Previous month:
December 2015
Next month:
February 2016

January 2016

Film Review - 45 Years

45 YEARS 1

Subtle and haunting, “45 Years” is often an extraordinary dissection of a marital union that’s carried on for decades, where routine has replaced intimacy. It’s not an angry offering from writer/director Andrew Haigh (“Weekend”), remaining insightful while exposing rising discord in a once seemingly happy home. Stars Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay are exquisite in their respective roles, capturing behavior authenticity with care, making the characters feel lived-in. However, the true star of “45 Years” is time itself, with the screenplay carefully shifting perspective and reflection to become an emotional thriller of sorts, studying the sudden disruption of complacency. Read the rest at

Film Review - Martyrs


It’s difficult to tell if there’s still an audience for a movie like “Martyrs” in 2016. The product of a bygone era in horror filmmaking, the feature is soaked in pain and agony, spending most of its run time in state of panic. Now that we’re past the “Saw” era, it feels little strange to be pulled back into a suffering machine such as “Martyrs,” which isn’t scary or intimidating, it’s just persistent. Working to find a sense of profundity in the midst of ugliness, directors Kevin and Michael Goetz (“Scenic Route”) try to make an artful, intense picture, but they come up short, battling a one-dimensional premise that’s entirely constructed out of feeble attempts at shock value. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mojave


William Monahan is perhaps best known as the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “The Departed,” also credited on “The Gambler,” “Kingdom of Heaven,” and “Edge of Darkness.” “Mojave” is his second directorial effort, coming after the effective “London Boulevard.” Monahan has a taste for violence and threatening behaviors, indulging himself with his latest work, which pits two broken men against each other in a game of intimidation. “Mojave” isn’t a sophisticated foray into the heart of darkness, but it’s a loquacious one, asking viewers to endure rambling monologues and permissive performances, with Monahan gradually revealing style and suspense, but no real direction for this strange chiller. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jeruzalem


“Jeruzalem” attempts to sustain interest in the fading found footage subgenre, taking its characters to an unusual location to help mix things up for audiences tired of the same frights and surroundings. A blend of “Cloverfield” and “World War Z,” “Jeruzalem” has the right intentions, but its execution leaves much to be desired, taking an eternity to arrive at any type of suspense, only to define the end of the world in the vaguest possible ways. Ideas are more interesting than actual screen events, with writer/directors Doron and Yoav Paz struggling to make their limited budget come alive with material that isn’t inspired. Read the rest at

Film Review - Synchronicity


Time travel pictures used to be wild creations that had fun with visions of the far future and the distant past. Independent moviemaking tastes erased all that, with 2004’s “Primer” changing the game, inspiring productions to take the details of time travel with the utmost seriousness, working overtime to decode the science of fiction. “Synchronicity” is the latest installment of furrowed-brow filmmaking, with writer/director Jacob Gentry (“The Signal”) trying to warm up the subgenre with passion, mixing the needs of the heart with tears in time. “Synchronicity” is a laudable attempt at mood and emotionality, but its ways with repetition and performance test patience, reducing the potency of its mysteries. Read the rest at

Film Review - Monster Hunt


While it’s just beginning to play in American theaters, “Monster Hunt” has already proven its box office muscle overseas, currently standing as the highest grossing film in China. That’s no small feat, and it’s easy to see why the picture has become a phenomenon in its homeland, boasting furious action, cute creatures, and a comfortable balance of dark humor and slapstick. It’s a weird feature, slightly unhinged at times, but director Raman Hui keeps a firm grip on screen adventure and broad antics. “Monster Hunt” is an acquired taste, but those able to dial into its special frequency of fantasy and pandemonium are rewarded with a breezy, amusing extravaganza. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues


1955's "The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues" makes a ballsy move in its opening scene, revealing the underwater creature that goes on to cause all kinds of trouble for a California beach community. It's a stuntman inside a cheap rubber suit, haphazardly bumping into objects underwater, but the reveal also serves as a declaration from director Dan Milner that he can top it with additional horrors. Sadly, the production never reaches beyond fleeting shots of a crummy monster, but what's more disappointing about "The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues" is that it doesn't even try to give the audience a proper B-movie thrill ride. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Fourth War


Adapted from a novel by Stephen Peters (who co-scripts with Kenneth Ross), 1990's "The Fourth War" asks a provocative question: what do Cold War commanders do when their era is over and their service is no longer required? Directed by John Frankenheimer, "The Fourth War" works to build a thriller on faded memories, exploring a rusting war machine that's threatening to make American Col. Jack Knowles (Roy Scheider) and Russian Col. Valachex (Jurgen Prochnow) obsolete. A fantastic premise is handled unevenly by the production, which never decides if the central conflict is a source of suspense or dark comedy. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Blue City


1986's "Blue City" was part of a career strategy to mature leads Judd Nelson and Ally Sheedy, who were working their way through teen cinema, hitting an apex with 1985's "The Breakfast Club." Of course, it's not easy to suddenly go from high school hallways to twentysomething agitations, making the evolution bumpy in "Blue City," which also has the unfortunate reality of being an incomplete, dismally performed film. Judd and Sheedy are only a small part of the feature's woes, but their miscasting doesn't help director Michelle Manning, who doesn't quite know how to piece together this adaptation of a 1949 Ross Macdonald book, trying to tart up the endeavor with shoot-outs, sex, and wiseacre behavior. Her efforts fail to congeal, leaving the picture disjointed and ridiculous, best appreciated as a makeover movie for two stars who weren't ready to graduate. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D.


After branding their first superhero with "The Toxic Avenger," Troma Entertainment goes in for a second helping with "Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D.", with co-writer/directors Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz returning to a broadly comic realm of monstrous mutations and personal foibles as they head eastward to find a creation worthy of the studio name. Craziness ensues, as does tastelessness and directorial incompetence, but the scrappy, can-do spirit shared by the helmers doesn't salvage what turns out to be an overlong endeavor that takes a passably insane idea and ruins it with excess. Even by Troma standards, "Sgt. Kabukiman" feels like a first pass that was pushed into release, in need of reshaping and timing to make the premise work. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Bed Sitting Room


1969's "The Bed Sitting Room" is perhaps the most British film I've ever seen. It emerges from the minds of Spike Mulligan and John Antrobus, who bring their oddball play concerning the fate of England after a nuclear attack to the screen, with direction handled by celebrated mischief-maker Richard Lester. It's impenetrable work, often caught in a weird cycle of repetition as it works through misadventures episodically, but for admirers of Mulligan's famed sense of humor, "The Bed Sitting Room" collects an impressive roster of actors to bring such persistent peculiarity to life. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Siege of Firebase Gloria


After 1986's "Platoon" cleaned up at the box office and claimed Oscar gold, the global film industry looked for ways to replicate the success with additional tales from the Vietnam War. Perhaps the most obscure of the bunch is 1989's "The Siege of Firebase Gloria," a particularly irritable offering of combat shock from director Brian Trenchard-Smith, the prolific author of numerous B-movies. Perhaps a more refined helming touch was in order, but Trenchard-Smith grasps the essentials of wartime behavior and duality with obvious passion. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ride Along 2


Little was expected of 2014’s “Ride Along,” which paired comedian Kevin Hart with Ice Cube, but audiences responded to the mixture of screaming and glaring. The feature turned into a significant hit for the studio during a softer box officer period, leaving a sequel unavoidable. Cooking up a continuation in a hurry, the stars are back in charge for “Ride Along 2,” which understandably doesn’t deviate from the formula that made the original movie a smash. However, while there’s nothing new here, the old stuff feels half-baked, finding the production struggling to come up with comedic scenarios and action scenes to fill 100 minutes. It’s the Cube and Hart show once again, but “Ride Along 2” plays even sleepier than its predecessor. Read the rest at

Film Review - 13 Hours

13 HOURS 3

The last time director Michael Bay lunged for legitimacy, he unleashed 2001’s “Pearl Harbor” on the world, laboring to locate the fine line between respect for history and profitable extravaganza. He’s after a different type of disaster story with “13 Hours,” which dramatizes the 2012 Benghazi diplomatic compound attack, pitting military contractors against Libyan militia. Bay’s not known for his light touch, and the opportunity to pound audiences with his traditional pyrotechnic display proves to be too great a temptation for an event that’s loaded with complexity and various participants. “13 Hours” doesn’t deliver a maturing Bay, just one taking a temporary break from the “Transformers” universe, embarking on a 2 1/2 hour celebration of American bravery and explosions. Read the rest at

Film Review - Intruders


While deliberately paced, “Intruders” is a movie worth the time invested. It’s the directorial debut for Adam Schindler, who makes a strong impression with this unsettling chiller, which is scripted by T.J. Cimfel and David White. Although it seems easy to predict the events of the film from the opening ten minutes, the effort does a fantastic job with misdirection and surprise, keeping the viewing experience flavorful as the plot negotiates a few twists and turns. “Intruders” isn’t explosive, but as slow-burn pictures go, it retains an encouraging amount of menace as it goes about the business of making bad people suffer. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Perfect Day


The ironies, confusion, and tragedy of war are inspected in “A Perfect Day,” but the feature isn’t quite the level of homework it initially appears to be. It’s the English-language debut of director Fernando Leon de Aranoa (“Mondays in the Sun”), and he brings a funky vibe to the effort, which makes a creative choice to keep semi-light to best appreciate the frustrations felt by the characters. “A Perfect Day” benefits from the spring in its step, gifted a capable cast skilled enough to find nuances of reaction as the story moves from stop to stop, never remaining static for very long. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Benefactor


After portraying a reserved, humbled homeless man in last autumn’s “Time Out of Mind,” Richard Gere takes on a different, more loquacious type of pain in “The Benefactor.” Delivering an unusually amplified performance, Gere is the focal point for the drama, which shaves off significant turns of plot to lay low as a compelling character study. Making his feature-length debut is writer/director Andrew Renzi, and he delivers more than a few captivating moments here, wisely concentrating on Gere’s manic spirit to cover well-worn ground as the screenplay explores the savagery of addiction and abuses of power. It rarely makes a substantial impression, yet “The Benefactor” is alive, powered by a special nervous energy that can only emerge from Gere. Read the rest at

Film Review - Moonwalkers


“Moonwalkers” provides an hour of spirited, cheeky comedy and violent shenanigans, but it doesn’t remain there for its final 30 minutes. If you’ve seen the documentary “Room 237,” the plot of “Moonwalkers” is going to be familiar, playing around with the concept that Stanley Kubrick produced and directed footage of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, allowing the U.S. Government to cover for a problematic space program. Director Antoine Bardou-Jacquet has a terrific visual sense for his effort, but when it comes to sustaining pace, he’s not as successful. However, when the movie finds its footing, it’s agreeably oddball, delivering two solid acts of humor and madness that covers for a botched landing. Read the rest at

Film Review - Norm of the North


It takes a film like “Norm of the North” to fully appreciate what big-budget animated pictures from major studios actually accomplish. Instead of wonderfully designed characters and a heartfelt tale, “Norm of the North” offers a cruelly plasticized viewing experience for family audiences, basically refusing to challenge its origin as an 80-minute-long babysitter for exasperated parents who will settle for anything to keep wee ones pacified. With flat voice work, crude humor, and a story that doesn’t make any sense, the feature, save for one bright spot, is punishment, subjecting moviegoers to the bare minimum of effort. Read the rest at