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July 2016

Film Review - Cafe Society


For his latest picture, Woody Allen is feeling the urge to explore Hollywood once again, romanticizing the glamour and social connections of the movie industry in the 1930s for “Café Society.” The feature is big on costumes, locations, and attitude, but even for Allen (who churns out product every year), the effort is much too meandering to make any impact. Attempting to craft a sprawling comedy with a large cast, Allen encounters focus issues almost immediately, consistently unsure if he wants to make a movie filled with subplots, or turn a to-do list of subplots into a movie. “Café Society” isn’t very funny or memorable, finding Allen on autopilot, halfheartedly arranging bits of behavior, hoping that something will resemble a film by the time the end credits arrive. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ghostheads


2016 is a special year for “Ghostbusters” fans, with Paul Feig’s remake inspiring fresh waves of memories and merchandise, hoping to tap into brand name hysteria once again. Also joining the party is “Ghostheads,” a homegrown documentary by Brendan Mertens that’s hoping to piggyback on current thirst for all things “Ghostbusters,” creating a tribute to superfans that delves into private lives and identifies personal commitments to the cosplay cause. What could’ve been a charming study of cinematic obsession is wildly overcooked by Mertens, who doesn’t really know what story he wants to tell with “Ghostheads,” which veers wildly from lighthearted memories and analysis to teary memories of the gravely injured and the dead. Mertens’s heart is in the right place, but his storytelling instincts are shellacked with slime. Read the rest at

Film Review - Undrafted


As a child actor, Joseph Mazzello found success with parts in “Radio Flyer” and “The River Wild,” but his greatest role was found in “Jurassic Park,” portraying the young, slightly fried survivor of the dino apocalypse, Tim. Time isn’t typically kind to the careers of most young performers, but Mazzello has managed to do something with his experience, funneling creative knowledge into “Undrafted,” his directorial debut. Armed with a limited budget but a distinct point of view, Mazzello scores a success with his first outing behind the camera, crafting an itchy valentine to the world of intramural baseball, studying its humiliations, camaraderie, and gamesmanship with ultimate interest in its characters. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - U2: Innocence + Experience - Live in Paris


It was supposed to be just another night on the highly successful "Innocence + Experience" tour, taking the band U2 to Paris for a concert intended for cable and internet broadcast. Unfortunately, plans for entertainment were quickly set aside to deal with the November 2015 Paris Terrorist Attacks, an event that shocked the world and forced U2 to rethink touring plans. Not wanting to disappoint loyal fans and preserve their reputation as one of most socially and politically-minded bands of all time, U2 returned to Paris three weeks later, refusing to bow down to terror-minded folk and put on a big time rock show to help heal a shattered city. "Innocence + Experience - Live in Paris" isn't a radical reinvention of the U2 live event, keeping to the essentials of stage presence and widescreen sound, but there's a special level of power to the show, a searing emotionality that runs through the whole endeavor, with Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr., and Adam Clayton trying their best to bring joy and catharsis to the world through their exquisite song catalog and a brilliant visual display. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Blue Sunshine


In a genre known for its storytelling lethargy, credit must to be paid to writer/director Jeff Lieberman, who isn't the most polished filmmaker around, but he certainly has an affinity for oddball horror distractions. His movies ("Squirm," "Just Before Dawn") are clunky but crammed with low budget promise, and 1978's "Blue Sunshine" is no exception. A semi-coherent journey in the rainbow heart of acid ingestion and fugitive blues, the picture is a delightfully baffling concoction, lost on its own groovy trip of horror and paranoia -- resting in a space where exposition is light but death by baldness is certain. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Just Desserts: The Making of Creepshow


1982's "Creepshow" is famous for many reasons. While it didn't invent the anthology movie, it certainly popularized the storytelling format during the 1980s, giving filmmakers the inspiration to collect their own miniature tales of torment, most born from the mind of Stephen King. The picture was also a big hit for director George A. Romero and arguably one of his best movies, tapping into the comic book aesthetic with purity and impishness, paying loving tribute to the world of EC Comics and their frightening tales of death and punishment. "Creepshow" isn't high art, but the effort showcases an engaged Romero, who's having a blast arranging all sorts of macabre events and antagonistic encounters, scratching a boyhood itch for ghoulish fantasy that translates wonderfully through five tales of doom. It's a treat. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Roland and Rattfink


"Roland and Rattfink" isn't big on complicated plotting. It's a mash-em, bash-em series from DePatie-Freleng Studios depicting a never-ending war waged by the titular characters, with their broad antagonisms reimagined for every short. Roland is the square-jawed hero and Rattfink is the gnarled baddie determined to ruin the day, and, throughout 17 chapters of this saga, he manages to do so in a mildly silly manner. Physical comedy carries the viewing experience, highlighting big action and stymied troublemaking with small additions of satire and stillness. It's not the company's finest creative hour, but there's plenty to like about "Roland and Rattfink," especially when it pays tribute to silent film romps, focusing intently on elastic violence and cartoon reactions. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ghostbusters


It was inevitable that someone would eventually work up the nerve to remake the 1984 classic, “Ghostbusters.” Unable to get a second sequel up and running, the studio eventually turned their attention to a full reboot, but their choice of director was Paul Feig, a man not necessarily known for his way with visual effect-laden extravaganzas, previously helming “Bridesmaids” and “Spy.” Feig can’t completely pry himself away from his bad habits, but his refreshing of “Ghostbusters” is actually a substantial amount of fun when it actually makes time for the busting of ghosts. Bellylaughs are scarce, but the picture has sporadic energy, while the cast offers a significant amount of charm to help the material squeeze through a few dismal ideas. Read the rest at

Film Review - Outlaws and Angels


Westerns should be bleak, barren adventures, tracking difficult moral choices and survival situations, but there’s a fine line between staging violence to make a point about threat and staging violence just to enjoy some screen insanity. JT Mollner forgoes subtlety with “Outlaws and Angels,” dismissing good taste to make a down and dirty exploitation picture that’s slicked with bodily fluids and blistered with rage. Aggression comes unnervingly easy to the helmer, who enjoys making a mess of things with this ode to sexual abuse and manipulation. However, while Mollner has brought buckets of blood to the production, he forgot to hire an editor. It doesn’t take long to realize that “Outlaws and Angels” is going to feel as long as the conquering of the west itself, with Mollner incapable of finding rhythm for this intentionally odious movie. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Infiltrator


“The Infiltrator” has all the elements of a classic undercover cop story, including a conflicted protagonist, a Floridian setting, and a secretive world of drug dealing. It presents a true-life tale that offers fascinating characters and heated showdowns, yet director Brad Furman doesn’t quite know if he wants the picture to be a sincere study of a lawman’s loss of self or a ridiculously overcooked crime tale with a few operatic extremes. “The Infiltrator” is unsatisfying and weirdly absurd at times, but it’s not a complete blunder, blessed with a cast that’s capable of finding nuances in the moment, bringing friendships and antagonisms to life in a way that Furman is incapable of doing on his own. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Blackcoat's Daughter


While the films have little in common, “The Blackcoat’s Daughter” often reminded me of last year’s “It Follows.” Both pictures provide plenty of atmosphere, using a deliberate pace to conjure a sense of dread, taking their time to build mysteries and unnerve the audience. However, “The Blackcoat’s Daughter” demands more patience, with writer/director Oz Perkins working through his material inch by inch, laboring to squeeze as much stillness out of the movie as possible. There’s surely an audience for his effort, especially those who enjoy slow-burn terror productions, but it’s difficult to get excited about the feature’s crawl of creepiness, which doesn’t reward concentration with a particularly memorable conclusion. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Equals


Director Drake Dormus enjoys making movies about tortured love affairs. The helmer of “Like Crazy” and “Breathe In” returns with “Equals,” a sci-fi-tinged tale of forbidden attraction and emotional restraint. Paying tribute to George Lucas’s “THX 1138,” and lifting a dramatic layer or two from 1997’s “Gattaca,” “Equals” endeavors to explore a futureworld of submission cracked open by primal human instincts. The ambition is there, but execution is missing a few degrees of heat, while miscasting tends to leave sections of the picture a bit too cold for comfort. It’s stylish work with some of the most pronounced architecture porn I’ve seen in some time, but Dormus can’t shake his habits, once again returning to burning passions photographed in extreme, jittery close-up while a feeble sense of tragedy brews in the background. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Tijuana Toads


Dealing with a show like "Tijuana Toads" in 2016 is a tricky situation. Obviously, this isn't a new production, with episodes released from 1969 to 1972, capturing a time when racial and cultural sensitivities weren't exactly a priority to the entertainment business. Indeed, the animated shorts from the DePatie-Freleng Studio aren't exactly kind in their depiction of Mexicans and Asians, and it takes extra effort to look beyond dated attitudes, but there's a highly amusing series that's worth a look for those who are up to the challenge of a viewing while keeping the production era in mind. After all, this is a rare opportunity to watch two silly frogs embark on a prolonged quest for survival, avoiding danger and each other's stupidity along the way. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Invisible Invaders


Atomic Age paranoia reaches beyond the stars in 1959's "Invisible Invaders." While the picture remains earthbound, the story carries into space, merging nuclear threat with an alien invasion, though, to keep production costs down, the aggressive extraterrestrial conquers are, as the title mentions, unable to be seen. "Invisible Invaders" eschews much of the popular research facility exposition of the day, charging ahead to the best of its ability as a monster movie mixed with end-of-days terror. As long as expectations are kept at a minimum for the feature's visual potency, the ride to doomsday is entertaining. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Gold


Directed by Karl Hartl, 1934's "Gold" has plenty to say about the state of the union in Germany. A critique of greed and abuses of science, the feature is careful to support its commentary with human interests, including the possibilities of love. "Gold" is broadly defined but competently managed by Hartl, who blends striking visual elements with melodrama, creating a somewhat slack but effective offering of entertainment that hopes to rattle moviegoer minds with its depiction of a financial apocalypse. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Ox-Bow Incident


It's interesting to welcome the Blu-ray release of 1943's "The Ox-Bow Incident," as its story of intolerance and mob mentality is more relevant today than it was back then. It's a striking discovery and a classic motion picture, which uses traditional western elements to secure familiarity as it explores the challenges of rational thinking in a difficult situation of feverish condemnation. Director William A. Wellman guides an efficient adaptation of Walter Van Tilburg Clark's celebrated novel, wisely keeping his most powerful screen weapon, Henry Fonda's lead performance, front and center. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates


It’s been a tough year for Zac Efron. His EDM drama, “We Are Your Friends,” posted one of the worst opening weekends of all time. His first offering of 2016 crudeness with January’s “Dirty Grandpa” quickly stalled at the box office. The sequel “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” grossed just over a third of the original’s movie take. And now he’s trying his luck again with “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates,” teaming up with screamy basic cable star Adam Devine to try to rework the “Dumb and Dumber” formula for twentysomething audiences. Efron is certainly tireless in his pursuit of a big screen career, but his taste in screenplays is abysmal, with “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” yet another creative blight his perpetual shirtlessness cannot disguise. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Secret Life of Pets


After spending the last handful of years developing surefire hits in “Despicable Me 2” and “Minions,” animation powerhouse Illumination Entertainment returns to original material with “The Secret Lives of Pets,” or least keeps away from the moneymaking minions for a year. The long shadow of Pixar darkens the picture, as much of the movie resembles a sneaky “Toy Story” remix, only instead of plastic cowboys and space rangers, the feature offers time with cats and dogs. Laughs are a rare event in “The Secret Life of Pets,” which is more determined to be loud, spotlighting screaming performances and frantic action that tends to drain the heart right out of the effort. It’s not a disaster, but after managing wit and speed with the surprisingly effective “Minions,” Illumination’s latest endeavor is a bit too desperate to please. Read the rest at