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March 2016

Blu-ray Review - The Bees


In 1978, American audiences were treated to two films about the real-world fury of African killer bees. Creating big screen disaster out of media-fueled alarm, Hollywood was ready to cash in on mounting nationwide panic. The first out of the gate was "The Swarm," an Irwin Allen production that found Michael Caine and Henry Fonda locked in paycheck mode, out to battle the titular threat with a sizable budget and major studio support. The second effort was "The Bees," a decidedly less financially endowed picture that refused to bow to the competition, offering its own scale of catastrophe, favoring chaos and bizarre turns of plot to help it stand out in a crowded field of insect-based entertainment. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Black Sleep


The mad scientist routine is disrupted to a degree in 1956's "The Black Sleep," which looks to merge surgical horrors with heartfelt motivation. Not that the production is trying to offer an especially emotional experience to the horror-hungry audience, but the screenplay by John C. Higgins manages to soften outright ghoulishness while still indulging all the shadowy encounters and stalking scenes the genre is known for. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Candy Goes to Hollywood


A boost a filmmaking confidence greets viewers in 1979's "Candy Goes to Hollywood," with writer/director Gail Palmer suddenly in command of a franchise, treating the follow-up with a palpable surge of excitement. The helmer goes after the movie and television industry for this go-around of sex and comedy, using satiric takes on icons and opportunists to help amplify Candy's latest odyssey, taking the deceptively innocent, perpetually smiling blonde to Los Angeles in search of stardom. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Erotic Adventures of Candy


Keeping with the spirit of most adult movies from the 1970s, "Erotic Adventures of Candy" follows a bubbly innocent learning a thing or two about the ways of the world through numerous sexual partners. It's a routine that's disrupted by writer/director Gail Palmers, who tries to class up the joint by taking inspiration from Voltaire's French farce, "Candide," and there's a charming lead turn from Carol Connors, whose daffy work as a blonde bombshell finally losing her virginity is surprisingly lively, helping "Erotic Adventures of Candy" sustain its freewheeling tone. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Divergent Series: Allegiant


Two years ago, “Divergent” entered the YA novel adaptation sweepstakes with hopes to tap into post-apocalyptic vibe of “The Hunger Games” to fuel its own box office success. Instead of dominating the competition, the series was merely accepted by a fanbase loyal to original author Veronica Roth, failing to reach pop culture ubiquity. The 2015 sequel, “Insurgent,” achieved the same level of mediocrity, with the production generally ignoring hindsight to mix up the same batch of blah filmmaking. With “Allegiant,” “The Divergent Series” finally threatens closure, but it’s not going without a fight. The first half of a two-part finale, “Allegiant” tries to razzle-dazzle with an increase in visual effects and supporting characters, but a distinct lack of suspense remains, paralyzing a chapter essentially designed to explain working parts while the next feature (2017’s “Ascendant”) is supposed to be the big payoff. Read the rest at

Film Review - Miracles from Heaven


When 2014’s “Heaven is for Real” struck gold at the box office, it was only a matter of time before similar faith-based productions would follow. “Miracles from Heaven” utilizes the same questioning of a higher power formula to tell a story that concerns the elasticity of belief as it’s tested through unresponsiveness and the sheer weight of tragedy. Director Patricia Riggen (“The 33”) treats the iffy material with professional polish, making sure every scene of heartbreak extracts tears, while Godly mysteries are cared for through determined performances. But the actual dissection of miracles on Earth? It’s a bit of a gray area for “Miracles from Heaven,” which would rather stroll around the unknowable instead of actively pursuing careful examination. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Little Prince


“The Little Prince” is no stranger to film and television adaptations. A beloved 1943 novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the material is frequently returned to for generational reinforcement, with productions striving to capture the lyrical fantasy of the original text, hoping to inspire the imagination of audiences young and old. For this incarnation, director Mark Osborne (“Kung Fu Panda”) turns to animation to help fill out his vision, mixing styles and complicated emotionality to bring the original work to life. While “The Little Prince” periodically threatens to become another assembly line CGI-animated endeavor, artistry and sensitivity win out in the end, while an all-star voice cast gives the feature a big boost in personality. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Program


In 2014, disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong participated in the making of “The Armstrong Lie.” A documentary about his life, love for the sport, and his addiction to performance-enhancing drugs to help secure cycling glory, “The Armstrong Lie” managed to crack open the famously defensive subject, exposing his lies and bitterness, with Armstrong’s interview a fascinating window into the mind of a diseased man. “The Program” is a dramatization of the same story, with director Stephen Frears using a brief summary of temptation and ego to capture Armstrong’s eventful career arc, keeping star Ben Foster front and center as the stained athlete. “The Program” is not without its heated confrontations, but it feels unnecessary, working to depict the downfall of a man who’s beaten them to the punch in terms of addressing his own self-destructive tendencies. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Confirmation


Screenwriter Bob Nelson enjoyed critical acclaim and an Oscar nomination for his work on 2013’s “Nebraska,” attracting attention for his rich characterizations and understanding of Middle American personalities. For his directorial debut, Nelson tries to sustain the same atmosphere of bruised nobility with “The Confirmation,” which almost, if one squints hard enough, resembles an Americanized version of a Dardenne Brothers drama, exploring the plight of the working class during a specific journey of redemption or, at the very least, acceptance. Although “The Confirmation” strives to create warmth through personal discoveries, it’s not the most reassuring feature, successfully depicting abyssal dives into poverty to go along with its tale of askew parenting. Read the rest at

Film Review - Creative Control


“Creative Control” brings the audience into a futureworld that’s similar to today, amplifying a tomorrow of omnipresent connectivity and confusion to motivate a standard tale of isolation, desire, and betrayal. Co-writer/director/star Benjamin Dickinson has a vision of loneliness colliding with technological ubiquity, but he doesn’t have an appealing sense of humor, preferring icy emotions experienced by unpleasant characters to something more alert and satiric. Swallowing an entire bottle of Kubrick pills to inspire this black and white voyage into psychological hell, Dickinson doesn’t have anything profound to share in “Creative Control,” which is handsomely made, but lacks grit and knowledge, recycling tired relationship woes and chemical excess other, more inventive features have explored to greater success. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Vikings


Director Richard Fleischer captures a true event movie with 1958's "The Vikings," which strives to be the most enormous film of the year. Draped in authenticity and carried by star power, the feature mostly succeeds with its mammoth plans, delivering wide swings of action and drama as the helmer aims to maintain widescreen power while keeping its tale of love and war approachable, even intimate when time allows. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Transformations


"Alien 3" is largely credited as the definitive AIDS allegory buried within a sci-fi tale, but 1988's "Transformations" beat it to the punch by a few years. A Charles Band production, directed by Jay Kamen, the feature isn't a subtle creation, liberally mixing sex and death to secure a horror event with real-world inspiration, delivering a tale of viral menace that's perfectly in step with a paranoid decade. "Transformations" is an obviously budget-minded effort with limited resources to work with, but to Kamen's credit, he delivers an adequate punch with this ridiculous movie, happily serving up exploitation elements while trying to keep control of the narrative, which doesn't always follow through on initial promises of alien terror. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Rosary Murders


It's somewhat surprising that the Catholic Church would want anything to do with "The Rosary Murders," with production access to churches repaid with a strangely condemning screenplay that depicts holy leaders as dim, corrupt figures bound by absurd organizational laws. However, general disapproval of religious practices and leadership is the least of the 1987 picture's problems, finding its approach to big screen mystery strangely lethargic, taking an uneventful route when detailing a serial killer's rampage across Detroit. "The Rosary Murders" has the tools to generate passable thrills with a decent whodunit, but director Fred Walton ("April Fool's Day," "When a Stranger Calls") doesn't provide the energy needed to bring the story to life. Much of the movie is put in star Donald Sutherland's hands, tasked with maintaining emotional depth and procedural surprise. The actor is good here, at least restless enough to keep the viewing experience from slipping into a coma, but he's no miracle worker. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Donovan's Brain


An adaptation of Curt Siodmak's 1942 novel, 1953's "Donovan's Brain" isn't really a horror story, with a rather leisurely command of the macabre. Instead, the picture pulls most of its power from mad science and telekinetic manipulation, achieving suspense through oddity as a brain residing in a fish tank of cloudy fluid manages to take control of the genius that put it there. Delivering a quintessential 1950s tale of sci-fi torment, there's a lot to like about "Donovan's Brain," which is generally credited as the production that inspired a rash of similar head-gone-mad features. Read the rest at

Film Review - 10 Cloverfield Lane


In 2008, “Cloverfield” rocked the box office, doing so with an air of secrecy and marketing restraint unheard of in an industry that frequently favors complete awareness as a key to success. In the care of producer J.J. Abrams, the feature provided an experience of cinematic exploration, aided by alternate reality games and buzzy trailers to work the audience into a lather before the picture was ready for mass consumption. Eight years later, Abrams and Company have finally worked up the nerve to try again, returning to the famous brand name with “10 Cloverfield Lane,” which isn’t a sequel to the earlier film, but merely shares the same straw when sucking down cryptic revelations and low-budget tension. As with its predecessor, what one brings to the viewing experience is likely going to be the lasting appeal of the effort, which feels uncomfortably twisted into a franchise experience, better off in its own corner of paranoia and discoveries. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Brothers Grimsby


Sacha Baron Cohen has built a career on his ability to transform into multiple characters. These colorful personalities are often lethal comic weapons, deployed by Cohen to shred pop culture, social disease, and political buffoonery. Think Borat, Ali G, and Bruno. Perhaps he's never been one to pursue classy material, but Cohen's skewering of world ills has been pretty consistent in the laugh department. This level of invention makes an abrupt stop in “The Brothers Grimsby,” which is by far the worst film Cohen has ever been involved with. That he also produces, scripts, and stars in the feature showcases a newfound lack of judgment from the actor I fear he'll take as a personal challenge to top. Read the rest at

Film Review - Only Yesterday


As Studio Ghibli ends operations, one of their earliest efforts finally makes it to American theaters. Better late than never. 1991’s “Only Yesterday” is the company’s fifth feature and, for an animation house known for creating faraway lands and fantastical creatures, it’s also one of their most human, turning to memory and regret to inspire an emotional journey of a woman who yearns to reclaim and reassess an earlier, simpler time in her life. Gorgeously animated in the distinct Ghibli style, director Isao Takahata manages to understand the erratic flow of childhood impulses and curiosity, while pinpointing the moment when nostalgia transforms into personal need. “Only Yesterday” is 25 years old, but it remains surprisingly relevant, warmly conceived and executed from beginning to end. Read the rest at

Film Review - Barney Thomson


Making his feature-length directorial debut, actor Robert Carlyle takes on a story that’s as grim as anything he’s been previously involved with. A tale of serial killing, accidental and otherwise, “Barney Thomson” is a darkly comic take on post-murder panic and criminal investigation, with Carlyle trying to juggle locations and psychology with sillier forays into panic and family ties. It’s not entirely successful, but “Barney Thomson” enjoys a great deal of oddity, with the helmer successfully communicating character discomfort as a simple act of manslaughter spins into exposed secrets and a sizable body count. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hyena Road


The War in Afghanistan has been fodder for countless movies, most recently serving as the setting for the Tina Fey dramedy, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.” “Hyena Road” seems to be aware that the subject matter is nearing exhaustion, striving to offer audiences already numbed by military conflict something with authenticity and a unique cultural viewpoint. It’s the Canadian military versus radical Islamic forces in “Hyena Road,” which works to deliver nail-biting conflict, maintaining the stranger-in-a-strange-land atmosphere with complete commitment to procedural authenticity. While hardly escapism, writer/director Paul Gross manages to craft a feature that’s horrifying and strangely inviting at the same time, delivering solid characterization to go with all the chaos. Read the rest at