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September 2015

Film Review - A Brilliant Young Mind


Any production that attempts to dramatize autism is faced with a challenge of tone and respect. “A Brilliant Young Mind” tells the story of an autistic boy who’s getting used to the world around him, grasping adolescent and romantic situations for the first time after being thrown into the deep end of socialization. Scripted by James Graham and directed by Morgan Matthews, “A Brilliant Young Mind” is smart and perceptive, and it’s also stunningly sensitive to human needs. While it tells a tale of academic accomplishment and examination, the feature is riveting as a study of frustration and longing, capturing the range of experiences that come with autism, not just focusing on a single degree of understanding. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Second Mother


“The Second Mother” looks at the emotional impact of housemaid and nanny work, exploring one woman’s experience as her professional and private lives meet for the first time, causing all sorts of chaos. It’s a Brazilian picture with enormous personality and a deep understanding of the employer/employee relationship. It’s light when it chooses to be, but “The Second Mother” is crafty with a few comedic asides, generating a pleasant sense of misdirection, allowing the rest of this finely crafted, patient, and exceptionally performed movie to emerge from unexpected places, identifying the cost of personal sacrifice with outstanding precision. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dirty Weekend


Although there have been a few attempts to alter his filmmaking identity over the years, writer/director Neil LaBute is primarily known for his provocative ways with sexuality, gender, and race. He enjoys poking at taboo topics, armed with acidic, slyly humorous dialogue that periodically cuts to the heart of social woes and emotional instability. While his cinematic career has been lacking lately (his last effort, “Some Velvet Morning” was barely distributed), LaBute revives his impish qualities with “Dirty Weekend,” which teases surprises and extends discomfort. The movie has its moments, but “Dirty Weekend” comes up short when time arrives to truly unnerve the audience, finding LaBute unable to dream up a story that contains a suitable payoff. Instead, he shows more comfort with vague outlines of anxiety, which isn’t as amusing as the production imagines. Read the rest at

Film Review - Time Out of Mind


Writer/director Oren Moverman made a critical and industry splash with 2009’s “The Messenger.” He didn’t build on that first impression, with his follow-up, 2011’s “Rampart,” showing early signs of creative fatigue and repetition, resulting in a messy, easily dismissible picture. “Time Out of Mind” is an even more experimental offering from Moverman, who endeavors to put viewers into the mindset of a homeless man as he experiences life on the streets and shelters, and makes a vague attempt to rebuild his ruined life. It’s compassionate work with all the good intentions in the world, but Moverman refuses brevity, transforming what should be an unforgettable education into an indulgent slog. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Face to Face


In his follow-up to "The Big Gundown," director Sergio Sollima continues to mine his fascination with gray areas of conscience and loyalty, instilling 1967's "Face to Face" with moral complexity that helps to support the picture's occasionally iffy dramatics. It's a western with meaning, using a history of Italian politics to inform its plot, and it when it settles down and explores character, it proves itself to be intelligent, lacking some needed urgency to work up necessary suspense. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Monster That Challenged the World


1957's "The Monster That Challenged the World" is one of many horror features created during the rising years of the Atomic Age, using paranoia and progress to feed B-movie requirements, giving audiences something to be frightened of besides the daily news. Of course, the film now registers as pure silliness, witnessing the discovery and wrath of a giant mollusk at it rises out of the Salton Sea to devour those curious enough to go near it. However, the production shows creative effort rare to the era, working on characterization between attack sequences, trying to shape a personality to the picture instead of simply working through the kills. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Burn, Witch, Burn


1962's "Burn, Witch, Burn" is an unusual combination of a witchcraft thriller and a workplace drama, with both sides of the story managing to generate all the proper pressure the production needs to build tension. Wonderfully performed and inventively made, "Burn, Witch, Burn" (a.k.a. "Night of the Eagle") offers quite a compelling commotion, with style and bursts of anarchy welcome in a tale that's always on the prowl for suspense. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Psycho Beach Party


Like a giant layer cake of self-awareness, camp is piled on top of camp in 2000's "Psycho Beach Party," which looks to pants various genres of the 1960s, committing to a broad style of silliness to achieve its goals. Adapting his own theatrical production, screenwriter/co-star Charles Busch wins points for enthusiasm, trying to massage a spirited take on bikini-clad high jinks and serial murder for as long as possible, aided by wonderful performances from the cast, who give themselves completely to the low-budget endeavor, playing loud and lively. However, a little of "Psycho Beach Party" goes a long way, and the feature has trouble maintaining manic energy, with obvious dips in inspiration throttling the merriment Busch is eager to summon. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - La Sapienza


There are moments when "La Sapienza" is a hypnotic, gracefully made piece of filmic art, and there are moments when it feels like a parody of one. From writer/director Eugene Green, the feature is a specialized viewing experience that invests in stillness to such a degree, the effort stops moving entirely at times. It's gorgeously made, with absurdly beautiful cinematography by Raphael O'Byrne, but "La Sapienza" is often caught trying to pass as a sophisticated assessment of loneliness and marital connection, intentionally abandoning the human experience to play out like experimental theater, set within the walls of architectural mastery. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - A Town Called Hell


1971's "A Town Called Hell" (titled as "A Town Called Bastard" on the Blu-ray) sets out to define four different perspectives on guilt, loss, and redemption. It's more than most movies establish to fuel tensions, and the production is not up to the challenge. Disjointed and anticlimactic, "A Town Called Hell" goes through the motions of genre intimidation, urging its cast to communicate unease and threat to the best of their ability, as the story never supports them as securely as it should. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Transporter Refueled


There were three previous “Transporter” movies, and two of them were immensely fun to watch. The series helped star Jason Statham hit a level of respectability as an action hero, making smart use of his bruiser film presence and mumbly way. The efforts were stunt spectacles, outrageous ones at that, allowing co-producer/co-writer Luc Besson to dream up chases and showdowns for Statham to manage in his own special way. After a failed television series, the driver is back to work in “The Transporter Refueled,” a franchise reheat that ditches Statham and the charmingly loopy vibe that informed the first two efforts. Painfully absurd and dismally acted, “The Transporter Refueled” is a new low for the series, failing to do anything in an even remotely competent manner. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Walk in the Woods


An adaptation of a 1998 book by Bill Bryson, “A Walk in the Woods” is a travelogue that’s wide open for a two leading men to take command of the material and infuse the feature with considerable personality. Up for the challenge are Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, who team up to portray two older men crossing America on foot, learning about each other and themselves along the way. Teasing gooey sentimentality and metaphor, “A Walk in the Woods” is surprisingly impish, keeping encouraging distance from maudlin activities to transform into an R-rated romp through the wilderness, subverting expectations for a somber reflection on the fragility of life. Read the rest at

Film Review - Zipper


In a post-Elliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner world, it’s fitting to find “Zipper” taking on the subject of political ambition colliding with sexual addiction. It’s a topic that’s ripe for exploration, and co-writer/director Mora Stephens is certainly enthusiastic about the details that make up such a fall from grace. It’s the ultimate dramatic goals of “Zipper” that remain frustrating, as Stephens isn’t sure if she wants to craft a dark ode to animal urges or a taut paranoia thriller featuring a range of scowling, judgmental characters. The feature does tap into the agitated mind of a man who’s reaching utter powerlessness when faced with carnal temptations, but, overall, the movie takes its unscrupulousness with overwhelming seriousness, opening the effort up to unintended laughs and an iffy handle on taste. Read the rest at

Film Review - Before We Go


Struggling with a career that’s enjoyed blockbuster highs (becoming a Marvel Studios legend as Captain America) and creative lows (including the recent “Playing It Cool”), actor Chris Evans elects to take control of his professional future with “Before We Go,” making his directorial debut. Putting his heart into a tale of lost souls searching for emotional clarity during one particularly long evening, Evans battles to preserve behavioral authenticity to the picture, holding tight on performances and extended scenes of bonding. However, “Before We Go” contracts a case of the cutes one too many times, hunting for a way to be likeable and romantic when the material demands restraint, trusting in the nature of basic human decency. Read the rest at

Film Review - Break Point


Movies about tennis are few and far between, but comedies about tennis are practically nonexistent. This gives “Break Point” something of an advantage, as it’s a perfectly pleasant and frequently funny tennis comedy with a passable handle on character. Far from profound, with a rudimentary examination of familial hostilities and arcs of redemption, “Break Point” does retain a personality thanks to its stars, who work hard, perhaps too hard, to give the effort levels of conflict and tomfoolery, diluting the picture’s programmed feel. Fans of tennis should enjoy the feature’s perspective, but the production manages to create an accessible sports comedy as well. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dragon Blade


It’s not every day that a Chinese war epic starring Jackie Chan, Adrien Brody, and John Cusack is produced, making “Dragon Blade” a significant curiosity. The picture also claims to be based on a true story, but it remains unclear what part of the tale is supposed to represent history. Perhaps taking such an endeavor seriously is a mistake, but it’s refreshing to see writer/director Daniel Lee commit to large scale action and even bigger emotion as China battles Rome in “Dragon Blade.” While the feature isn’t built for an academic response, it does have its fair share of distractions and a significant sweep, and there’s the sight of the three leads trying to make sense of their casting, keeping the effort adequately unpredictable. Read the rest at

Film Review - Chloe and Theo


Perhaps “Chloe and Theo” was created with the best of intentions, but what’s ended up in the movie is such a random assembly of guilt, comedy, and tragedy, it’s impossible to detect what the actual message of the picture is. For the most part, “Chloe and Theo” endeavors to teach the audience about climate change and its far-reaching threat to those outside of America. Viewed through the eyes of an Inuit traveler, the story is meant to treat the subject matter with a degree of innocence, coating in the end of the world in cutesy behavior. It’s an admirable shot by writer/director Ezna Sands to preach about environmental damage, but the film is extraordinarily confused and miscast, killing any hope for lasting impact. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hot Pursuit


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

Blu-ray Review - The Water Diviner


Russell Crowe has enjoyed an acting career filled with varied dramatic demands, yet "The Water Diviner" marks the first time the star has stepped behind the camera. While retaining leading actor duties, Crowe finds the inspiration to create a heartfelt historical drama that investigates a crisis of anonymity when it comes to the slain soldiers of World War I. It's powerful work when locked in investigative mode, showcasing Crowe's strengths as a performer and helmer, selecting an unusual but evocative mystery of fatherly desperation, and one that's especially aware of the sensitivity surrounding its subject matter. "The Water Diviner" can't help itself with unnecessarily romantic pursuits, but fringe interests fail to implode this sturdily constructed film. Read the rest at