Previous month:
March 2016
Next month:
May 2016

April 2016

Film Review - Fireworks Wednesday


To capitalize on the success of Asghar Farhadi’s “A Separation” and “The Past,” one of his earlier efforts, “About Elly,” finally found distribution in America last year, helping fans discover the helmer’s previous work, studying the development of themes and quality craftsmanship. Finding success with old news, another selection from Farhadi’s slim filmography is chosen for an art-house run. 2006’s “Fireworks Wednesday” reaches deeper into director’s creative vault, discovering a domestic drama that’s fully immersed in Iranian culture and attitude, but lacks the refinement that would eventually be found in subsequent pictures. Still, a chance to process the development of Farhadi’s world view is valued, and while “Fireworks Wednesday” is a bit more obvious with its tale of household unrest, it captures human reaction wonderfully, keeping a tight leash on melodramatic impulses. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Purple Plain


The horrors of war are gracefully examined in 1954's "The Purple Plain," which downplays military valor to cut to the center of psychological ruin facing a fighter pilot who wants to die in combat, only to find heroics instead. Director Robert Parrish guides this sensitive study of depression, with Gregory Peck capably managing layers of quiet intensity in the lead role, which demands an exhaustive performance that indentifies the shattering of a soul and its eventual repair through the possibility of love. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Perfect


1985's "Perfect" is generally regarded as a low point in 1980s cinema, also cited as the film that brought down star John Travolta's career after a string of hits and interesting misses, disrupting a career that once seemed destined for greatness. Perhaps in its day and age, the feature was a strange, humorless production that was marketed as a celebration of the superficial, boasting a title that teed up opportunity for widespread ridicule. Today, "Perfect" certainly isn't perfect, but it's a far more interesting picture than its reputation suggests, generating a celebration and critique of journalism that's rich with professional detail and carries a lived-in quality during all the fictional reporting. The theatrical cut ends up a mess, but never a tedious one, with the film handling the grind of the news-making machine with palpable fatigue, while Travolta and co-star Jamie Lee Curtis make credible transformations into fallible people. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Pigs


While marketing efforts are more interested in selling the most macabre elements of 1972's "Pigs" (titled "The 13th Pig" on the print), the feature really isn't about a pack of killer swine. Instead of barnyard chaos, writer/director/star Marc Lawrence goes a psychological route with his material, exploring multiple cases of trauma and psychosis while periodically returning to the grunting exploits of pigs that've developed a taste for human flesh. "Pigs" is interesting work, trying to bend expectations away from B-movie exploits to something more experimental and ghoulish, blending expected violence with a mystery of sorts that plays out in a most unusual way. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Blue Ice


1985's "Blue Ice" chases a darker atmosphere of sleuthing and world power, blending noir-ish interests with its collection of traditional adult film highlights. Director Philip Marshak ambitiously transforms a detective story into a journey that uncovers cult interests and the return of Nazi rule, working to create a compelling offering of cinema that's not always entirely interested in a celebration of sex. "Blue Ice" doesn't have the budget to match its imagination, but it does retain personality and pleasing oddity, keeping things interesting as the tale studies mystical powers and aggressive encounters. Read the rest at

Film Review - Barbershop: The Next Cut


It’s been 12 years since the last proper “Barbershop” sequel was released (a spin-off, “Beauty Shop,” disappointed at the box office in 2005), and nothing much has changed in this cinematic world of gossip, one-liners, and extended debate. And that’s just the way producer/star Ice Cube likes it, keeping to core franchise elements to replicate successes from the last decade. Taking on street violence and family strife, “Barbershop: The Next Cut” is an easily digestible dramedy, though it’s never really all that funny and never as profound as it could be. Still, the formula is successful in stretches, with an ensemble working diligently to revive a dusty atmosphere of camaraderie, giving fans exactly what they want. Read the rest at

Film Review - Criminal


“Criminal” wants to be a great number of movies, but it never gets anything quite right. Director Ariel Vromen clings tightly to cliché and screen aggression to capture audience attention, masterminding a surprisingly ugly thriller that barely contains any thrills. “Criminal” is a frustrating picture before it transforms into a forgettable one, watching bad actors flounder and good actors wrestle with a terrible screenplay by Douglas Cook and David Weisberg, which merges sci-fi make-em-ups with a missing identity plot, and there are touches of terrorism to act as smelling salts for a flatlining production. It’s a big mess of ideas, but Vromen doesn’t know how to line them up properly, finding every new revelation worse than the last. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Jungle Book


Disney has returned to Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” a few times. Of course, there’s the 1967 animated classic, which contorted Kipling to create a swinging musical, leading with the hit tune, “The Bare Necessities.” There was a 2002 sequel, and in 1994, the company attempted a live-action version starring Jason Scott Lee as Mowgli, which failed to perform at the box office despite positive reviews. Kipling’s 1894 collection of stories has actually inspired many film and television productions, but none have been as a massive as Disney’s return to the wild with the CGI/live-action take on “The Jungle Book.” Director Jon Favreau utilizes technology, not nature, to inspire this reworking of the ’67 picture, delivering realistic animal interactions and digital environments, laboring to manufacture a world for Mowgli’s mischief instead of finding one on Earth. Read the rest at

Film Review - April and the Extraordinary World


“April and the Extraordinary World” is a French production pulled from the imagination of graphic novel artist Jacques Tardi, who hung around to participate in the creation of the film’s look. It’s an oddball animated picture, but often wonderfully so, taking a journey through the decades and visiting different environments, while maintaining an engaging steampunk visual presence that’s vividly communicated. Perhaps it lacks the refinement a large budget provides, but “April and the Extraordinary World” is very good with the unexpected, from plot points to character design. Directors Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci are faced with an adaptation challenge, but they manage to keep the spirit of the source alive, blending in bits of action, humor, and alternate universe invention. Read the rest at

Film Review - Miles Ahead


Instead of forging ahead with a bio-pic on the life and times of jazz legend Miles Davis, co-writer/director Don Cheadle takes a small sliver of the musician’s life to explore in “Miles Ahead,” which doesn’t broadcast any type of biographical reality. Instead of a linear dissection of Davis and his rise to fame, the production assumes the shape of jazz, sampling bits of behavior, personal ruin, and music business dealings to put together an idea of Miles Davis. This concept eventually wears out its welcome, but “Miles Ahead” gets surprisingly far on the scattered approach, thanks in great part to Cheadle’s visual ambition with the low-budget effort and his lead performance as Davis, slipping on the skin of a reckless man who also possessed stunning musical vision. Read the rest at

Film Review - The First Monday in May


Documentaries about fashion and industry mysteries are all the rage these days, recently explored in films such as “Valentino,” “The September Issue,” and “Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s.” “The First Monday in May” continues the journey, but for this round of appreciation, director Andrew Rossi tries to find a way into the artistic process, endeavoring to spotlight the struggles and anxiety that come with the recent consideration of fashion as high art, and not just decoration. “The First Monday in May” isn’t the most focused feature around, but it does manage to grab a peek behind the curtain, observing the herculean effort required to pull off the Met Gala every year. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Adderall Diaries


Working through his interest in playing tortured artists, actor/producer James Franco adds “The Adderall Diaries” to his growing list of mediocre releases featuring characters just a bit beyond his thespian range. Based on the memoir by Stephen Elliott, the feature is a mess of subplots and personalities that demand more screen time than what’s offered by writer/director Pamela Romanowsky (“The Color of Time”), who tries to work in all the themes and kinky detours of the source material without caring for overall narrative flow. It’s disjointed work, cold to the touch, but there’s a supporting cast to keep “The Adderall Diaries” semi-interesting at times, holding up the effort while Franco works through a series of pained poses. Read the rest at

Film Review - Colonia


It’s difficult to understand why co-writer/director Florian Gallenberger felt the need to bring the horror of Chile’s Colonia Dignidad to the screen. A place of unimaginable suffering, home to torture, rape, and murder during a time of national cruelty, dissection of the Colonia Dignidad requires a special filmmaking talent, skilled in the art of suggestion and sensitivity to the real-world nightmare the compound became. Gallenberger doesn’t possess such a respectful vision, going the grindhouse route with this thriller. “Colonia” mistakes identification for sympathy, pushing towards tastelessness as it lingers on brutality facing the characters, looking to build shock value instead of exposing the haunting reality of the Colonia Dignidad in a manner that’s respectful to victims and mindful of history. Read the rest at

Film Review - One More Time


Music is the spirit and theme of “One More Time,” yet the film has difficulty staying in tune. Writer/director Robert Edwards has a conversational vision for the feature, which dissects familial relationships and generational divide, keeping his characters loquacious as they manage their insecurities and troubled histories. This leads to interesting performances, but the movie also makes room for a musical mood, exploring the industry through the efforts of one aging singer trying to remain relevant. It should be a more emotionally engaging picture, but “One More Time” only reaches periodic clarity, struggling to find the borders of its vast psychological examination. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The War Between Men and Women


Sincere sexism and comedy is an uncomfortable mix, but 1972's "The War Between Men and Women" gives the tonal nightmare a try. Starring Jack Lemmon and Barbara Harris, the feature is dripping with acid, with director Melville Shavelson ("Yours, Mine and Ours") working to locate lightness to a diseased lead character. The mission is impossible, but "The War Between Men and Women" is inventive with its odyssey into the black heart of relationship cynicism, blending animation and fantasy with a more sobering reality, given a certain spin by the talented cast. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Private Resort


It may be hard to imagine, but three decades ago, a Johnny Depp movie could find its way to theaters and nobody cared (enter your "Transcendence" jokes here). After scoring a major supporting role in Wes Craven's original "A Nightmare on Elm Street," Depp graduated to leading man status with 1985's "Private Resort," joining newcomer Rob Morrow, with the young actors suddenly in charge of a sex comedy, running around a sun-soaked location ogling women and dodging trouble. Another offering from the teen cinema takeover surge of the 1980s, "Private Resort" is caught between the bikini-peeling demands of the subgenre and director George Bowers's quest to construct a Mel Brooks-style farce, laboring to make the feature as broad as humanly possible while still tending to the exposure of bare breasts. While not the worst title to emerge during the decade's obsession with sleazy behavior, the film isn't exactly a stunner, trying too hard to please with slapstick that doesn't blend smoothly with the endeavor's creeper interests. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hardbodies


While it wasn't the biggest hit to emerge during the teen cinema gold rush of the 1980s, "Hardbodies" is often singled out for its precise celebration of subgenre highlights. Its pay cable omnipresence is certainly to blame here, with the 1984 picture often taking over rotational duties in the evening after "The Beastmaster" reigned during the day. Out of all the vulgar, dim-bulb beach and party features that clogged multiplexes (and video store shelves) during the decade, the effort's longevity is really no surprise, with co-screenwriter/director Mark Griffiths filling the movie with enough nudity and sexual high jinks to beguile his target audience, keeping "Hardbodies" eventful when it comes to R-rated encounters. The rest of the film doesn't share the same excitement, slogging through paint-by-numbers writing that spectacularly fails to make wholly repulsive characters appealing in any way. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Spring Break


Director Sean S. Cunningham stunned Hollywood in 1980 when his tiny horror feature, "Friday the 13th," came out of nowhere to dominate the box office and spawn a franchise that remains beloved to this day. Handed a free pass to do whatever he wanted, Cunningham first returned to the genre that served him so well (1982's "A Stranger is Watching") and then issued 1983's "Spring Break," reuniting him with the low-budget comedy aesthetic he developed early in his career. Smelling blood in the water, Cunningham sets out to bite off a piece of the teen horndog genre, manufacturing his own ode to naked women, beach party shenanigans, and matters of the heart. "Spring Break" offers nothing new to the subgenre, and while it samples R-rated tomfoolery, it's almost reluctant to truly dig into salacious business, offering a movie that, with some clever editing, could almost pass for a PG viewing experience. His competition arrives with cynicism and anger issues, but Cunningham keeps this nonsense good-natured for the most part. Read the rest at