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September 2016

Film Review - I.T.

IT 1

The question isn’t if “I.T.” is one of the worst films of the year (it most certainly is), but why does John Moore continue to receive directing assignments? The helmer of “Behind Enemy Lines,” “Flight of the Phoenix” (remake), “The Omen” (remake), “Max Payne,” and the soul-crushing “A Good Day to Die Hard,” Moore hasn’t delivered anything remotely close to a suspenseful moment, original image, or dramatic movement for as long as he’s been working in Hollywood. It’s shocking that he still finds work, and “I.T.” represents his lowest creative point yet. An abysmal, trashy thriller that has no concept of character, escalation, or resolution, the picture simply meanders from scene to scene, picking up whatever sleazy bit of business it can hold in its greasy hands. Moore may think he’s making a provocative statement on the ubiquity of hackable tech, but he’s merely spinning clichés and guiding cringe-inducing performances. Read the rest at

Film Review - Best Fake Friends


For reasons not clearly understood, “Best Fake Friends” is receiving a modest theatrical release, presumably fulfilling the big screen dreams of director Paul Kampf, who’s been toiling away with homegrown productions for a few years now, perhaps following the Tyler Perry business model of backyard filmmaking. What’s strange here is why Kampf is bothering putting the picture into theaters when it’s obviously best suited for home viewing, with the entire effort assembled with distinct Lifetime Original craftsmanship. “Best Fake Friends” isn’t a good movie, but there are elements that work. Perhaps most damaging to the feature is its lack of cinematic heft, with so much of its “Desperate Housewives” mimicry registering flat and dull. Read the rest at

Film Review - Beauty and the Beast


Since 1991, the “Beauty and the Beast” brand name has been owned by Disney, who turned their animated picture into a box office smash and an Oscar contender. There was a Broadway show and spin-offs, and the company is preparing to renew their pop culture lease with a 2017 live-action adaptation starring Emma Watson as Belle. For director Christophe Gans, the “tale as old as time” demands a return to its fairy tale roots, mounting a semi-traditional take on Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s 1740 story. The helmer behind “Brotherhood of the Wolf” and “Silent Hill,” Gans excels with visuals, and he doesn’t disappoint with his reclamation of “Beauty and the Beast,” which builds a specific world of the unreal to help inspect a core tale of burgeoning passion. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - August Winds


"August Winds" is not a film that one can fight. Director Gabriel Mascaro crafts a meditative look at the ways of life in Brazil, and he's going to take his time doing it, taking in every stare, storm, day of labor, and rolling wave for as long as he can get away with. There's a story in here somewhere, but "August Winds" isn't concerned with capturing an audience through drama. It trusts in natural beauty, sending the movie on a long journey of observation where frame details are more valued than the narrative. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Grandview, U.S.A.


1984's "Grandview, U.S.A." should've been a sure thing. Coming off massive teen-centric hits in "Grease" and "The Blue Lagoon," director Randal Kleiser was ready to return to the woes of adolescents and unknown futures, inspired by classic coming-of-age formula and the video revolution of MTV, a channel in its infancy during production. But something, somewhere went wrong with the picture, which aims to be a heart-swelling study of maturity and romantic devotion, but ends up a mess of ideas in search of consistency. Kleiser is all over the place with the feature, and while he's successful with certain ideas and performances, there isn't an overriding feeling of leadership carrying the viewing experience along, leaving the movie episodic and periodically ridiculous. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?


Maintaining his unique fascination with movie titles punctuated with question marks, director Curtis Harrington follows-up 1971's "What's the Matter with Helen?" with "Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?" A period chiller that reteams the helmer with star Shelley Winters, the effort is a largely successful slice of nastiness that merges mystery with fairy tale motivations, watching Harrington search for a way to make the tenderness of Christmastime spent with orphans in need terrifying to the general audience. The feature isn't entirely successful with big scares, but it carries superb atmosphere and a few surprises, with Winters unleashing her traditional instability to make the film memorable, locating and molesting scripted beats of maternal agony and wide-eyed madness. "Auntie Roo" is unusual in the sense that it highlights children participating in violence and extremity, but Harrington keeps it all tasteful and well-paced, working his way to a third-act payoff that actually delivers intended shock. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Daddy Long Legs


Most movies don't blink when creating a romantic pairing between an older man and a younger woman. 1955's "Daddy Long Legs" actually has the bravery to call itself out on the practice, with the screenplay identifying the uneasy union between characters played by Fred Astaire (then 56 years old) and Leslie Caron (24 years old), who embark on a strange relationship that begins with financial charity and concludes as something more heartfelt. A gorgeously widescreen musical, "Daddy Long Legs" smartly calls out it most problematic element, helping to relax the picture as it spotlights song and dance. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mr. Church


We know about “Mr. Church” because of Eddie Murphy. He’s the star of the picture, emerging from a brief hiatus from film acting (last appearing in 2012’s “A Thousand Words”) to participate in a low-key melodrama about a tender relationship between a complicated cook and his young charge. While Murphy has played it straight before (in “Dreamgirls” and parts of “Life”), “Mr. Church” demands the star mute his natural charisma and comedic timing, going bloodless to portray a loyal guardian. Without Murphy, the feature probably wouldn’t see the inside of multiplexes, and he’s easily the best part of the effort, with his stoicism actually refreshing while director Bruce Beresford strives to soak the endeavor in syrup, smothering whatever scope and sincerity the screenplay originally possessed. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bridget Jones's Baby


It’s been a long time since we’ve heard from Bridget Jones. 2004’s much-maligned-but-not-that-bad sequel, “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason,” tried to amplify the appeal of 2001’s “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” overreaching where the original endeavor was effortlessly charming and warmly silly. 12 years is a long time to wait around for the next chapter in the series, and while “Bridget Jones’s Baby” isn’t the perfect sequel, it’s an entertaining one, with returning director Sharon Maguire (who sat out “Edge of Reason”) restoring some character to the slapstick comedy, working hard to make sure Bridget has a little more to do this time than bounce around the frame in a klutzy blur. Timing isn’t quite there, but laughs are plentiful. Read the rest at

Film Review - Blair Witch


In 1999, “The Blair Witch Project” came out of nowhere, conquering the box office and almost managing to out-buzz “The Phantom Menace” that summer. It was the indie film that could, becoming a sensation that, for a moment, blurred the line between cinema and reality, convincing some that its verite-style haunting in the woods had actually occurred, and we were all watching a snuff movie. With success came a sequel, 2000’s “Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2,” which wisely avoided rehashing the original effort, going deeply self-referential, but also amazingly stupid. The Blair Witch phenomenon immediately cooled afterwards, placed on a pop culture display shelf, but it was clear that the lucrative premise wasn’t going to stay dead. And now there’s “Blair Witch,” which is established as a sequel to the 1999 megahit, but is actually a remake, with director Adam Wingard once again entering the deep woods with curious characters, tempting the evil that resides in the dark. Read the rest at

Film Review - Brother Nature


Osmany Rodriguez and Matt Villines (often billed as “Matt and Oz”) built their reputation creating digital shorts on “Saturday Night Live,” constructing oddball music videos and conjuring ideas that often poked fun at dark emotions. Sadly, Villines passed away last July, leaving “Brother Nature,” the pair’s feature-length directorial debut, their final collaboration. Committed to the pursuit of silliness and comedic escalation, Matt and Oz generate an agreeable sense of lunacy with the picture, which shakes up formula through funky characters and strange disasters, doing what they can to disturb expectations with this take on a family vacation nightmare. “Brother Nature” does enough to keep itself alert, and it’s consistently funny, with the helmers wisely populating the cast with “SNL” vets and charming actors to help lubricate the madcap antics. Read the rest at

Film Review - Snowden


“Snowden” plays to director Oliver Stone’s strengths, offering the man who gave the world “Platoon,” “Wall Street,” and “Natural Born Killers” another opportunity to cinematically vivisect American policy and people, continuing his quest to inspire a popcorn-dusted uprising. The saga of Edward Snowden is an obvious match to Stone’s eyes-wide-open worldview, and he brings his helming swagger to the feature, which carefully dramatizes a decade in the life of America’s most famous whistleblower. However, as passionate as Stone is about the material and the man, he doesn’t know what type of film he’s making, keeping “Snowden” trapped somewhere between an intricate bio-pic and the least interesting “Mission: Impossible” sequel ever. Stone has the smarts to make this picture ignite, but he fumbles the tone, which often teeters between terrifying and ridiculous. Read the rest at

Film Review - Finding Altamira


The director of “Chariots of Fire” and “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes,” Hugh Hudson knows his way around a period drama containing heightened historical conflict. But the filmmaker has been away from the camera for 16 years, having slipped creatively with the wooden “I Dream of Africa,” which was almost a parody of his previous work. Hudson finds his balance once again with “Finding Altamira,” which isn’t a flashy effort, and budgetary shortcomings are obvious. It’s heart and passion that drives the feature, which delves into a war between science and religion armed with exaggeration, but star Antonio Banderas manages to find spaces for humanity, delivering a satisfying take on frustration and parental protection as Hudson and his screenwriters trying to dramatize a tricky time in Spanish history. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Good Neighbor


“The Good Neighbor” is an intriguing mix of suspense and vulnerability, striving to be a voyeuristic mystery set in today’s omnipresent media society. It’s not a film of big ideas, but it does successfully communicate youthful impulses to destroy just for the opportunity to be part of an event, with desires amplified by YouTube-inspired dreams of video fame and traditional teen bonding. “The Good Neighbor” isn’t a successful movie overall, but parts of it are nicely executed by director Kasra Farahani, who can’t seem to connect individual triumphs in performance and anxiety. It’s provocative work at times, but also painfully obvious, making for an erratic viewing experience where the urge to tune out is periodically interrupted by engrossing turns of plot. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Beautiful Now


Writer/director Daniela Amavia doesn’t make it easy for the audience in “A Beautiful Now.” Inspecting waves of depression and life mismanagement hitting an aging dancer all at once, the picture almost resembles a filmed play, showing most interest in its ensemble and their special ways of working out character detail while managing paragraphs of dialogue. The verbosity of the effort is occasionally aggravating, but the core emotions of “A Beautiful Now” come through with real power at times. Amavia makes her feature-length helming debut here, and she’s managed a sensitive take on gut-rot feelings and suicidal urges, trying to understand the people behind pronounced agitation instead of indulging tiresome hysterics from beginning to end. Read the rest at

Film Review - Author: The JT LeRoy Story


“Author: The JT LeRoy Story” is a difficult nut to crack. It’s a documentary that doesn’t document anything, instead serving as an opportunity for writer Laura Albert to clarify her intentions when she willfully committed fraud to achieve literary success, generating a persona to help project the authenticity she didn’t necessarily have. She’s a practiced liar, and director Jeff Feuerzeig never bothers to confront her destructive impulses, creating a celebration of deception and the cheap high Albert enjoyed as she played puppet master from 1995-2005. It’s difficult to understand who “Author: The JT LeRoy Story” is for, with fans of LeRoy likely to be disgusted with a front row seat to Albert’s unrepentant opportunism, while newcomers might be bewildered that Feuerzeig felt the need to devote an entire feature to a woman who clearly can’t be trusted to tell the story of her own life. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ixcanul


Slow burn doesn’t even begin to describe the “Ixcanul” viewing experience. It’s a film of complete stasis at times, but the fact that writer/director Jayro Bustamante is able to find a mesmerizing creep to the picture is a major achievement. A full immersion into culture, poor decisions, and responsibility, “Ixcanul” is not a feature that exits the system quickly, gradually locating outstanding character detail and, surprisingly, potent social and political commentary, making it much more than an admittedly hypnotic series of thousand yard stares. Bustamante doesn’t have much here besides his evocative vision, but he makes his moments count, following a plot that’s filled with common adolescent blues and disasters, yet arrives at a completely unpredictable destination. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Truck Stop Women


Maybe I'm alone here, but it's strange that 1974's "Truck Stop Women," which is intended to titillate and provide good old boy fun, opens with a bloodbath, watching mafia enforcers gun down a bathing target and his topless partner. It's quite the introduction, but co-writer/director Mark L. Lester isn't messing around with this ode to skin and sin, creating a B-movie party with plenty of bare breasts and a sizable body count. "Truck Stop Women" is a lot of things, but tonally cautious isn't one of them. Read the rest at