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November 2015

Blu-ray Review - The House on Carroll Street


Before her career came to an inexplicable stop in the 1990s, actress Kelly McGillis had an interesting run. With "Top Gun" and "Witness," McGillis achieved tremendous box office awareness, and with "The Accused," critical raves followed. A few duds were encountered, including "Made in Heaven" and "Winter People," and there was 1988's "The House on Carroll Street," which offered McGillis a more action-oriented role in a throwback thriller. While a bit out of her league in the picture, the star manages the tepid twists and turns of the screenplay with some degree of grace, dutifully working through director Peter Yates's modest design for thrills and chills. "The House on Carroll Street" wasn't a hit back in the day (stiff competition included Richard Pryor's "Moving" and 11th week of "Good Morning, Vietnam"), and it's not especially interesting, but it remains a curiosity, reminding viewers of a time when Hollywood was investing in the Kelly McGillis brand name, trying to transform a character actress into a leading lady. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Spikes Gang


1974's "The Spikes Gang" is a bit of a roller coaster ride when it comes to tone. It's a western that charts the corruption of innocence, following three young men (Ron Howard, Charlie Martin Smith, and Gary Grimes) as they leave home to experience the world on their own terms, only to find bitter realities of poverty and desperation greeting them at every turn. Lee Marvin stars as the titular bandit out to gift the boys a bad education on bank robbing, but his presence isn't welcomed as salvation, but more of a warning, with the screenplay creating an interesting collision of youthful exuberance and seasoned menace. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Hurricane


While far from being the first disaster movie, 1937's "The Hurricane" is a great example of the subgenre's early years. Directed by John Ford, the feature is a slow build-up to spectacle, issuing a star-crossed lovers plot and vile villainy to work viewers up before slamming them back into their seats with a climatic storm. It's a colossal undertaking, and one that retains intimate encounters, capturing passions and catastrophe with equal concentration. Read the rest at

Film Review - Heart of a Dog


Laurie Anderson is a performance artist and a musician, nurturing an impressive four-decade-long career of artistic endeavors. She’s a spiky-haired avant-garde original who lives to disrupt expectations, with her latest work, “Heart of a Dog,” one of her most baffling. While it appears on the outside to be an appreciation of animal companionship, finding Anderson in a sentimental mood, “Heart of a Dog” immediately sheds expectations to become something more in step with the performer’s appetite for the surreal. It’s certainly emotional at times, but the feature is primarily a sensorial immersion into life, death, and all the strangeness the makes up the post-9/11 human experience, with Anderson deploying animation, home movies, and abstract footage to carry viewers into the warm waters of the unknown. Read the rest at

Film Review - Legend


In 1990, the story of Reggie and Ronnie Kray, the twin gangsters of 1960s London, was explored in “The Krays,” which starred Gary and Martin Kemp, from the band Spandau Ballet. Acting efforts are substantially accelerated in “Legend,” which does away with twinning to focus on star Tom Hardy, who portrays both Reggie and Ronnie in a bruisingly seductive manner only he can pull off. Casting works wonderfully, but “Legend” is an extremely difficult movie. Imagining the Krays as a bottomless pool of interesting behaviors and impulses, the feature doesn’t make much sense of their criminal reign, cherry picking the highlights of their madness without establish context, making the picture feel frustratingly incomplete. Read the rest at

Film Review - Creed


In 2006, Sylvester Stallone pulled off the impossible. With “Rocky Balboa,” the screen icon revived a dying franchise with a sincere final chapter, aging his most famous character gracefully, adding some necessary lumps to the boxing champion with a picture that returned Rocky to his roots. Of course, there’s trepidation with “Creed,” which arrives nearly a decade after Rocky enjoyed a respectful send-off. And yet, under the care of co-writer/director Ryan Coogler (“Fruitvale Station”), the brand name returns to glory, albeit under a different boxer’s name. Against all odds, “Creed” emerges as a powerhouse continuation of Stallone’s creation, carrying all the fire and emotion of the original 1976 movie while reworking irresistible formula for a new generation of underdog cinema. Read the rest at


Film Revew- The Good Dinosaur


For the first time in their history, Pixar Animation is releasing two films during a single calendar year. “Inside Out” was the first one out of the gate, unleashed last June to universal critical acclaim and blockbuster box office, making it third highest grossing effort from the company, reestablishing its creative and financial dominance after taking 2014 off. “The Good Dinosaur” is the quick follow-up, and it’s a simpler, more traditional tale of adventure and maturation, moving away from the sophisticated emotionality and world-building of “Inside Out.” While it plays on a more recognizable level of engagement, “The Good Dinosaur” still manages to showcase Pixar pride, sustaining their reputation for quality entertainment as it careens from sensitivity to surprisingly dark elements of antagonism, displaying a little more menace than the title suggests. Read the rest at


Film Review - Victor Frankenstein


Sensing a good thing with the reimagining of “Sherlock Holmes,” screenwriter Max Landis gives the same treatment to the legacy of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, “Frankenstein.” Adding adventure and scientific smarts to his reworking of the original story and its many cinematic adaptations and perversions, Landis gets lost early, attempting to pack in a myriad of ideas to help sympathies and surprises, laboring to deliver a fresh take on old material. “Victor Frankenstein” doesn’t work, but its ambition is encouraging, along with an interest in practical effects to bring the goopy particulars of mad science to the screen. However, tedium soon topples the effort, which fights to make a viable movie out of a grab bag of ideas. Read the rest at

Film Review - Spotlight


The great journalism films make the audience feel like they’ve joined the hunt for truth, embedded alongside bleary-eyed, rumpled writers as they pore through tips and research, trying to shape a viable story out of bits and pieces of evidence. “Spotlight” is such a movie, carrying itself with confidence as it explores the delicate subject of molestation and the Catholic Church. Co-writer/director Tom McCarthy doesn’t lunge for incendiary material, instead building an atmosphere of unease, developing the case along with the reporters. “Spotlight” is sharp and flawlessly performed, joining the ranks of exceptional journalism pictures with its commitment to procedure and willingness to investigate both the guilty and those looking to expose them. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Back in Time


2015 is shaping up to be a big year for the "Back to the Future" franchise. Not only is the original film celebrating its 30th anniversary, but fans were recently treated to trilogy screenings around America theaters to help explore the wild future world of 2015, as created by 1989's "Back to the Future: Part II." Helping to goose excitement for the brand name is "Back in Time," a documentary directed by Jason Aron that sets out to understand the depth of love for the movie series, paying special attention to its influence on pop culture, collection, and engineering. It's an uneven ride, but Aron gets the basics right, diving into an abyssal corner of cinematic obsession to understand creative appeal and inspiration, managing major "gets" with an impressive roster of interviewees, most willing to share memories and impart wisdom concerning the construction and impact of the time-traveling comedies. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Heart of Midnight


1988's "Heart of Midnight" aspires to be a David Lynch-style journey into the abyss of madness, ornamented with abstract and symbolic visuals, while performances generally float on impulse, not interested in dramatic distance. Writer/director Matthew Chapman is ambitious with the feature, slathering it with strange sights and violent sexuality, attempting to tap into something primal and surreal. However, to secure such a hazy environment, Chapman requires a precise understanding of story, and that's the one thing missing from the effort. All the weirdness and hostility in the world can't pull "Heart of Midnight" out of its slumber, with Chapman more connected to the execution of select scenes than the construction of a larger behavioral puzzle, providing more questions than answers in this frustrating picture. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - A Bullet for Joey


Movie marketing is a tricky thing. Studios will often promise filmgoing experiences that sometimes do not exist, emphasizing exploitative elements that only factor into the feature for a few minutes at best. It's a game of deception that's common, with 1955's "A Bullet for Joey" a prime example of promotion that has little to do with the actual picture. Taglines scream "Loaded with Brute Force" and "Explodes with Violence," but no heated escalation is found in "A Bullet for Joey," which primarily concentrates on tightly suited men discussing crime with other tightly suited men. Shoot-outs and antagonisms merely make cameo appearances. Read the rest at

Film Review - Secret in Their Eyes


Writer/director Billy Ray (“Breach,” “Shattered Glass”) is asking for trouble with “Secret in Their Eyes.” A remake of a terrific 2009 Argentinean film, the update has the impossible task of domesticating material that was best served in its native country, which offered twists, turns, and memorable locations. The new “Secret in Their Eyes” is a flatter, blunter object, laboring to recreate the same Double Dutch routine of mixed timelines and pained lives, brightened considerably by periodic surges of suspense. Ray doesn’t completely wipe out, but inertia is the feature’s greatest enemy, somehow conjuring monotony when handling a fairly eventful story. Read the rest at

Film Review - Brooklyn


“Brooklyn” shares an old-fashioned story of love and personal awakening. It’s a simple tale with complex but relatable emotions, sold expertly by director John Crowley (“Intermission”) and screenwriter Nick Hornby (“High Fidelity,” “Wild”), who respect the classic cinema tempo of the material, laboring to realize a level of innocence that’s rarely attempted anymore. “Brooklyn” is lovely work, sensitive and evocative, always downplaying the potential for melodrama to find the truth of the moment. Moviegoers often caught complaining that “they don’t make ‘em like they used to” should make attendance a priority, as failure to support such endearing, achingly human filmmaking only hastens its obsolescence. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2


“The Hunger Games” pulled a “Harry Potter” last year when it decided to maximize profits and split the final book in the Suzanne Collins series, “Mockingjay,” into two pictures. When “Part 1” was released last year, there was a noticeable dip in screen enthusiasm, finding momentum that was established in 2013’s “Catching Fire” erased due to heavy amounts of exposition and a general throttling of urgency to help fill two sequels. “Part 1” was a disappointment, one-note and dull, but it did promise a war zone grand finale to send the franchise off on a high note. “Mockingjay – Part 2” is finally here, and, bizarrely, it’s nearly as inert as its predecessor, once again straining futilely to transform a wafer-thin story into a nearly five hour viewing experience when paired with “Part 1.” Read the rest at

Film Review - The Night Before


Coming down from their world-rattling attempt to make fun of North Korea with “The Interview,” co-writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg set their sights on the holiday season with “The Night Before.” Obviously, with this duo guiding the mischief (along with Ariel Shaffir and Jonathan Levine, who also directs), warm, cuddly feelings of Christmas cheer aren’t on the menu, but this rowdy, drug-laden comedy certainly tries to remain meaningful as it attempts to make a worthy big screen mess. Funny in fits and perhaps too obsessed with maintaining character, “The Night Before” isn’t quite the guns blazing comedy it could’ve been, but there are more hit than misses as Rogen and Goldberg return to their happy place of cursing, bodily fluids, and celebrity cameos. Read the rest at

Film Review - By the Sea


With “Unbroken” and “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” Angelina Jolie Pitt has shared a fascination with human endurance. Depicting wars, horrors, and cruelties, she’s never been one to detail the joy of life, only coming across such an epiphany by accident. With “By the Sea,” Jolie Pitt returns to direct herself and real-world husband Brad Pitt in a tale of complete and utter anguish, staying within her comfort zone with this throwback effort to intimate tales of self-destruction from the 1970s. “By the Sea” is a vanity film, but not completely without merit. When it isn’t permissive with performances and indulgent with its run time, the picture has a few insightful ideas to share about loss and marital strife, but it takes considerable work to find such wisdom. Read the rest at

Film Review - Criminal Activities


While Quentin Tarantino continues his exploration of the western in this holiday’s “The Hateful Eight,” director Jackie Earle Haley and screenwriter Robert Lowell keep the old Tarantino spirit alive in “Criminal Activities.” A mixture of violence, comedy, and loquaciousness, the picture is reminiscent of the many knockoffs that found release after “Pulp Fiction” became a phenomenon, handled with a buzzing energy by Haley, who makes his helming debut with the feature after managing an acting career for the last four decades. While it all plays very familiar, “Criminal Activities” has a few creative moves of its own, finding the production trying to nail down a special rhythm to all the conventional intimidation. Read the rest at