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November 2016

Film Review - Life on the Line


As noble at its intentions are to celebrate the bravery of those who choose to be power line technicians, taking on the beast of electricity at radical heights and in calamitous weather, “Life on the Line” is far too dopey a picture to be taken seriously. It’s a melodrama from director David Hackl, whose previous credits include “Saw V” and “Into the Grizzly Maze.” Perhaps horror isn’t enough for the helmer, who tries on the blue collar experience for size, overseeing the problematic lives and squashed dreams of those who take care of the nation’s electricity needs. The production aims to create a new version of “Backdraft,” but it ends up a soggy television movie, indulging all manner of overacting and syrupy screenwriting to make sure viewers leave with a lump in their throat. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Street Cat Named Bob


A feature film is the next natural step for author James Bowen. His tales of suffering through drug addiction and homelessness, finding salvation through the company of a cat, have inspired a best-selling book and, quickly after, a popular brand. The feline is Bob, and he’s starred in seven literary offerings from Bowen, gifting his human a chance to turn around his life and inspire others struggling with problems. “A Street Cat Named Bob” is the first big screen adventure for Bowen’s companion, and it’s engineered to be as benevolent as possible, making Bob’s transition to movie work smooth and safe. Bowen’s hardships are compelling, and the picture has its heart in the right place, but director Roger Spottiswood doesn’t quite energize the material, which has a few stretches of flatness before it returns to attention with welcome grit. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Take


Director James Watkins has made a positive impression with his career choices. He’s taken on tired genre ideas and made them feel at least semi-fresh again, with secure work on the terrifying “Eden Lake” and the unexpectedly digestible “The Woman in Black.” “The Take” moves Watkins away from horror endeavors and into action country, taking command of a chase picture that uses France as a battleground. The helmer’s magic touch is on the fritz here, but “The Take” manages to get rolling periodically, wisely investing in an initially straightforward story and a few inventive stunt sequences to create needed excitement. However, there’s not enough of it, leaving the effort unfortunately underwhelming. Read the rest at

Film Review - True Memoirs of an International Assassin


It’s been an interesting last few years for comedian Kevin James. Trying to make something out of a tailspinning film career, James has worked through an abysmal sequel (“Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2”), a forgettable family production (“Little Boy”), and a largely scorned aspiring blockbuster (“Pixels”), and now he’s starring in his first major Netflix movie. Keeping it simple, “True Memoirs of an International Assassin” isn’t likely to change James’s cinematic fortune, handing the picture to co-writer/director Jeff Wadlow, who previously helmed disheartening nonsense like “Cry Wolf,” “Never Back Down,” and “Kick-Ass 2.” If you’ve seen one James endeavor, you’ve already seen “True Memoirs,” which serves up the same slapstick the actor is known for, only here the action is more R-rated. But even a little extra violence doesn’t help the feature avoid painful predictability.  Read the rest at


Blu-ray Review - Boy on a Dolphin


Although sold as an exotic romance, 1957's "Boy on a Dolphin" is actually more effective as a mild adventure highlighting a battle of wills and financial gain. It marks the American film debut for Sophia Loren, who makes quite an impression here, playing up her unforgettable physical presence to help energize the feature, adding boldness to what otherwise would be a dry viewing experience concerning archeological finds and professional competition. "Boy on a Dolphin" is lush work from director Jean Negulesco, periodically showcasing real spirit when exploring Greek culture and the living seas, always at its finest when tensions mount and plans are hatched. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Pit


It's hard to believe that 1981's "The Pit" came from Canada. It plays like an alien creation sent from Mars to disrupt the human experience long enough to complete a global invasion. It's not an incredibly graphic picture, keeping violence fairly limited for a horror selection, but it's just odd enough to knock the wind out of viewers. It's an original take on psychological erosion, only the madman presented here is a 12-year-old boy, giving the effort an extra coating of ickiness as it surveys a child engaging in murder and sexual predator-style behavior. And yet, director Lew Lehman keeps the movie somewhat approachable, giving in to its strange energy, which works to soften its exploitation interests. "The Pit" isn't scary, but it requires a post-screening shower to fully shed its grand emphasis on uncomfortable topics, doing a fine job prying into an adolescent mind on the verge of complete psychosis. The traditional warning to impart would be to not watch the film alone. The more honest advice would be to not watch it with people who might judge you. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hellbent


1988's "Hellbent" is writer/director Richard Casey's take on a Faustian tale of personal corruption, only his version is set in a strange playland of punk rock, performance art, and Christmas cheer. It's a premixed cult title that's bad with introductions and iffy with payoff, but Casey certainly isn't phoning it in with this ode to the evils of the music business, laboring to explore themes and moods, but he often forgets there's a story that should be told here, keeping "Hellbent" more meandering than it should be. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Trouble Man


The furious world of blaxploitation takes a breather with 1972's "Trouble Man," which offers all the expected attitude and style from the subgenre, but is more interested in dramatic showdowns rather than physical ones. Director Ivan Dixon intends to class up the feature by focusing on the screen presence of star Robert Hooks, and while the actor fills his role with ideal smoothness, he's not backed by a particularly eventful screenplay by John D.F. Black, who invests almost exclusively in pauses and hard stares, resulting in a strangely uneventful picture. Read the rest at

Film Review - Shut In


“Shut In” doesn’t have any sort of originality or energy. It’s a PG-13 programmer meant to fill a gap in a release schedule, and should be treated with such disposability, as I doubt even the creators of the feature sat through it twice. It’s paint-by-number filmmaking from director Farren Blackburn, who has a chance to shake up the thriller genre here, capable of adding some surprises and deep psychological wounds to the effort, to help charge up its motivations and eventual descent into household chases. But Blackburn doesn’t do anything with “Shut In” besides play it as obviously and painfully dull as possible, generating possibly the most uneventful movie of 2016. It just lies down on the screen and expects viewers to do all the work. Read the rest at

Film Review - Arrival


Denis Villeneuve makes a specific type of movie. The director of “Prisoners,” “Enemy,” and “Sicario,” Villeneuve takes his fondness for the stillness of cinema to the sci-fi realm, assuming command of “Arrival,” which is an adaptation of a short story by Ted Chiang (scripted by Eric Heisserer). While the picture is technically an alien invasion tale, “Arrival” strives to be much more than the average disaster film. It’s intelligent and challenging, questioning time itself between exhaustive examinations of language and meaning. It’s introspective instead of demonstrative. It’s a fine effort, but incomplete, and that’s the way Villeneuve likes it. He’s a made a feature that enjoys questions, not answers, taking on the grand spectacle of visiting aliens in towering spaceships with more of an episodic approach, creating a viewing experience that’s filled with as much frustration as it is with awe. Read the rest at

Film Review - Almost Christmas


It’s that time in the average movie year when a production emerges before Thanksgiving to claim a release date, hoping to be the film that captures the Christmas spirit so profoundly, popularity carries the effort until the New Year. I’m not sure “Almost Christmas” has a shot at sizable box office, but it wins the war of quality, sort of, emerging as a perfectly pleasant, perfectly obvious holiday distraction that isn’t nearly as Christmasified as it could be, but still delivers all the decent laughs and warm fuzzies expected from this style of entertainment. Writer/director David E. Talbert (“First Sunday,” “Baggage Claim”) isn’t reinventing the wheel with “Almost Christmas,” but he’s brought an eager cast and a mild sense of chaos, looking to celebrate the season with the widest possible audience. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Monster


Marketing for “The Monster” sells the film on the strength of its director, Bryan Bertino, who helmed “The Strangers,” a sleeper hit at the box office. And yet, “The Strangers” came out eight years ago, raising interest in what Bertino has been up to in the interim, with another production, “Mockingbird,” coming and going in 2014. “The Monster” isn’t likely to revive a fledgling career, but it does provide an unexpected viewing experience. Using genre elements and formula to buttress a mother/daughter story of mutual bitterness melting in the presence of a genuine threat, Bertino aims high with this violent chiller, but the material’s quest to be a profound study of dysfunction always outshines its horror ambitions. It’s a slow effort, painfully so at times, but the reward is a sharp psychological study that ends up being the most interesting conflict in the movie. Read the rest at

Film Review - Rainbow Time


“Rainbow Time” is a Duplass Brothers production, which means that conflicts aren’t going to be resolved with weapons, but with long confessions and emotional vulnerability. It’s the second directorial effort from Linas Phillips, who last helmed “Bass Ackwards,” remaining in the indie hot zone for his latest, which details the intensity of family relationships and the frustration of shrouded sexual desires. Also contributing a colorful supporting performance, Philips maintains command of “Rainbow Time,” which periodically threatens to float away as art-house fluff, only to restore urgency with a keen sense of physical and emotional need. It’s a comedy too, often a hilarious one, but as with most Duplass-ian projects, appreciation for the picture’s layers of hurt require patience, allowing Phillips time to mix the brew of dysfunction, looking for the right consistency of anxiety. Read the rest at

Film Review - Operator


The easiest way to describe “Operator” would be to compare it to Spike Jonze’s “Her,” which explored the relationship between a lonely man and his operating system. “Operator” isn’t the same picture, but it’s similarly interested in the ways of connection to the artificial world, with its lure of control and its promise of loyalty. Co-writer/director Logan Kibens collects provocative ideas and fascinatingly warped characters and finds compelling ways to tie big ideas to intimate encounters. His take on technological obsession does away with most sentimentality and darkly comic pursuits to spotlight a scenario where a lack of self-control divides a man from the women he loves, only this distraction emerges in the form of a voice, and one that just happens to belong to his wife. Read the rest at


Film Review - Being 17

BEING 17 1

Love and desire hit normal adolescent roadblocks in “Being 17,” the latest from co-writer/director Andre Techine (“Thieves,” “Wild Reeds”). The 73-year-old helmer is an unlikely source for adolescent woes, but Techine taps into something very personal and primal with the picture, which attacks displays of universal dysfunction with raw passion, gifting the feature real spirit as it inspects teenagers and their personal battles. “Being 17” isn’t the sharpest work from Techine -- it actually doesn’t even have an ending. What the director gets absolutely right here are those abyssal feelings and paralyzing concerns that touch everyone’s life, treating arcs of attraction and friendship with the concentration and realism they deserve.  Read the rest at


Film Review - USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage


In the movie business’s never-ending quest to find tales of heroism to exploit, especially military ones, the tale of the USS Indianapolis is finally realized. A story of combat, disaster, and shark attacks, the WWII adventure was referenced during a key scene in “Jaws,” providing the kind of real-world horror that identifies the root of the human experience: life and death. Decades later, we have “USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage,” a dramatization of the disaster that sunk the ship and stranded hundreds of the crew in open water. With Spielberg long gone, the production has to make do with director Mario Van Peebles, who has experience with “Jaws” (albeit a supporting role in “Jaws: The Revenge”), but little training with war extravaganzas. And this inexperience is obvious throughout the clumsy, cheapie “Men of Courage.” Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Masks


Paying tribute to the genre that's inspired them the most, horror filmmakers have turned to the replication of their favorite giallo productions to help launch new work, with the German production "Masks" crafting a valentine to Dario Argento's "Suspiria" as it generates its own sense of madness. More concerned with replication than stimulation, writer/director Andreas Marschall doesn't have the budget or visual know-how to conjure righteous style and macabre events, but "Masks" has a plot that could definitely welcome something ghoulish, in need of a more seasoned moviemaker to bring it to life. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Horror House on Highway 5


For his directorial debut, Richard Casey turns to horror to make his first impression, crafting "Horror House on Highway 5," which blends slasher intensity with slapstick comedy, though rarely well. Fans of the absurd and the bloody might respond positively to Casey's broad shenanigans, but "Horror House on Highway 5" is a memorable title in search of a stronger movie, and one that takes its genre responsibilities a little more seriously. Read the rest at