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April 2016

Film Review - The Boss


It’s nearly impossible to enjoy Melissa McCarthy on the big screen these days. After building back some goodwill with last summer’s “Spy,” the comedian returns to her comfort zone of grotesque characterization and feeble screenwriting with “The Boss,” which joins “Tammy” and “Identity Thief” to form a painful trilogy of unfunny business executed by an enormously talented actress. Unfortunately, McCarthy does it to herself, co-scripting the effort with husband Ben Falcone, who also directs. “The Boss” offers a promising premise that’s sure to make the most of McCarthy’s special brand of insanity, but what actually ends up on screen is shockingly pedestrian, barely inspiring a chuckle as the movie crawls to the finish line. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hardcore Henry


“Hardcore Henry” isn’t groundbreaking cinema, but it’s one of the first films to fully acknowledge its video game inspiration, embracing the format’s chaos and visual flexibility. Director Ilya Naishuller (making his helming debut) pieces together a first-person actioner, explored from the perspective of a cyborg who enjoys killing, permitting the production ample opportunity to raise hell in a distinct way. “Hardcore Henry” lives up to its title, with Naishuller soaking the picture in violence, destroying bodies in every possible way. But 90 minutes of this POV chase? Weirdly, it’s not the visuals that end up souring the viewing experience, but the lack of story, terrible performances, and a tuneless soundtrack, making the titular brute’s periodic wargasms the highlight of the effort. Read the rest at

Film Review - Midnight Special


Writer/director Jeff Nichols developed a following with “Take Shelter” and “Mud,” two meditative, psychological screenplays that invested completely in character, allowing audiences to understand dramatics emerging from three-dimensional personalities. “Midnight Special” continues the helmer’s journey into layered storytelling, but this time the potential for a gimmicky focal point tests Nichols and his patient filmmaking way. Exploring an alien encounter, “Midnight Special” reaches back to John Carpenter’s 1984 masterpiece, “Starman,” for inspiration, developing a similar sense of wonder and feeling while retaining Nichols’s customary distance, making viewers part of the journey as it slowly but satisfyingly unfolds. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Invitation


Director Karyn Kusama made an industry splash with 2000’s “Girlfight,” a spirited indie that found some pop culture traction, establishing the helmer as one to watch. She followed up her initial success with a pair of duds, “Aeon Flux” and “Jennifer’s Body,” biting off more than she could chew with tonally muddled genre pictures. Returning to the essentials of volatile human emotions, Kusama issues “The Invitation,” a dark psychological thriller that takes its time to get going, but once it locks into its big reveals, it transforms into a grimly irresistible chiller. Successfully reestablishing interest in Kusama’s career, “The Invitation” is worth the wait. Read the rest at


Film Review - Demolition


With “Wild” and “Dallas Buyers Club,” director Jean-Marc Vallee has showcased ability to communicate the inner thoughts of his characters, focusing on emotional issues and medical disruptions to find what people are truly made of. He’s effective with smaller, introspective moments, but “Demolition,” which continues this visual and thematic journey, doesn’t come together as easily as before. Screenwriter Bryan Sipe crafts a story that highlights the range of grief, reaction, and redemption, but the collaboration doesn’t provide a particularly illuminating viewing experience, finding “Demolition” powerful, but only in fragments, spending too much time on trivial matters while the rest of the feature slowly grows confused and, ultimately, pointless. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mr. Right


“Grosse Pointe Blank” is one of the best films of the last twenty years, and it’s heartening to see that screenwriter Max Landis agrees with me. Instead of forging ahead with a remake, Landis take his adulation for the 1997 release and reworks it slightly to create his own variation on the central idea of a killer in love in “Mr. Right,” an action-comedy that’s big on fight scenes and casual interplay between stars Sam Rockwell and Anna Kendrick. Big on energy, for at least the opening hour, “Mr. Right” eventually runs out of steam in a major way, but for those itching for “Blank”-style thrills, the feature finds periodic inspiration as it goes from love to war. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Pearl Button


Writer/director Patricio Guzman has built a career inspecting Chilean woes and bruised history, with special attention to the years ruled by dictator Augusto Pinochet, whose violent reign still reverberates in the country today. The helmer returns to duty with "The Pearl Button," a companion piece to his 2010 documentary, "Nostalgia for the Light," with focus now put on water and its special relationship with Chile. Guzman doesn't possess the strongest directorial focus, but his passion is unmistakable, leading audiences on a journey from a tiny droplet to the outer reaches of the galaxy, in search of sanity and order. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Strange Brew


Out of everything that emerged from the bottomless pit of brilliance that was "SCTV," who could've guessed that the antics of two Canadian brothers who love beer and conversation would be the most enduring. Bob and Doug McKenzie quickly rose to popularity after their 1980 television debut, with actors Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas embracing the opportunity to gather every Canadian stereotype around, dreaming up a public access show hosted by toque-wearing siblings who guzzled beer, cooked back bacon, and riffed on any topic that came to mind. Instead of blending into "SCTV," the characters exploded in popularity, celebrated as pop culture heroes in the Great White North while beguiling American audiences unaccustomed to such culture-specific satire. Armed with "Ehs," Moranis and Thomas managed to squeeze a successful album out of their newfound fame, while also offered a chance to direct their own feature. 1983's "Strange Brew" is pure McKenzie madness, finding inventive ways to extend the appeal of the brothers, using a Shakespearean foundation to support this wildly hilarious odyssey into brewery shenanigans and world domination. There's even a flying dog. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects


For their final collaboration, actor Charles Bronson and director J. Lee Thompson (who passed away in 2002) head into the darkness with 1989's "Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects," transporting their recipe for smashmouth filmmaking to the world of sexual exploitation. It's a difficult subject matter to explore with any type of lightness, but the pair give the topic a B-movie shakedown, delivering a strangely insensitive take on the death of innocence that favors scowling and xenophobia from the star, who takes on the role of a determined cop with the same lukewarm passion he brings to every role. As well-intentioned as "Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects" tries to be, it's missing a few great ideas and patience to truly understand the scourge of human trafficking, treating the topic with minimal interest in collateral damage. There's plenty of Bronson being irritable, smacking around baddies and sassing superiors, but what the picture needs is respect for the crime, not more breakaway glass. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Messenger of Death


While not an actor of any discernible range, Charles Bronson has made the effort throughout his long career to play a variety of characters. Of course, most of these performances end up in a position of violence, with the mustachioed brute facing down foolish enemies, but at least he's trying. 1988's "Messenger of Death" finds Bronson portraying a journalist for a Denver-based newspaper, marching around looking for clues and interviews to help him create popular stories. It's not an impossible stretch to picture the icon in a newsroom, surrounded by bustling writers while hammering out his latest piece, but Bronson isn't far from a threat or a weapon in the movie. "Messenger of Death" is a serviceable thriller with few surprises, but, as always, Bronson is the big draw, using his natural way with intimidation to infuse the feature with a few thrills, portraying the most aggressive, least professional newspaperman perhaps cinema has ever seen. Read the rest at

Film Review - Meet the Blacks


In 2010, writer/director Deon Taylor created “Chain Letter,” an updated take on slasher formula that utilized cell phones as the harbinger of doom. It was an awful film, one of the worst of the year, but Taylor played it straight, working to whip up some sizable scares while the rest of the effort died a slow, painful death. Taylor returns to the genre with “Meet the Blacks,” but he’s no longer interested in frights, attempting to wring laughs out of murder with this painfully inept semi-parody of “The Purge.” Released too soon after Marlon Wayans dropped a box office bomb with January’s “50 Shades of Black,” “Meet the Blacks” covers basically the same ground, spending too much time on vulgarity and racial hostility, and not enough on wit. Read the rest at