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August 2016

Film Review - Anthropoid


While it details a striking section of World War II history, “Anthropoid” uses a strange mixture of stillness and aggression to explore the dramatic potential of the story. Co-writer/director Sean Ellis appears to have an appreciation for factual events depicted here, making an effort to understand the true cost of rebellion, especially when faced with an impossible task, but the feature forgoes a lean, tightly edited summary of spirit. Instead, “Anthropoid” is frustratingly motionless, only sparking to life when it observes graphic violence. The tale has been told before (in multiple movies, and there’s a competing project due for release next year), but Ellis can’t conquer familiarity, with the work redundant and clichéd. Read the rest at


Film Review - Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You


There are few individuals who’ve guided the direction of popular entertainment in the same manner as Norman Lear. The writer/producer is responsible for seismic shifts in television tastes, massaging shows like “All in the Family” and “Maude” into the national conversation, challenging viewers with difficult subject matters while winning them over with bellylaughs. His extraordinary accomplishments have been noted and rewarded time and again, but “Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You” hopes to be a little more than just an average victory lap. Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady endeavor to cut through a few layers of rehearsed behavior, trying to expose a man who worked hard to achieve his dreams, managing early adversity and industry trials to emerge as one of Hollywood’s most important contributors. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Cemetery of Splendor


The cinema of writer/director Apichatpong Weerasethakul is an acquired taste, with his latest, "Cemetery of Splendor," taking a meditative look at weary, haunted souls and tentative personal connection. Those who've sampled pictures such as "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" and "Tropical Malady" should be prepared for the observational qualities of the helmer's work, with "Cemetery of Splendor" a fine addition to a career filled with artistic achievements and perpetual curiosity with the human experience. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Cat in the Brain


While he doesn't command the respect his peers receive, director Lucio Fulci has made his mark on horror cinema. The Italian filmmaker has helmed his share of stinkers, but the ones that broke through and found an audience, including 1981's "The Beyond," were memorable excursions into screen violence and loopy artistry, while his attention to gory details turned him into a legend with the Rotten Cotton generation, creating some of the vilest imagery the genre could summon. 1990's "Cat in the Brain" (titled "Nightmare Theater" on the Blu-ray) isn't one of Fulci's finest pictures, but it's certainly his most bizarre. Instead of embarking on a fresh round of chilling events and hysterical characters, Fulci instead recycles prior accomplishments, stitching together old footage from his filmography to beef up a simplistic story of madness colored by exposure to moviemaking. "Cat in the Brain" is a weird picture, not always for the right reasons, but it certainly bears the Fulci brand, surveying all types of carnage and despair, often for no reason at all. It's a greatest hits package from the helmer, either explained away as a wild experiment or an unusually determined contractual obligation. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Deadline - U.S.A.


"Deadline – U.S.A." comes across just as relevant today as it was during its initial release in 1952. It's a journalism story about the death of a newspaper, with writer/director Richard Brooks cooking up a valentine to the art of reporting and editorial leadership, bringing on star Humphrey Bogart to portray professional might in the face of extinction. Certainly times have changed, with newspapers today fighting a different war with dwindling readership, but the core message of "Deadline – U.S.A." remains potent, showcasing the power of journalism as it reaches its final day of operation. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Where's Poppa?


For his third directorial outing, Carl Reiner goes dark, real dark, for 1970's "Where's Poppa?" A pitch-black comedy from writer Robert Klane, Reiner works extremely hard to preserve the material's extreme sense of humor, trying to generate a swirling atmosphere of absurdity to help buffer the screenplay's wilder forays into taboo humor. Much of it is dated, but the effort is undeniably fun as times, watching stars George Segal, Ruth Gordon, Ron Leibman, and Trish Van Devere commit entirely, easing tonal digestion as they eagerly portray the escalation of insanity. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Yellow Sky


There's nothing out to shock audiences in 1948's "Yellow Sky," which puts most of its effort into the basics of western entertainment. It's all about outlaws and moral choices, unruly men and tamed women, working up excitement in the middle of Death Valley National Park, which gives the picture an atmospheric authenticity. Visually, "Yellow Sky" is interesting to study, with director William A. Wellman securing bigness for a movie that's light on engrossing dramatics, finding western touches and creative achievements far more compelling that the unfolding story, which comes off mild and uneventful. Read the rest at

Film Review - Nine Lives


Barry Sonnenfeld hasn’t enjoyed the most consistent directorial career, but there’s always been a level of dignity even with his unbearable duds. Somehow, the he manages out out-stink his 1999 disaster “Wild Wild West” with “Nine Lives,” which not only represents a career low point for the helmer, but for everyone involved. Brought to screens by Luc Besson’s action factory Europa Corp., “Nine Lives” is a misguided attempt to pad the financial year with a family comedy about a human trapped inside a cat’s body. Those expecting cat video-style antics and syrupy domestic worries are going to be disappointed, as the production is more interested in attempted murder schemes and feline urination, putting in the least amount of effort imaginable. Perhaps Sonnenfeld is in serious trouble with the underworld, or maybe he’s been kidnapped by Frenchmen, forced to manage one of the worst movies of 2016. Guys, I’m starting to worry. Read the rest at

Film Review - Amateur Night


It’s hard not to feel a little depressed about the state of the R-rated comedy. Instead of using the restrictive rating to engage in adult situations with a sharper sense of humor, most filmmakers would rather take the easy route, going for gross-outs and dim, profanity-laden improvisation to secure laughs. “Amateur Night” is the latest example of silliness soured by bad ideas, finding writer/directors Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse (who previously scripted the moronic “Parental Guidance”) working to generate a madcap tone of disasters and near-misses for their feature, only to depend on cheap jokes to snap the viewer out of slumber. “Amateur Night” isn’t wild or funny. It would rather spray its characters with vaginal fluid than dream up a killer punchline. Read the rest at

Film Review - Suicide Squad


Establishing the DC Cinematic Universe with last spring’s “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” the company appeared ready to build on the expansive introduction, utilizing the myriad of characters that populated the Zack Snyder extravaganza. Instead of sequels and spin-offs (those come next year), the DCU takes a brief detour with “Suicide Squad,” looking to have a little fun with its rogues gallery before the brand gets down to business. Writer/director David Ayer (“Sabotage,” “Fury”) cherry picks obscure and cult villains to fill out this askew men-on-a-mission feature, but darkly comic delights and superhero cinema thrills are in short supply, as much of the movie is far too leaden and devoid of personality to leave a lasting mark. “Suicide Squad” is being sold as a wild romp, but the actual picture is quite tame and glacial, watching Ayer get lost quickly as he sorts out motivations, histories, and priorities with his half-realized gang of painted and tangled misfits. Read the rest at

Film Review - Indignation


When Hollywood attempts to bring author Philip Roth to the screen, much is usually missing in the translation. Recent years have delivered “The Human Stain” and “Elegy,” but it’s “Indignation” that truly balances the nuances of literature with the intimacy of film. It’s directed by James Schamus, who’s making his helming debut after decades of producing and studio leadership accomplishments, including guardianship of “Brokeback Mountain,” while his writing credits include “The Ice Storm” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” It’s amazing that it has taken this long for Schamus to move behind the camera, but the reward is “Indignation,” which handles with exquisite patience and craftsmanship, locating all the Roth-ian ills of the world without sacrificing pure storytelling and a mesmerizing concentration on blistering confrontation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Don't Think Twice


For his second directorial endeavor, comedian Mike Birbiglia returns the world of funny business he explored in 2012’s “Sleepwalk with Me,” this time shining a spotlight on the realm of improvisation and the neuroses involved with such a taxing performance art. Stepping away from autobiographical touches, Birbiglia (who also scripts) sets out to create a dramedy about intimacy and competition, but the plot sometimes gets in the way of pure behavior, which “Don’t Think Twice” captures with outstanding realism. The scratchy rub between acting and feeling is inspected to satisfaction in the picture, which highlights Birbiglia’s comfort with actors and his knowledge of denial. While his vision is blurred at times, “Don’t Think Twice” is accomplished work, clearly identifying the helmer’s creative growth. Read the rest at

Film Review - Five Nights in Maine


“Five Nights in Maine” is reserved for viewers who can appreciate the fine art of the gut-wrenching drama. It’s tough stuff, masterminded by writer/director Maris Curran, who takes a messy look at the stages of grief and troubled communication, giving actor David Oyelowo and Dianne Wiest plenty of space to figure out how to play charged reactions. It’s an interestingly spare effort trying to find a spot in today’s flashy movie marketplace, demanding patience from the audience as it gradually reaches a mournful purging, but Curran does stick the landing, rewarding those curious enough to study broken people in exploratory mode with an exceptionally acted, smarty scripted drama that packs a wallop. Read the rest at

Film Review - I Am JFK Jr.


It was never going to be easy for John F. Kennedy Jr. The son of a beloved American president, and one who died in such a grisly manner, JFK Jr. was saddled with global expectations just before he turned three years old, destined to live a life of intense scrutiny and privilege as part of the country’s royal family. “I Am JFK Jr.” is a documentary that looks at the life and time of John F. Kennedy Jr., with director Derik Murray granted access to home movies and photographs, along with close friends and associates, trying to sharpen focus on a man who lived his life in the public eye, trying to make the most of a strange situation of notoriety and destiny. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sun Choke


There’s a new generation of psychological horror filmmakers coming into view who all favor the same elements of movie construction. There has to be colorless, flavorless digital cinematography. Gorging on natural light is a must. A synth score must groan throughout the feature, surging with shapelessness when tensions rise. And performances aren’t achieved through acting, but editing, with directorial influence more important to the production. “Sun Choke” plays many of the same indie cinema cards as it builds a tale of nightmarish control and splintered reality, with writer/director Ben Cresciman more enamored with the visual edge of the picture than its potential as a chiller. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Basket Case 3: The Progeny


In "Basket Case 2," the series developed into a tale of community, where Duane and his deformed brother Belial finally found a home with a group of "Unique Individuals," learning to temporarily silence their murderous appetites and learn the warmth of acceptance. There was even a little sex thrown in there too, giving writer/director Frank Henenlotter a narrative direction for 1991's "Basket Case 3: The Progeny," which tries to pay off the eye-crossing conclusion of the last film with a newfound desire to transform what was once a creepy, icky horror picture into a demented Saturday morning cartoon, loaded with creatures and chaos. While it's made strictly for fans of the franchise, presenting the faithful with ample screen time for ghoulish celebration, "Basket Case 3: The Progeny" definitely keeps up Henenlotter's interests in the macabre and zany, successfully advancing the saga of Duane and Belial into trials of fatherhood and human acceptance. This final chapter isn't as memorable as its predecessors, but the effort isn't lazy, working hard to disrupt expectations and stage ridiculousness, though it becomes increasingly clear that Henenlotter has run out of ideas for his creation. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Basket Case 2


I suppose technically, formerly conjoined twins Duane and Belial died at the end of 1982's "Basket Case," but when has finality ever stopped a horror franchise from taking shape? The understandably unsettled siblings return to action in 1990's "Basket Case 2," which offers writer/director Frank Henenlotter ("Frankenhooker") an opportunity to expand his vision for brotherly love with a slightly larger budget and more polished technical achievements. While the sheer oddity of "Basket Case" is impossible to replicate, Henenlotter takes his creation to pleasingly broad extremes, cooking up a tribute to "Freaks," Tod Browning's 1932 shocker, to help provide dramatic direction for his follow up. Returning to the ways of grotesque characters, psychological collapse, and bizarre events, "Basket Case 2" is a largely successful sequel that brings the series into a new era, ready to explore its old bag of tricks. Read the rest at