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December 2015

Film Review - In the Heart of the Sea


There are different ways to interpret “In the Heart of the Sea,” which comes across as an attempt by director Ron Howard to dissect the will of man in the face of towering adversity, darkened by misguided behavior towards nature. It’s also a disaster movie, with flaming ships, survival challenges, and a roving whale determined to defend its territory. Perhaps there’s more to “In the Heart of the Sea,” but Howard tends to linger on misery, delivering two hours of anguish and contempt, splashed with gore and death. That’s the feature is downbeat and periodically meandering isn’t really a problem. The real confusion is why Howard felt the need to tell this story in the first place, as it never quite settles on a single idea to leave with a sufficiently battered audience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Macbeth


William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” has seen its fair share of big screen adaptations, most notably with Orson Welles’s 1948 effort, Akira Kurosawa’s “Throne of Blood” (from 1957), and Roman Polanski’s 1971 production. The latest take on “The Scottish Play” finds a particularly heavy mood to examine, leading the charge with a profound appreciation for violence and madness, transforming the Bard’s puzzle into a raging monster of a movie. Director Justin Kurzel explores his cinematic space in full, grasping the confusion and impulse the drives the saga, while his casting is tremendous, providing an ensemble that bends the steel-like rigidness of the text with burning emotion, finding fresh life in well-worn material. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hitchcock/Truffaut


“Hitchcock/Truffaut” began life as a 1966 book. Originally a dialogue between film directors Alfred Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut, the literary endeavor was intended to be a celebration of Hitchcock’s work, with student Truffaut questioning one of his heroes with a week-long interview covering a monumental career. The book soon became a bible for cinema slaves everywhere, offering a look into Hitchcock’s creative process and wily personality, gifting outsiders a peek behind the curtain, hosted by a burgeoning moviemaker who was quickly building his own brand name of quality work with efforts such as “The 400 Blows” and “Jules and Jim.” Read the rest at

Film Review - Close Range


I’ll give Scott Adkins this much: he’s certainly trying. The B-movie action star is working tirelessly to build up a filmography of no-budget bruisers, putting emphasis on his martial art abilities and burly screen presence. He frequently pairs with director Isaac Florentine, with the twosome returning to duty with “Close Range,” a paint-by-numbers thriller that works up a sweat to prove itself worthy in the aggression department. The story is routine, performances are fine, and the location is predictable, but once Adkins and Florentine get their engines rumbling, “Close Range” manages to deliver some compelling combat sequences, blasting, kicking, and stabbing its way through a southwestern war zone. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Danish Girl


Three years ago, director Tom Hooper tried to wrap his arms around the world with his ambitious adaptation of the hit musical, “Les Miserables.” With “The Danish Girl,” Hooper takes a break from bigness to inspect the life and times of Einar Wegener, who eventually transformed into Lili Elbe, becoming one the first recipients of sex reassignment surgery in the 1920s. It’s an intimate story that demands careful handling, and perhaps Hooper is too respectful of the conflict at hand, as his approach to “The Danish Girl” is to treat the effort as a museum piece, draining the tale of life as the picture slowly welcomes melodrama. Read the rest at

Film Review - Body


“Body” is a psychological chiller that doesn’t have much to work with. It basically contains three main characters and a single location, with writer/directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen scrambling to transform a simple idea into string of pulse-pounding moments. Minimalism has its advantages here, but “Body” isn’t quite the nail-chewer it hopes to be, missing a degree of insanity and eventful storytelling as it tries to update the Hitchcock experience with millennial attitudes. It’s a shockingly brief picture (68 minutes long before end credits) and not without its pressure points, but the feature lacks prolonged snap, only coming alive in certain charged moments. Read the rest at

Film Review - American Hero


Actor Stephen Dorff hasn’t found his groove in recent features, but he’s making an effort to shake up his filmography with oddball choices that attempt to show off some range. In “American Hero,” Dorff portrays a member of the X-Men in a way, playing a man with telekinetic powers facing a troubling existence in a forgotten land. It’s an aggressive performance, but it ends up the only element of the picture that makes sense. Writer/director Nick Love (“The Sweeney”) submits a crude, confused tale of soulful awakening with “American Hero,” habitually unsure what to do with the characters or even how to tell the story, leaving Dorff to do all the heavy lifting as the endeavor spins out of control. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Devil's Disciple


1959's "The Devil's Disciple" is an adaptation of an 1897 play by George Bernard Shaw. The Guy Hamilton-directed feature respects its source material in many ways, but the effort primarily strives to be a cinematic experience, boating incredible star power with leads Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, and Laurence Olivier, who deliver exceptional work while the screenplay struggles to figure out the tone of the picture. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - A Hard Day


The 2014 South Korean thriller "A Hard Day" sets a goal for itself to be a relentless suspense machine, creating an irresistible snowballing effect where the main character, a corrupt cop (played masterfully by Sun-kyun Lee), is hit from all sides by enemies, bad luck, and awful timing. It's mostly successful with its driving pace, capturing utter distress with a darkly comic approach, managing a plot that's dense with developments, remaining just shy of fatigue. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Wanda Nevada


The early career of Brooke Shields is proof that the 1970s weren't really a decade, but an extended stay inside an alternate dimension. How else does one explain global comfort with the profound sexualization of the young teenage actress, who built a career out of roles that dealt uncomfortably with her age and appeal to older men. Granted, Team Shields (including manager and mother Teri) was largely responsible for the tone of her fame, yet with films such as "Pretty Baby" and "The Blue Lagoon" (a 1980 production that plays very seventies), the public wasn't protesting, creating a lusty icon out of the child. 1979's "Wanda Nevada" is another example of Shields employed for her natural beauty, portraying a 13 year old who's turned into a commodity while bewitching every creeper she meets. Director Peter Fonda (who also stars) makes an attempt to transform "Wanda Nevada" into a sassy adventure through the southwest, with secret maps and Native American mysticism, but awkwardness remains, especially when the story actively pursues a romantic entanglement between a pubescent teen and her 39-year-old owner. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Killer Workout


In slasher cinema, the public has been exposed to various weaponry over the years, including axes, knives, and chainsaws. 1987's "Killer Workout" takes a bold step and makes a giant safety pin the object of certain doom. The pin is one of many oddities that fill writer/director David A. Prior's picture (titled "Aerobicide" on the disc), which blends the horror of murder with the gyration of brightly clothed (and briefly unclothed) bodies, tapping into an exercise craze with a B-movie offering that's desperate to entertain. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Wannabe


It’s probably best to pay attention to the Martin Scorsese executive producer credit on “The Wannabe.” Why Scorsese is supporting the picture isn’t known, but few of the ideas contained in Nick Sandow’s screenplay are familiar, including hero worship involving members of organized crime and obsessive drug consumption leading to manic episodes of destructive behavior. Indeed, “The Wannabe” plays like second cousin to “Goodfellas” at times, but even a little homage can’t salvage a wholly unpleasant and meandering viewing experience. Sandow’s intent is to explore a confused mind, but he emerges with 90 minutes of pointless confrontations and softball acting, leaving little story to chew on. Read the rest at

Film Review - Krampus


In 2007, writer/director Michael Dougherty set out to redefine Halloween horror with “Trick ‘r Treat,” a clever anthology effort that emphasized eeriness over pounding terror. For his follow-up, the helmer aims to shake up another holiday with “Krampus,” a Christmas-set chiller that’s trying to scare during the season of giving. Again avoiding cheap thrills, Dougherty creates an entertaining monster mash with the picture, which blends yuletide sensitivities involving dysfunctional families and the wrath of ghoulish creatures. Strangely, the production doesn’t aim to create a roller coaster ride of oddity, preferring to step carefully with its genre offerings, leaving the endeavor feeling slack at crucial moments, but it’s still satisfying overall. Read the rest at

Film Review - Uncle Nick


Comparisons to “Bad Santa” will undoubtedly be made repeatedly, but “Uncle Nick” isn’t as conventional as the inexplicably enduring Billy Bob Thornton comedy. Arriving at the holiday season with plans to dissect a dysfunctional family at their very worst, director Chris Kasick and writer Mike Demski (both veterans of “Attack of the Show”) cook up a sharp, sarcastic effort that celebrates the wonderfully deadpan delivery of star Brian Posehn, using the comedian’s elongated way with an uncomfortable moment to give “Uncle Nick” the proper amount of bitterness to help support this domestic unraveling. Hilarious and profoundly dark, the feature is an interesting counterpoint to holiday cheer, offering an engaging lump of coal for those who prefer their Christmas thoroughly soiled by bad behavior. Read the rest at


Film Review - Youth


The director of “The Great Beauty” and “This Must Be the Place,” Paolo Sorrentino returns to screens with “Youth.” Stepping further into English-language filmmaking, the helmer arrives with a star-studded cast to realize this meditation on aging and experience, with Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Jane Fonda, and Rachel Weisz turning in capable work to best bring out the flavors of Sorrentino’s screenplay. Idiosyncrasies do remain in “Youth,” and the picture tends to value atmosphere over dramatics. It can be a struggle to figure out what Sorrentino wants from his feature, but when all else fails the effort, the ensemble is there to provide a passable sense of focus, creating memorable scenes of introspection. Read the rest at

Film Review - MI-5

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“MI-5” isn’t just a run-of-the-mill spy thriller, but a big screen spinoff of “Spooks,” a British television series that found a home in America on deep cable. While the title is generic and the plot promises the basics in paranoia cinema, “MI-5” (titled “Spooks: The Greater Good” around the world) actually comes through with surprising clarity, finding pockets of suspense even while it samples material found in dozens of small screen productions. Credit director Bharat Nalluri (“Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day”), who keeps the picture alert and on the move, confronting the familiarity of it all with commitment to speed and a general awareness that while his effort isn’t going to look like a blockbuster, it can periodically play like one. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Wonders


“The Wonders” is a special creation that demands a certain level of patience with its winding, almost directionless storytelling. There are many subplots and feelings to explore, but its primary focus remains on a coming-of-age tale concerning a teen girl in the midst of an adolescent awakening while living in a painfully remote part of the world. “The Wonders” is shapeless, but it has meaning and sensitivity, better with moments of contemplation and familial interaction than it is with a larger depiction of dysfunction. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Diaries, Notes & Sketches: Walden


A collection of experiences from the "Diaries, Notes, and Sketches" series, directed by Jonas Mekas, 1969's "Walden" is an offering of avant-garde filmmaking that defies most description, perhaps best left unexplained for those who prefer their cinema impenetrable. Mekas surveys the world as he sees it, wandering through years of observation and participation. The goal here isn't truth, but submersion, with the helmer using abrasive audio and visual methods to capture chaos as a way to express the circle of life. It's raw and, at three hours in length, demanding, but there are select moments of beauty that remain for those tough enough to endure an extended sensory assault. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Lost Lost Lost


If "Walden" was a Jonas Mekas picture dedicated to the movement of life, 1976's "Lost Lost Lost" is a confessional booth. The director takes a look at his Lithuanian immigrant roots with the three hour endeavor, piecing together images that explore his personal relationship with moviemaking and family, while maintaining an overview of social changes and unrest, observing growing awareness of America's entrance into the Atomic Age. Read the rest at