Previous month:
July 2016
Next month:
September 2016

August 2016

Blu-ray Review - 3 Bad Men


Near the end of his career in silent cinema, director John Ford crafted "3 Bad Men," a western with all the emotionality and sweep that would come to define his career. A tale of moral choices and Wild West antagonisms, the picture plays to Ford's filmmaking interests, adding a sense of gravity to a routine of restless cowboys, fiendish villainy, and open expanse aching to be explored. It's a simple feature in design, but there are human textures presented here that keep it away from routine, with Ford interested in contrasting intimate moments with big screen chaos. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Candy Tangerine Man


1975's "The Candy Tangerine Man" is blaxploitation with a different attitude, trying to turn a ruthless pimp into a something of a screen hero. Director Matt Cimber adds a dash of James Bond to the violent mix of attitude and intimidation, working to celebrate the actions of The Black Baron (John Daniels): hustler during the week, suburban dad on the weekends. While the feature struggles to maintain focus on critical elements of the genre, it gets by on oddity, with Cimber attempting to raise hell with limited resources and a wild imagination for screen excess. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Lady Cocoa


Returning to the blaxploitation world in 1975, director Matt Cimber employed a different type of crime-fighting vibe for "Lady Cocoa." Replacing violence with conversation and confrontation, the feature is more a character-based thriller, finding inspiration in behavior and attitude while the story slowly builds moments of suspense. Star Lola Falana is an apt focal point for the picture, bringing chirpy moxie to the effort, greatly enhancing its charms as periodic inertia sets in, watching Cimber try to build a nail-biter that merely samples excitement. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Eleni


Although it has the set-up of a classic thriller, 1985's "Eleni" takes a mournful route when detailing the events of the Greek Civil War. An adaptation of Nicholas Gage's best-selling autobiography, the picture uses the fist-clenching reaction of revenge to explore a divided era of politics and cruelty, finding a personal story of loss driving the drama, which volleys between subtle and hysterical. "Eleni" doesn't always come together as director Peter Yates imagines, but there's a deep sense of emotion that periodically arrives to hold attention, hitting a few dark moments of grief and suffering that motivate the story. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Mark of Zorro


Zorro is an icon that has been shaped through all forms of media, passed down through generations since his 1919 debut. There are iconic depictions of the character, but rarely has one interpretation encountered universal approval like 1940's "The Mark of Zorro," where star Tyrone Power picked up the sword and the mask and made a hero soar across the screen. Directed by Rouben Mamoulian, "The Mark of Zorro" hits all genre sweet spots, keeping Power and his co-stars front and center to bring complete charisma to the production, which has just as much fun watching the talent interact as it does staging sword fights and chases. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mechanic: Resurrection


Producers rarely need a reason to mount sequels, but it would be nice to know why 2011’s “The Mechanic” was selected to become a franchise. The picture wasn’t particularly well-received with audiences and critics, and its box office take was flat, failing to achieve the same results as star Jason Statham’s previous action series, “The Transporter.” This mystery may never be solved, but something triggered the creation of “Mechanic: Resurrection,” a follow-up that strips away all the faux grit of the original feature to transform into a James Bond-esque romp that’s as loosely scripted as can be. Paycheck performances and cartoon heroics tend to dominate in “Mechanic: Resurrection,” making it a less satisfying effort than its passable predecessor, with outrageousness missing genuine thrills. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hands of Stone


It’s tough to get excited about a boxer bio-pic. All these tales tend to follow the same dramatic arc, following the hardscrabble life of a restless kid in search of discipline and glory, battling his way to success and, inevitably, personal corruption. “Hands of Stone” is billed as an examination of boxer Roberto Duran, but there’s very little that defines the subject’s life. Writer/director Jonathan Jakubowicz simply bites off more than he can chew, forced to resort to clichés to keep the feature on the move, forgoing a detailed inspection of triumph and disaster to play the entire effort as a random crisis generator featuring a boxer who isn’t nearly as interesting as the production would like to believe. Read the rest at

Film Review - Don't Breathe


Fede Alvarez pulled off the impossible in 2013, put in command of a remake of Sam Raimi’s horror classic, “The Evil Dead.” Prospects were grim, fans were ready to revolt, and yet the director managed to make something suitably bloody and bananas to celebrate the brand name, overseeing an inventive take on an Ash-less deadite invasion. Returning to screens with a different style of chiller, Alvarez cements his skill with “Don’t Breathe,” an askew home invasion thriller that offers an enormous amount of suspense, boosted by accomplished performances and an appreciation for genre insanity. “Don’t Breathe” is a terrific nail-biter that makes a few noticeable errors, but Alvarez delivers a clean and snappy fright experience, striving to locate terror in a real-world setting, away from any cabins in the woods. Read the rest at

Film Review - Imperium


Unlike most former child actors, Daniel Radcliffe has managed to keep his career fresh by finding interesting parts to play, some miles away from his heyday as Harry Potter in the blockbuster fantasy franchise. Just this year alone, Radcliffe has portrayed a malicious magician (the lone highlight of “Now You See Me 2”) and a farting corpse (“Swiss Army Man”), showing encouraging versatility. For “Imperium,” the star goes deep as an undercover federal agent infiltrating a neo-Nazi community, and he’s convincing as a rattled man in a troubling situation. Thankfully, writer/director Daniel Ragussis (making his helming debut) backs Radcliffe up with a powerful movie. “Imperium” is haunting, skillfully blending procedural highlights with a prolonged study of shock, giving Radcliffe plenty to work with. Read the rest at

Film Review - Southside with You


It’s a rare event to have a movie about the President of the United States created and released while the subject is still in office. In 2008, there was Oliver Stone’s “W.”, which tried to crack a tough nut of political ambition and suspect behavior, rushed into production to capitalize on the final days of the George W. Bush presidency. “Southside with You” is about Barack Obama, but writer/director Richard Tanne takes a different approach in his inspection of the world leader’s personality, traveling back to 1989, where a young lawyer from Chicago went out on a date with his colleague, Michelle Robinson. Stripping the story of flammable material, Tanne recycles the “Before Sunrise” formula, tracking developing chemistry between the individuals long before they became one of the most famous couples in the world. Read the rest at

Film Review - Our Little Sister


A few years ago, director Hirokazu Koreeda crafted “Like Father, Like Son,” a sincere examination of parental love soon challenged by a strange events and custody concerns. It was a terrific picture, showcasing Koreeda’s preference for humanistic stories and a love for deceptively simple drama, adding another triumph to an already impressive filmography (including “After Life” and “Still Walking”). Koreeda returns to screens with “Our Little Sister,” which also explores a family disrupted by unforeseen developments. While urgency is less of a priority this time out, the helmer still puts together an irresistible collection of characters and personal issues, fashioning a community of anxious types looking for clarity in life and love. Read the rest at

Film Review - Spaceman


“Spaceman” inspects a rough period in the career of pitcher Bill Lee, a notorious wild man who led with passion, growing comfortable with recklessness during his time in Major League Baseball. However, those expecting to see much sport in the picture (executive produced by “Bull Durham” helmer Ron Shelton) are going to be disappointed. “Spaceman” isn’t a baseball story, it’s a tale of desperation and aging threaded through the internals of a man who can’t process change and loss. Lee is a fascinating subject for a cinematic exploration, and writer/director Brett Rapkin is pointed the right way, but this is not a satisfying overview of panic, missing important pieces of the story as the effort speeds through its run time. Read the rest at

Film Review - Miss Sharon Jones!


“Miss Sharon Jones!” is a documentary about a singer, but isn’t really a musical film. It’s directed by Barbara Kopple, famed helmer of “Shut Up and Sing,” “Wild Man Blues,” and “American Dream,” and she clearly has great affection for the subject, separating Jones from her professional career in the picture, which details her fight with pancreatic cancer. It’s an emotional journey, observing stages of hope and frustration that traditionally go along with such a medical diagnosis and treatment. However, with Jones, there’s a bit more to explore, finding a viciously talented performer struggling to maintain a burgeoning career along the way, finally feeling the cool air of fame as she faces her own mortality. Read the rest at

Film Review - Level Up


The recent “Nerve” touched on the idea of cruelty disguised as internet gamesmanship, focusing on a paying audience logging in to watch strangers strip themselves of humanity to achieve popularity -- fame being a more prized currency than actual money. While a promising thriller, “Nerve” didn’t follow through on many of its ideas, copping out with melodrama instead of maintaining incisive commentary on the sorry state of the internet union. “Level Up” has roughly the same idea, though it launches with more ferocity, inspired by gaming culture and its addictive rhythms of violence. Sadly, the production also fails to dream up a satisfying closer, but in spurts, “Level Up” connects as bleak entertainment, with co-writer/director Adam Randall generating a propulsive viewing experience, though one that just isn’t furious enough. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Rawhide


What's most surprising about 1951's "Rawhide" is its ferocity, refusing to go soft as it explores rising tensions between stagecoach service officials (including Tyrone Power) and a single mother (Susan Hayward), and an outlaw gang who's taken over the station, searching for a shipment of gold. The essentials in antagonism are there, but "Rawhide" has real snap, detailing troubling times with terrific performances and a sense of danger that separates it from the traditional black hat/white hat entertainment of the day. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Petey Wheatstraw


After rocking the world with blaxsploitation hits "Dolemite" and "The Human Tornado," star Rudy Ray Moore was in the mood to switch up his formula of sluggish martial arts and tentative sex play, embracing his comedic potential with 1977's "Petey Wheatstraw," which replaces scowling with mugging. The film intentionally inches Moore away from his aggressive ways, transforming the brightly decorated star into more of a ringmaster role, overseeing the wacky antics director Cliff Roquemore tries to secure, paying tribute to industry legends and personal heroes. "Petey Wheatstraw" is a ridiculous movie, but intentionally so, satirizing Moore's still-forming screen persona while working to strengthen storytelling ambition, with the screenplay reaching out to fantasy and religion to help secure a fresh adventure for the star, who's ready and rhyming to get right back into the action. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hangs Upon Nothing


While the gold standard for surf movies was set all the way back in 1966 with Bruce Brown's "The Endless Summer," it hasn't stopped filmmakers from trying to explore the combination of water sports and world travel. Director Jeremy Rumas takes a more dreamy approach to the pastime with "Hangs Upon Nothing," which does away with structure, introductions, and locations to simply take in the power of rolling waves and the spirit of surfing freedom, endeavoring to connect man and nature as a few subjects embark on daily adventures into the ocean, enjoying the most beautiful places on Earth. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Pioneers of African-American Cinema


"Pioneers of African-American Cinema" provides historians, admirers, and the curious with an opportunity to explore the Black experience in the movie industry as it was from 1915-1946, focusing on individuals to claimed power for themselves, financing and producing pictures for their own audience, taking control of creative endeavors. It's a five-disc odyssey highlighting restored "features, shorts, fragments, and documentaries," bringing rarities to light that underline cultural attitudes of the eras, but also showcase developing storytelling confidence, experimentation, and courage as a few names, including Oscar Micheaux, emerged as leaders of a burgeoning movement, working to find its own perspective away from discrimination and expectation. Read the rest at