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May 2016

Blu-ray Review - The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane


1976 was a big year for young actress Jodie Foster. Making a major leap to starring roles, Foster appeared in "Taxi Driver," "Bugsy Malone," and "Freaky Friday," solidifying her skill with comedy and drama, but also pushing Foster to play adult roles as a child, selecting projects that knew what to do with her unnerving maturity. "The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane" is perhaps the least known of the group, but it represents Foster's strongest work, tasked with portraying a troubled adolescent working to wave off attention on her troubling deeds, encountering true disease during a particularly eventful winter. "Down the Lane" is engrossing and unsettling, with director Nicolas Gessner unafraid to take the tale to dark places, mixing up suspense through subtle acts of predatory behavior. It's strange but effective movie, yet Foster is the reason to remain with it, finding a role that makes the most of her skill and impressive presence. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Mr. Selfridge: Season 4


As it enters its final season, "Mr. Selfridge" does what many shows do when facing a creative challenge for its last hurrah: it leaps ahead in time. Nearly a decade has passed since the conclusion of "Season 3," but there's plenty of unfinished business to tend to over these remaining ten episodes, with the producers eager to move away from the stuffy period established in the first three seasons of the show, but unwilling to ditch the melodramatic encounters that have plagued the series since its debut. Dramatically, nothing much has changed in "Mr. Selfridge," with "Season 4" concentrating on reviving old relationships and adding considerable tragedy to the life of the titular character as he deals with aging and business obsolescence, trying to remain youthful and spirited as he's slowly put out to pasture. The potential is there for an introspective study of a man facing his mortality, laboring to remain in step with the times. But verisimilitude isn't the way of the show's writers, who once again delve into exaggerated antics to maintain a "General Hospital" vibe. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Messenger


With "The Messenger," director Su Rynard utilizes the plight of the songbird as a way to warn viewers that environmental catastrophe is here to stay. Instead of creating a valentine to the tiny creatures, the production is more interested in doomsday, generating a sobering look at the dwindling songbird population around the globe and what's causing this troubling loss of life. It's not easy to digest, but "The Messenger" is an important documentary that adds to the discussion of pollution, which arrives in many forms. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Do-Over


“The Do-Over” is the latest Adam Sandler production, and it’s a return to more traditional mid-budget goofballery after last winter’s western, “The Ridiculous Six.” Reviving his “every movie is a paid vacation” edict, Sandler brings this action comedy to tropical locations such as Puerto Rico, bathing the picture in sun and sand, while pal David Spade joins in on the fun, returning the star to his prized comfort zone. And yet, despite simplistic elements, “The Do-Over” works very hard to provide a complicated viewing experience, trying to blur expectations through screenwriting that offers elaborate plotting and a plethora of names to manage. Along with popcorn and soda, viewers may also want to consider a dry erase board to help track a story that provides potty humor and frat boy pranks, but also pokes fun at Alzheimer’s disease, explores the pain of mortality, and involves a hunt for a cancer cure. Read the rest at


Film Review - Alice Through the Looking Glass


2010’s “Alice in Wonderland” did a fine job defining Tim Burton’s recent directorial career, offering a dour, absurdly plasticized, green-screen-addicted adventure inspired by the beloved Lewis Carroll novel. It was a feeble film, highlighting Burton’s laziness behind the camera and revealing a shelf life for his quirk. But it made a billion dollars, so any possible follow-up wasn’t going to take the apology route. “Alice Through the Looking Glass” took its time to reach screens, bucking current trends of rapid sequelizations, and it’s about time as well, becoming both a prequel and continuation of “Alice in Wonderland” as the heroine zips around the years to save Underland. Burton has been replaced by James Bobin, but “Alice Through the Looking Glass” isn’t all that different a picture. Perhaps it’s a bit brighter, less violent, and more contained, and the effort does improve on the original movie, but a dearth of joy remains, returning to a realm in serious need of a practical set and some Prozac. Read the rest at

Film Review - X-Men: Apocalypse


2014’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past” provided an opportunity for director Bryan Singer to return to a film series he began in 2000, working to untangle a few narrative and tonal knots created by other helmers, who had their way with the franchise over the years. While the feature juggled timelines and labored to build a bridge between the Singer era and the prequel fixings of “X-Men: First Class,” it was a creative success, managing to breathe life into the ongoing narrative, saying goodbye to a few familiar actors while continuing to explore new ones. “X-Men: Apocalypse” is the first step in a new direction for the mutant superheroes, winding the clock back to the 1980s to reset the group as a burgeoning team combining efforts to take on evil. The community atmosphere is strengthened in “Apocalypse,” shifting leadership duties and dramatic emphasis to inspire even more mutant adventures. Singer’s passion for the material is evident throughout, returning to heroism for the 8th chapter, not just stroking angst. Read the rest at


Blu-ray Review - Assassination


In the midst of churning out low-budget thrillers during the 1980s, most for Cannon Films, actor Charles Bronson decided to spend some time with his wife, Jill Ireland, his frequent co-star. 1987's "Assassination" is their first screen pairing since 1982's "Death Wish II," and it feels like a production that was more valued for the vacation it provided than the quality of its script. Supremely dopey and weirdly directed, "Assassination" is largely held together by oddity, with the feature transforming the fiftysomething screen legend into a butt-kicking Secret Service superhero who's irresistible to women, playing up Bronson's cool genre demeanor and way with a gun. However, it's the time spent with Bronson and Ireland that's most compelling about the picture, watching the couple enjoy a chance to collaborate as they dodge explosions, ride motorcycles, and exchanged sharp banter, welcoming character hostilities.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Steele Justice


Just what does one do with Martin Kove? I'm sure this was a question Hollywood was wrestling with during the 1980s, trying to make sense of Kove's ascendance to screen villainy in "The Karate Kid," where the actor made a tremendous impression on audiences, fueling the film's masterful way with climatic payoff. But could he carry an entire endeavor with such intensity? After decades in television and supporting parts in features, 1987's "Steele Justice" was Kove's hour of power, gifted a Rambo-esque revenge thriller that offered the star a chance to emote, destroy, and snarl, trying to fit in with the decade's generation of action heroes. Kove is game, committed to his character and the production's vision for citywide violence, but "Steele Justice" is one incredibly goofy picture. A B-movie that doesn't make much time for logic, the effort crashes through cliché and absurdity, building up a rhythm of roughhousing that showcases Kove's masculinity and writer/director Robert Boris's imagination for mayhem. It's not good work, but it does work with lowered expectations.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Back Roads


When director Martin Ritt and actress Sally Field collaborated in 1979, the result was "Norma Rae," a penetrating drama about one woman's personal awakening. When Ritt and Field reteamed in 1981, the result was "Back Roads," which effectively ruined all the goodwill "Rae" created, tarnishing the production's post-Oscar-winning glow. While Ritt's helmed his share of disappointments, nothing has been quite as misguided as "Back Roads," which does everything wrong in terms of thespian charm and narrative momentum, striving to generate romantic comedy butterflies with a sobering story of failure. Perhaps enamored with the potential to mount a road movie featuring two busted-but-not-broken characters striving to share their hearts of gold with each other, Ritt loses touch with the essentials of personality, conflict, and storytelling, unable to guide the effort as stars Field and Tommy Lee Jones share what's politely called "negative chemistry," visibly looking like they'd rather be anywhere else but in this film. It's difficult to blame them. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - 99 Homes


After building a name for himself with low-budget films such as "Goodbye Solo" and "Man Push Cart," writer/director Ramin Bahrani graduated to more high-profile fare with 2013's "At Any Price," starring Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron. A tale of farmland woe and family sin, the feature was a melodramatic disaster, punishing audiences with ridiculously broad performances and absurd writing. Bahrani recovers a bit of his old mojo with "99 Homes," which surveys the state of the nation in 2010 as it deals with a ruined housing market and destitute owners. It's a movie about the acid burn of morality in the face of financial reward, and Bahrani has the right idea during the picture's early moments, which pinpoint the shame, horror, and emotional violence of eviction in a deeply disturbing manner. The rest of "99 Homes" doesn't reach the same level of authenticity, finding Bahrani returning to old habits as subtlety is replaced by opera, ruining the primal scream of the effort. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Nice Guys


It’s hard to believe that “The Nice Guys” is only Shane Black’s third directorial effort. The famed screenwriter’s influence (“Lethal Weapon,” “The Long Kiss Goodnight”) has reverberated throughout the industry for decades, but Black is only really getting started when it comes to personalized cinematic pursuits. His debut was 2005’s appealingly noir-ish comedy, “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang,” but that promise eventually found itself with a plastic grocery bag wrapped over its head for “Iron Man 3,” an enormous production that showed little patience for Black’s DNA. “The Nice Guys” returns the director to his old stomping grounds, finding a reason to revisit Los Angeles with a silly detective story that’s soaking wet with Blackisms. It’s not an especially successful film, but here’s a handy tip: if you’re not laughing within the first ten minutes, there’s no reason to hang around for the remaining 100. Read the rest at

Film Review - Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising


2014’s “Neighbors” was a disappointment. Handed a surefire premise that encouraged sustained silliness, and the feature exhausted itself before it had a chance to truly begin, sticking to tired trends for humor, while periodic dips into bodily function business only emphasized a lack of production imagination. Bravely, “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” attempts to race the original film to the bottom. A slapdash sequel quickly churned out to cash in on a surprise box office performer, the follow-up doesn’t transform a simple plot into a franchise. Instead of innovation, “Sorority Rising” furiously rehashes original elements in a manner that makes “Die Hard 2” look like “The Godfather: Part II.” If you’ve seen “Neighbors,” you’ve already seen “Neighbors 2.” Read the rest at

Film Review - The Angry Birds Movie


“The Angry Birds Movie” arrives a little late, trying to cash in on the video game’s popularity, which has been waning since 2012. The pop culture moment has passed, but the production is determined to make something exciting with the simple formula of birds and pigs going to war. There are no surprises in “The Angry Birds Movie,” though there is a curious lack of laughs when exploring this collision of combative animals, finding an interesting and varied voice cast powerless to bring the funny with unimaginative screenwriting and direction that favors chaos as a means to entertain. Read the rest at

Film Review - Kindergarten Cop 2


After scoring a major box office success with 1988’s “Twins,” star Arnold Schwarzenegger explored comedy once again with director Ivan Reitman in 1990’s “Kindergarten Cop.” This time, the pairing pants Schwarzenegger’s action persona, challenging established brawn with the unpredictable energy and honesty of children, finding a unique way to celebrate the actor’s strengths by taking him out of his comfort zone in a broadly comic manner. It took 26 years for Universal to come up with a sequel, but they’ve gone the DTV route, replacing Schwarzenegger with Dolph Lundgren, hoping to find the same silly vibe with another screen behemoth invading a classroom filled with 5 year olds. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Lobster


In the world of director Yorgos Lanthimos, up is down and down is up. He’s a helmer who embraces the surreal and the strikingly authentic, using elements of performance art to explore the human condition as it experiences unusual extremity and isolation. Lanthimos first caught attention with 2009’s “Dogtooth,” and he returns to US art-houses with another vision of codependency in “The Lobster,” which also gifts him a larger budget and name actors to guide through his peculiar world-view. “The Lobster” is meant to be a great many things, and it’s largely successful with all of them, but what really pops here is Lanthimos’s hunger for the strange and his obsession with the heart, taking the long way around peculiar character interactions to explore the meaning of companionship. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Men & Chicken


“Men & Chicken” is the latest release from writer/director Anders Thomas Jensen, his first in over a decade. In his time away from the camera, it seems he’s built up a hearty appetite for dark material, masterminding a strange look at a dysfunctional family made up of possibly monstrous siblings. Darkly comic interests remain to keep the picture approachable, but the Danish production is pretty severe as it inspects brotherly love and philosophical reach. Thankfully, Jensen isn’t going for cheap laughs with the grotesqueries of “Men & Chicken,” instead working to find the soul of his screenplay and treat these oddballs with a degree of understanding and, if one squints hard enough, love. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hard Sell


“Hard Sell” is the tamest take on a movie that’s kinda, sorta about prostitution. It’s not exactly “Risky Business,” but writer/director Sean Nalaboff has the opportunity to launch a bawdy teen comedy about opportunism and exploitation. Instead of raunchy entertainment, the helmer attempts something far more sincere, inspecting the emotional wounds of his damaged characters, searching for unpredictable ways to explore familiar material. “Hard Sell” isn’t as exhaustively meaningful as it would like to be, but Nalaboff has the right idea, avoiding traditional adolescent high jinks to identify vulnerabilities, prizing matters of the heart more than laughs. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Jackie Robinson


In his 1994 production, "Baseball," director Ken Burns set aside time to explore the career of Jackie Robinson and his influences on the sport and national race relations. There was no room for an in-depth examination of Jackie's life and times, with his experience largely detailed in suspect bio-pics (like the recent "42") and periodic interviews before his death in 1972. Championed by his widow, Rachel, "Jackie Robinson" allows Burns and his team (including co-directors Sarah Burns and David McMahon) a chance to take in an entire life, offering a four-hour documentary that tracks Jackie from birth to death and beyond, highlighting his famous sporting dominance, racial unease, and eventual experience away from the baseball diamond. It's a long journey, but as always with Burns and Co., it's incredibly informative and smoothly assembled, permitting a new opportunity to see Jackie Robinson as he was: a man, not a stoic superhero.  Read the rest at