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June 2016

Film Review - The Legend of Tarzan


Every so often, Hollywood revives its interest in exploring the world of Tarzan, returning to original inspiration from author Edgar Rice Burroughs to fuel another franchise. He’s been recycled for radio, television, and movies, but rarely does the Lord of the Apes receive the big-budget treatment. “The Legend of Tarzan” is a large-scale attempt to revive the character’s popularity for a new generation of filmgoer, with director David Yates forgoing a tangible world for a digital one, creating a collection of animals and environments with plentiful CGI assistance, trying to remain stylish while dealing with familiar artificiality. The lack of natural sweep hurts the picture, but there’s a larger problem in the screenplay, which doesn’t really know if it wants to study the story of Tarzan or use him as a poseable action figure in a tale that seldom inspires awe or excitement. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Purge: Election Year


2013’s “The Purge” asked characters to liberate their rage and “release the beast” during a special night of murder. The third chapter of the series, “The Purge: Election Night” will have audiences looking to release the hounds on writer/director James DeMonaco, who destroys his once interesting premise with an abysmal chiller that offers little to no technical expertise or dramatic moderation. DeMonaco runs right into a wall with “Election Year,” which plays cheaply and desperately, striving to wring a few last scares out of an unlikely franchise the helmer has personally shepherded over the last three years. It’s a terrible movie, ugly and ridiculous, missing the zeitgeist by a country mile, but it also identifies DeMonaco’s professional carelessness, emerging as one of the few filmmakers to deliver progressively lamer sequels despite enjoying a rare offering of creative hindsight. Read the rest at

Film Review - Microbe & Gasoline


There’s always an expectation of whimsy when dealing with a Michel Gondry film. However, his last production, “Mood Indigo,” overdosed on fantasy to such a degree, it obscured the emotional core of the picture. Perhaps reassessing his creative influence, Gondry plays it relatively cool for his latest work, “Microbe & Gasoline,” which is much more fascinated with character than bulging imagery, keeping both feet on the ground as the occasional Gondry-constructed flourish takes a spin. “Microbe & Gasoline” is one of the helmer’s finest efforts because of this restraint, exploring the folds of the teenage mind with genuine awareness of human behavior, mixed tastefully with periodic bursts of delightful oddity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Tickled


Somewhere in our world, there’s an audience for Competitive Endurance Tickling. Granted, it’s not unlike any other underground fetish observed by many but experienced by few, but it carries the potential to be the most ridiculous. The “sport” is as plain as can be, tying up young men on comfy beds who are soon straddled by patient staff. These professionals proceed to work their magic fingers all over the subject’s body, triggering a convulsive reaction that’s recorded and savored by those into the kink. And yet the documentary “Tickled” only really uses the strangeness of the bedroom play as an introduction to legal woes and journalistic adventures, refusing to simply rest when encountering the needs of those who enjoy the process and uncontrollable reactions associated with tickling. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Duel


Joining a recent trend in stark, ultra-violent westerns, “The Duel” takes the slow-burn route for its developing tensions. The feature is directed by Kieran Darcy-Smith, who last helmed “Wish You Were Here,” a riveting character-driven chiller, returning to a mood of suspicion with this unsettling study of control and seduction. “The Duel” has plenty of atmosphere and strong performances, and it works when locked into intimate power plays and tough-guy stare downs. Editing isn’t kind to the film, which feels rushed in places, awkwardly shaped to bring the movie down to a manageable size. For those capable of working past such strangeness at times, there’s plenty to admire about the effort, which hits genre highlights while remaining in a dark place. Read the rest at

Film Review - Our Kind of Traitor


Bringing the works of author John le Carre to the big screen is always a tricky endeavor. He’s an iconic writer who requires special care when translating his dense spy games for cinematic inspection, with recent efforts such as “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and “A Most Wanted Man” delivering the intricacies of suspense without indulging more broadly defined acts of panic. “Our Kind of Traitor” attempts to play in the same sandbox of paranoia and secretive dealings, with director Susanna White managing growing tensions to satisfaction. It’s the story that’s a little strange this time around, finding implausibility a more powerful foe than the Russian mob in “Our Kind of Traitor,” though charismatic performances help the feature work through a few tight spaces of credibility, keeping attention on the screen. Read the rest at

Film Review - Therapy for a Vampire


Dreaming up new avenues to explore when it comes to the world of vampires is difficult, but writer/director David Ruhm has an interesting solution to combat staleness. Instead of picking one aspect of bloodsucker life to inspect, he’s selected all of them, using “Therapy for a Vampire” as a chance to celebrate vampire cinema as influences pop up everywhere in the feature. Cutesy at times, but engaging, “Therapy for a Vampire” tries to avoid the norm with elements of humor and horror, finding highlights as the overall story teases quirk, but never indulges in full. Ruhm’s love for darkness remains throughout the effort, emerging with a degree of creativity when dealing with the same old undead business. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Magnetic Monster


Throughout the 1950s, paranoia cinema reigned, though most threats emerged from the sky or from beneath the earth. In 1953's "The Magnetic Monster," the villain is radioactivity, though represented here as a growing physical threat capable of destroying the planet through sheer size. It's cinema science executed with complete commitment by the production, joining 1954's "Gog" and "Riders to the Stars" as a trilogy of terror that plays liberally with facts and figures to manufacture horrors the audience isn't prepared to understand. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Go Tell the Spartans


Before "Platoon" found enough political distance to explore the Vietnam War, resulting in a critical and commercial triumph, other productions made a similar, less funereal attempts to address the futility of the conflict. 1978's "Go Tell the Spartans" was perhaps a victim of bad timing, finding a limited audience during its theatrical release, but the clarity of its message and overall emotional authenticity is as powerful as a best Vietnam dissections, only hampered by a limited budget, which prevents the picture from achieving a truly cinematic viewing experience. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Haunting of Morella


Producer Roger Corman has spent his career paying tribute to the works of author Edgar Allan Poe, most notably masterminding pictures such as "The Masque of Red Death" and "House of Usher." In 1990, Corman returned to Poe's creative playground with "The Haunting of Morella," tasking co-writer/director Jim Wynorski to come up with a sexually charged take on witchcraft and period passions, making sure to remain within strict budgetary limits. Big on nudity and light on thrills, "The Haunting of Morella" isn't a premiere Poe/Corman pairing (the material was previously covered in "Tales of Terror"), but when the film finally begins to issue macabre highlights, it finds its B-movie footing. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Crimson


1973's "Crimson" offers dim-bulb criminals, shoot-outs, sex, police chases, mad scientists, and a human head transplant, and yet, somehow, the production makes the macabre and the absurd feel like punishment. Frightfully dull work from director Juan Fortuny, "Crimson" has a strange way of ignoring the possibilities of its premise, using copious amounts of exposition and vague depictions of sleaze to slowly put viewers to sleep. Handed a chance to make a weirdo thriller that touches on medical impossibility, and Fortuny chooses to make a crime picture that's so inert, it's a wonder why the story even bothers with such an outlandish plot to begin with. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Shallows


Sharksploitation efforts, once home to nail-biting aquatic nightmares, have turned cartoony in recent years, with the “Sharknado” franchise forcing itself on the world, using irony and exaggeration instead of fear to engage audiences, turning primal oceanic horrors into cartoon time. “The Shallows” isn’t a documentary, but it endeavors to return some bite to the animal attack subgenre, pitting actress Blake Lively against a large great white shark who won’t take no for an answer. Thrills and chills are promised, but only a few scenes land with any sort of punch. “The Shallows” isn’t a lean 90 minutes, but director Jaume Collet-Serra (“Non-Stop,” “Orphan”) almost gets it right, periodically ramping up suspense and shocks while Anthony Jaswinski’s screenplay figures out how to fill up a run time with necessary characterization. Read the rest at

Film Review - Independence Day: Resurgence


1996’s “Independence Day” was the last of its kind: a largely practically built blockbuster that enjoyed the element of surprise, buttering up audiences with a year’s worth of enigmatic marketing before delivering big thrills with a loopy, lovingly designed alien attack picture, giving the disaster movie formula one last sweaty workout before CGI arrived and smoothed out all the mayhem. It was a mammoth hit and one of the best films of the year, delivering huge action with sincerity and a tasteful amount of stupidity. “Independence Day” was also the last decent feature from director Roland Emmerich, who followed up his biggest hit with junk like “Godzilla,” “10,000 BC,” “White House Down,” and last year’s bomb, “Stonewall.” In need of career CPR, Emmerich reteams with former partner Dean Devlin (also someone who could use a professional boost) to mastermind “Independence Day: Resurgence,” which attempts to sequelize a tale that ended rather successfully the first time around. The creative well’s gone dry with these two, who visibly struggle to come up with a reason why this continuation should even exist, tarnishing the brand name with an unreasonably idiotic, irritatingly plasticized follow-up. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Neon Demon


Nicolas Winding Refn found a wide audience with 2011’s sleek and furious “Drive,” but it was the follow-up, 2013’s “Only God Forgives,” that truly represented his baroque filmmaking interests. Mischievous and addicted to cinematic style, Refn does a deep dive into the abstract with “The Neon Demon,” his bloody, ornately lit valentine to the world of modeling and sexual obsession. A challenging picture that seems to exist only to irritate unaware moviegoers, “The Neon Demon” is pure big screen language from Refn, who takes his sweet time laboring over shots and performances, slowly, glacially introducing macabre ideas that transform the feature into art-house flypaper for those willing to submit themselves to the helmer’s extravagances, iffy sense of humor, and adoration for the extreme. Read the rest at

Film Review - Adventures in Babysitting (2016)


A hit film for Disney back in the summer of 1987, “Adventures in Babysitting” was a perfect example of the era’s interest in teen entertainment with an edge, launching a family-friendly plot of a babysitter encountering a disastrous night with her charges, but giving the material a PG-13 bump, making slumber party rentals a bit awkward. The Chris Columbus picture wasn’t short on charm or laughs, while bringing out the full appeal of star Elisabeth Shue, and it’s easy to see why the studio would pursue a remake, trying to connect to a new generation of working kids. However, instead of bringing the comedic mayhem back to the big screen, “Adventures in Babysitting” receives the Disney Channel treatment, sanding away the coarseness of the original effort to keep the material appropriate for all ages. Read the rest at

Film Review - Free State of Jones


Hunting for a different take on Civil War history, writer/director Gary Ross (“Seabiscuit,” “The Hunger Games”) comes across the tale of Newton Knight, a Mississippi man who fought against Confederate soldiers, battling to retain basic freedoms lost during the prolonged conflict. There’s potential in the man’s unrest, but “Free State of Jones” doesn’t have much fire in its belly, dryly and predictably examining toxic racial attitudes, combat shock, and bruised nobility. Ross hopes to impart ideas on inequality and honor, but he’s found the least interesting way to do it, keeping “Free State of Jones” obvious and glacial, lacking a passionate screen presence as melodrama and monologuing tend to overwhelm the effort. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Phenom


From the outside, “The Phenom” looks like your average baseball film about a troubled pitcher coming to terms with a losing streak, with the effort heading out to the mound to explore the headspace of a pro struggling to win games. The feature actually offers very little baseball, more interested in the psychological wreckage of a player fighting learned behavior, remaining in low-lit rooms with characters instead of hustling around the diamond. Writer/director Noah Buschel has a specific mood in mind for “The Phenom,” and it doesn’t involving baseball as a game, but more of a prison, inspecting the drive required to join the big leagues and the price paid for such steely focus, especially when rubbed furiously against toxic fatherly influence. Read the rest at

Film Review - Vigilante Diaries


The marketplace is filled with movies like “Vigilante Diaries.” Horror used to be the primary tool for young filmmakers to enter the industry without spending any money, but now actioners have joined the party, offering helmers a chance to organize brutality with the help of known actors not above claiming an easy paycheck. “Vigilante Diaries” isn’t the worst of the bunch, but it certainly tries to be, emerging as a semi-coherent take on worldwide menace and one-man-army attitude, with co-writer/director Christian Sesma trying to fill up on guns and chases when he should really concentrate on writing, with the effort regurgitating as much B-movie formula as it can get away with. It’s not really a film, but a collection of clichés without a strong narrative spine. Read the rest at

Film Review - Art Bastard


In the world of art, success rarely equals interesting. It’s an idea of worth that drives the documentary “Art Bastard,” which takes a look at the life and times of painter Robert Cenedella, who’s spent most of his career on his feet, refusing to submit to a system of acknowledgement and financial evaluation that generally defines the big names in professional creativity. Directed by Victor Kanefsky, “Art Bastard” is an informative picture, bringing Cenedella’s distorted vision of humanity to the screen, helping to identify a body of work that’s extraordinarily detailed and imaginative, and perhaps completely unknown to the average art-world participant. It’s basic in design, but the production is merely out to identify inspiration, doing so with a sense of humor and trust in the subject’s natural charisma. Read the rest at