but when it locks on to an emotionally complex moment, the feature succeeds more than a fails. Read the rest at

Film Review - Being Evel


To some, he was just a daredevil. To others, Evel Knievel was a hero, with his fearless attempts to conquer danger providing a unique source of inspiration. “Being Evel” is actually the second Knievel documentary released in the past year, and instead of simply checking off accomplishments and biographical highlights, the production submits a tone of recollection, gathering friends, family, and admirers to reflect on Knievel’s career, with emphasis on his volatile personality. “Being Evel” isn’t a complex deconstruction of the stunt icon’s history. It’s more of a campfire remembrance, asking those closest to the star to share anecdotes and provide perspective when needed. Read the rest at

Film Review - Some Kind of Beautiful


It’s tough to be a Pierce Brosnan admirer these days. The talented actor has been caught in a career rut as of late, participating in dreary actioners (“Survivor,” “The November Man”) that merely require him to grimace and shoot blanks at stunt professionals. Truthfully, he’s been the highlight of most movies he makes, but even his tight-faced charm is buried in “Some Kind of Beautiful,” a bewilderingly titled romantic comedy that’s about as warm and humorous as a TSA waiting line. While Brosnan and co-stars Salma Hayek and Jessica Alba try to wind up the effort with a healthy dose of manic energy, “Some Kind of Beautiful” limps along with dud scenes and a weird appreciation for happily ever after. Read the rest at

Film Review - She's Funny That Way


Any appreciation of “She’s Funny That Way” requires digestion of star Imogen Poots’s comically large Brooklyn accent. The British actress attempts to squawk her way through the latest effort from Peter Bogdanovich, who hasn’t helmed a big screen feature since 2001’s “The Cat’s Meow,” attempting to tap into the picture’s broad style and classic Hollywood exaggeration, only to emerge with a performance that’s shrill and unconvincing. The rest of “She’s Funny That Way” follows suit, struggling to retain a certain madcap snap, only the screenplay doesn’t offer much in the way of punchlines and the actors gathered aren’t especially known for their crisp timing. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Zone Troopers


"Zone Troopers" is an imaginative idea in search of a proper budget. It's a B-movie from 1985 (co-produced by Charles Band), telling the story of an alien invasion during World War II, but instead of expanse, battling ships, and masses of military men charging into battle, the feature is mostly contained to modest forest settings, working with only a handful of cast members. Co-writer/director Danny Bilson is skilled enough to secure a few highlights along the journey, playing enthusiastically with war film formula and archetype, but he doesn't have enough money to bring his eerie vision to life. Instead of non-stop thrills and chills, "Zone Troopers" is deliberate, often static, trying to milk its inviting premise as much as it can before the audience gradually becomes aware that instead of unleashing sci-fi mayhem, the feature is primarily contained to crusty banter and periodic action. The effort certainly isn't "War of the Worlds." Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Prime Cut


1972's "Prime Cut" is an efficient actioner with enough surges in oddity to keep it compelling. The feature is directed by Michael Ritchie and was released mere weeks after his breakthrough work on "The Candidate," displaying the helmer's gift with realism and satire, and his way with armed men and personal vendettas. I'm not convinced that "Prime Cut" is a lost classic, but it does reach a higher consciousness than most bruisers, investing in unsettling behavior to keep its routine plot interesting. It also helps to have leading actors in Lee Marvin and Gene Hackman, who trade death stares and punches as the big city goes up against the heartland in this periodically surprising exercise in distanced exploitation. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Cherry 2000


It doesn't take a detective to figure out which decade gave birth to "Cherry 2000." It's a film about the hunt for a replacement sex robot, offering a post-apocalyptic setting that favors pastel outfits, RPGs and Uzis, and displays futuristic cars that drive on three wheels. The feature doesn't hide its production era very well, but it remains an engaging romp around the shattered society formula, with director Steve De Jarnatt ("Miracle Mile") using imaginative designs and a taste for stuntwork to bring "Cherry 2000" to life, despite an iffy premise that doesn't initially suggest a slam-bang actioner to come. There's encouraging personality to the movie, which isn't encumbered by a minimal budget, working out its own version of mayhem in the Nevada desert, with enough chases, shoot-outs, and explosions to keep the effort alert and, at times, wildly entertaining. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Real Men


Two goofy actors such as James Belushi and John Ritter seem like a natural fit for a buddy comedy. 1987's "Real Men" pairs the men as opposites on the run, giving them time to create idiosyncratic character business and engage in physical antics that play to their individual strengths, creating a playground for silly business to take shape. Writer/director Dennis Feldman (who scripted "Species" and "The Golden Child") has rough ideas for humor, action, and oddity, but no real game plan to pull anything off. "Real Men" is an awkward misfire that's determined to be entertaining, but frequently carries on with its shoelaces tied together, wasting time on deadly banter and scripted inanity while Belushi and Ritter struggle to locate consistent performances. It's loud and madcap, but the feature is weirdly sloppy, resembling a movie that was torn apart and built up again in the editing room, leaving only remnants of ideas, not entire scenes. Read the rest at

Film Review - Return to Sender


After watching Rosamund Pike portray a scheming, murderous psychopath in last year’s “Gone Girl,” it’s a little strange to see the actress attempt a variation on the role in “Return to Sender.” As exploitation goes, the picture doesn’t add up to much, delaying the inevitable for so long, it doesn’t really matter much to the movie when violence finally arrives. Rocking back and forth between sensitivity and cheap thrills, “Return to Sender” is kept alive by Pike’s performance, which strives to make the character arc meaningful while director Fouad Mikati (responsible for the cringe-worthy misfire, “Operation: Endgame”) fumbles the essentials in suspense. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Man from U.N.C.L.E.


After smashing through box office expectations with two highly successful “Sherlock Holmes” movies, director Guy Ritchie tries to keep the same intrigue and action alive, but in a slightly more modern setting. “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” takes special care to revive the 1960s, with Ritchie trying to celebrate the era of the original television show the movie takes its inspiration from, reviving big style and paranoia for a retro romp through Cold War tensions. “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is stacked with stunning visuals and Ritchie’s dry wit, but it struggles to snap out of its too-cool-for-school slumber, while leads Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer do a terrific impression of male mannequins, robbing the picture of needed charm. Read the rest at

Film Review - Straight Outta Compton


On the album cover of the 1988 N.W.A. album, “Straight Outta Compton,” there are six men displayed. The N.W.A. bio-pic, “Straight Outta Compton,” only focuses on three members of the group. For some, emphasis on rappers Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Eazy-E is a no-brainer, with the artists forming the identity and sound of the band. However, for dramatic purposes, the highlighting of only half the group immediately rings false. In fact, much of “Straight Outta Compton” comes across as fiction, with screenwriters Andrea Berloff and Jonathan Herman trying to create a superhero origin story that keeps the brand names happy, making Dre and Cube the stars of the show, preserving their reputations as they cloud the true creative nucleus of the group. The picture isn’t really a biography, it’s an application for sainthood. Read the rest at

Film Review - People Places Things


A talented actor and comedian, Jemaine Clement has never truly found his footing as movie performer. He’s always the bright spot in anything he appears in, but Clement certainly deserves a more significant challenge to bring out his charisma and depth. After scoring major laughs in the delightfully silly “What We Do in the Shadows,” Clement finds a proper sweet and sour balance in “People Places Things,” which truly brings him to life as a leading man. While hilarious, “People Places Things” is also smart about the confusion of divorce and the fatigue of parenthood, launching a dramedy that’s knowledgeable about the human heart while still tending to moments of humor that Clement sells with customary dryness. Read the rest at

Film Review - Cop Car


Co-writer/director Jon Watts recently won himself the opportunity to helm the next big screen version of Spider-Man, with his name a surprising addition to the big screen superhero journey. There isn’t anything contained in his newest film, “Cop Car,” to suggest time in the Marvel Universe is a natural extension to his career, unless the next crime-fighting odyssey for the web-slinger involves long passages of stillness, near-silent performances, and a cold-blooded look at the true price of mischief. “Cop Car” is deliberate, which might drive some viewers to give up on it long before it reaches a conclusion, but patience is rewarded with intense performances, darkly comic highlights, and finale that pays off all the waiting with a wallop of suspense. Read the rest at

Film Review - Amnesiac


While trying to sustain a career in Hollywood, recently appearing in pictures such as “Homefront” and “Straw Dogs,” Kate Bosworth has been balancing the money gigs with indie features that ask a little more of the actress. Movies like “Black Rock,” “And While We Were Here,” and “Still Alice” provide richer dramatic possibilities, yet “Amnesiac” is situated somewhere in the middle of creative risk-taking, with director Michael Polish (Bosworth’s real-life husband) attempting to merge exploitation interests with deliberate art-house filmmaking. While packed with scenes of malicious conduct, “Amnesiac” isn’t an effort that’s looking for cheap scares, taking its sweet time to find tension, putting its faith in Bosworth and co-star Wes Bentley. Read the rest at

Film Review - Underdogs


Director Juan Jose Campanella is best known for his work on the adult dramas “The Secret in Their Eyes” and “Son of the Bride,” along with his extensive time on television, helming shows like “House M.D.” and “Halt and Catch Fire.” “Underdogs” is his first foray into animation, and to give his production a distinct personality, he’s elected to make a foosball comedy. The Argentine production, “Underdogs” backs up a fascinating premise with a decent amount of laughs, making a soccer comedy on a tiny scale, using cartoon exaggeration to play with visuals and find a fresh way to attack the routine of a sports picture. Read the rest at

Film Review - Big Sky


“Big Sky” is a story of survival mixed with crime film clichés. The psychological aspects of the screenplay are enticing, taking a long look at agoraphobia, and how such anxiety is managed while trapped in frantic flare-up of self-preservation. Director Jorge Michel Grau (“The ABCs of Death”) struggles with a basics of suspense, and screenwriter Evan M. Wiener (“Monogamy”) looks to create a community aspect of panic, which inches the feature away from an intimate understanding of the lead character and her long road to safety. “Big Sky” is engaging, with select moments locating an intriguing tone of doubt, finding its more conventional ideas and stand-offs intrusive. Read the rest at

Film Review - Best of Enemies


As televised intellectual pursuits go, few showdowns have managed to rival the series of debates that took place in 1968 featuring William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal. Two titans of the political and literary realm, the men were paired in an effort to boost ratings, only to walk away from the experience with a newfound hatred of each other. “Best of Enemies” is a documentary devoted to the debates and their aftermath, tracking an impressive display of ego handed a prime time slot to the delight of Americans everywhere, also helping to shape shrieking punditry as we know it today. Read the rest at