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February 2017

Blu-ray Review - Closet Monster


"Closet Monster" embarks on a coming-of-age journey that includes pit stops at parental frustration, sexuality, and friendship. Writer/director Stephen Dunn strives to transform the woes of teendom into a surreal odyssey of personal awakening, and the feature achieves a level of understanding that keeps it involving, but never illuminating. Dunn makes an effort to avoid routine, but as "Closet Monster" labors to retain an intimate perspective, it's easy to see that many filmmakers have covered the same dramatic ground, only here there's the addition of a talking hamster and a few moments of white-hot rage to give the material a boost in originality. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Concrete Night


Most American productions concerning teenagers and their personal problems tend to turn to comedy to help sort through aches and pain, making it easier to process the blueness of adolescence. The Finnish production "Concrete Night" dives straight into the abyss, approaching juvenile years as a time of doom, with the lead character a sponge soaking up every drop of depression he can find. This isn't an uplifting film, but it's not an unrewarding sit, as "Concrete Night" is exceptionally made, with technical achievements to focus on as the story sets out to depict life as a slow walk into Hell. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Internecine Project


"The Internecine Project" offers a great premise that's trapped inside an underwhelming film. The curiously titled 1974 thriller endeavors to arrange an evening of multiple murders overseen by a single, grandly manipulative man, but director Ken Hughes (working from a script co-written by Barry Levinson and Jonathan Lynn) generally downplays tension in a futile quest to transform simplicity into a labyrinth of motivations and second thoughts. "The Internecine Project" isn't without effective scenes, but when one considers how bizarre the plot is, the effort should really be livelier. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Bad Girl


1931's "Bad Girl" is all about wit and speed, approaching the battle of the sexes with an acidic take on relationship woes. An adaptation of a Brian Marlow play, the feature preserves all theatrical interests, but, cinematically, it trusts in the power of timing and performance, delivering an electric jolt of a picture that largely does away with precious displays of romance, and there's certainly no meet cute in this biting domestic drama. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Cure for Wellness


Director Gore Verbinski is known for his craftsmanship, making a meal out of trifle such as the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, paying close attention to richly cinematic details. His track record with actual storytelling is less impressive, often so caught up in moviemaking machinery, critical elements such as dramatic conflict and resolution are sacrificed. He's a helmer forever obsessed with cinematographic mathematics, and his latest, “A Cure for Wellness,” is cruel reminder of Verbinski's preference for style over substance. There's a terrific, haunting 75 minute long chiller here for the taking, but it's buried deep inside 145 minutes of repetition, flaccid sleuthing, and visual excess. Verbinski can fashion a pretty picture, but there's little in “A Cure for Wellness” that slips under the skin. Read the rest at


Film Review - The LEGO Batman Movie


After making an appearance in 2014’s “The LEGO Movie,” Batman has now been gifted his first solo big screen adventure, at least in LEGO form. “The LEGO Batman Movie” endeavors to transform the DC Comics character and his universe of heroes and villains into its own blockbuster comedy, merging the punchline fury of “The LEGO Movie” with decades of Batman history, creating a picture that’s meant for a family audience, but may be a little too hip for the room. Inside references and cinema history cameos dominate “The LEGO Batman Movie,” with the screenplay (credited to five writers) working very hard to pack as much material as possible into every frame of the effort. It’s an exhausting feature, and while it builds a colorful world with an often sly sense of humor, it doesn’t really have much to offer Batman besides the basics in irreverent humor and superhero mayhem. Read the rest at

Film Review - John Wick: Chapter 2


The biggest surprise of the 2014 film year was the release of “John Wick.” Instead of submitting to the action cinema norm, “John Wick” established its own show of force, with directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch working to redefine gun fights and hand-to-hand combat with a sensational reworking of genre cinematography, visual effects, and pure adrenaline. It was one of the best pictures of the year, shaking big screen roughhousing out of its slumber. For “John Wick: Chapter 2,” Stahelski returns to oversee the title’s transition into a franchise, and boy howdy, does he ever get it right. A true continuation with an invigorating sense of escalation, “John Wick: Chapter 2” maintains the delicious vibration of the original film, keeping the titular character on the prowl while choreography gets harder, bullets are faster, and star Keanu Reeves is even more committed to overall brawling, presenting the follow-up with all the brutality it requires. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Red Turtle


To best understand what type of viewing experience “The Red Turtle” provides, it’s important to note that the picture is co-produced by Studio Ghibli, the famous Japanese animation house that’s given birth to numerous classics that traffic in elaborate fantasy realms, populated with complex characters experiencing sophisticated emotions. Director Michael Dudok de Wit follows this lead for “The Red Turtle,” which combines the power of pure behavior with the possibilities of visual poetry, taking viewers on a riveting journey that bends reality and touches the soul with unsettling precision. It’s a gorgeously animated adventure without dialogue to support it, and it’s incredibly artful, sincere work that rewards patience with an achingly human story of life and death as it tours the vast recesses of the mind. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fifty Shades Darker


It’s hard to argue with a phenomenon, but 2015’s “Fifty Shades of Grey” was a terrible film. Based on the best seller by E.L. James, the picture hoped to bring viewers into a realm of BDSM via a romantic entanglement between two damaged souls, playing up the kink factor to entice those looking for a little moviegoing spice. The feature was an enormous box office success, powered primarily by curiosity, with actual creative achievements few and far between, including a troubling idea to remove any sort of ending that could provide closure to the saga. “Fifty Shades Darker” is the follow-up, and it does offer something of a climax. Multiple ones if close attention is paid. However, a story isn’t invited to this round of pained lives and saucy bedroom antics, generating a decidedly limp viewing experience as bland characters work out easily solvable problems, with the occasional bout of furious intercourse interrupting what’s basically a staring contest between two creeps. Read the rest at

Film Review - Running Wild


Scripted by Christina Moore and Brian Rudnick, “Running Wild” has the advantage of originality, being the only movie in recent memory to explore the plight of wild horses. It’s not a romantic approach either, at least not initially, constructing a story about equine rehabilitation with creatures near death due to starvation and disease, attempting to shine a spotlight on an overpopulation situation few understand outside horse appreciation circles. Oddity keeps “Running Wild” compelling, with Moore and Rudnick cooking up passable conflict for human endeavors, while director Alex Ranarivelo glazes the whole thing with a big country feel, bringing out soft hearts and wide open spaces to best keep the effort endearing. It’s an unusual feature, and one that pits dramatic formula against message specificity, but intriguingly so. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bornless Ones


If one is going to pinch from “The Evil Dead,” this is a good way to do it. “Bornless Ones” isn’t shy about its Sam Raimi fandom, taking its collection of horror and demonic happenings to yet another cabin in the woods. Writing/director Alexander Babaev isn’t quite as sharp a conductor of agony as Raimi, but he manages to cover a good amount of dread, overseeing personal problems and supernatural influence with an atypical amount of human concern, trying to make the participants are authentic as possible before the slaughter commences. “Bornless Ones” is entertaining and mindful of genre demands, eventually giving genre fans a thorough examination of gore zone details as a reward for sitting through characterization. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Man Called Noon


It's never easy to deal with amnesia as a plot device, with many thrillers going the wrong direction when managing the loss of memory. "The Man Called Noon" brings brain trauma to the old west, taking inspiration from a Louis L'Amour novel, which immediately inspires unusual depth of character and a few twists and turns along the way. The 1973 production doesn't bother reinventing the wheel in terms of screen violence and antagonism, but it captures confusion rather well, embarking on a story where the hero may be a villain, dealing with questions of self while being shot at from all sides. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Finders Keepers


Director Richard Lester has a sense of humor, and he's determined to share it with the world. The helmer of "A Hard Day's Night," "The Three Musketeers," and "Robin and Marian," Lester rode waves of box office glory and failure throughout his career, but he reached a particularly questionable time of personal success when he was asked to take over production duties on "Superman II," working to change original director Richard Donner's regality into camp, transforming such suggestion into hard evidence with his questionable handling of "Superman III," which merged the fantasy of comic heroism and the comic timing of an Old Hollywood two-reeler. Perhaps intending to reset his creative vision after dealing in blockbusters for years, Lester masterminds "Finders Keepers," a 1984 production that plays like a farce, but actually has literary roots, adapted from a novel by Charles Dennis (who co-scripts). Lester has always been an acquired taste, and those tuned into his particular way with funny business might respond favorably to "Finders Keepers." However, like everything he does, a little of Lester's cheekiness goes a long way, tiring out this train ride of mishaps and mistaken identities before it leaves the station. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Taboo III


Perhaps sensing that a lack of Kay Parker was probably not the brightest creative decision, director Kirdy Stevens and screenwriter Helene Terrie return to the saga of Barbara Scott for "Taboo III," which gently moves on from the family antics of "Taboo II," returning focus to the impulsive, semi-tortured mother who kicked off the incest revolution. More Parker is a good thing, as her commitment to the weirdness of the "Taboo" series is a highlight, but with the course correction comes a slight drop in urgency, finding the production strangely selling music with the same concentration as it does sex. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Taboo II


After testing the waters with "Taboo," which followed the adventures of Barbara Scott (Kay Parker) as she debated whether or not to sleep with her son (spoiler alert: she did), director Kirdy Stevens and screenwriter Helene Terrie return to intensify the situation with "Taboo II," which keeps up the incest quest by visiting a family on the verge of sexual explosion. As sequels go, the production does a fine job of escalation, working to top previous perverse achievements by doubling down on the titular temptation, making for a far stranger but amazingly coherent follow-up. Read the rest at

Film Review - Rings


Between 2002’s “The Ring” and 2005’s “The Ring Two,” everything that was needed to be said about the dark magic of Samara and her cursed videotape was said. It was over, finally, putting a cap on an overproduced saga that was more invested in lighting and angles than from-the-gut scares. Well, it’s difficult to let a name brand die these days, inspiring a revival of Samara’s wrath in “Rings,” which boasts an “Aliens”-like title, but doesn’t follow the same creative path of concentrated mayhem. VHS horror returns, along with flies, hair, and flickering screens, and while there’s some early hints at a fresh POV for the production, “Rings” sprints right back to the same old business, delivering what turns out to be a resurrection of the series, not a continuation. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Space Between Us


The signs are there. “The Space Between Us” is directed by Peter Chelsom, a once promising helmer (“Funny Bones,” “Hear My Song”) whose last two efforts were “Hannah Montana: The Movie” and the vile “Hector and the Search for Happiness.” The screenplay is written by Alan Loeb, who boasts a resume that includes “Rock of Ages,” “Just Go with It,” “Here Comes the Boom,” and one of last year’s worst films, “Collateral Beauty.” It’s a collaboration that was destined to fail, leaving little surprise that “The Space Between Us” is borderline unwatchable. Save for a few technical triumphs, the feature is completely awkward, overlong, and tone-deaf with its sincerity. Reaching for the stars, Chelsom and Loeb barely manage to assemble a single scene without falling apart. Read the rest at

Film Review - Don't Knock Twice


A few years ago, director Caradog W. James crafted “The Machine,” a low-fi take on artificial intelligence and the power of free will. It’s a tale that’s been told before, but the helmer found something substantial to work with, generating an exciting, grounded offering of B-movie escapism, sold with impressive visual style. James returns with “Don’t Knock Twice,” once again challenging himself with material that’s fairly routine for the horror market, overseeing the collision of the paranoid and possessed as urban legends and personal demons are brought in for closer inspection. While it doesn’t share the invention of “The Machine,” “Don’t Knock Twice” is a compelling nightmare, watching James take special care with chills and thrills, only throttling the viewing experience when it comes time to detangle a modestly engaging story.  Read the rest at

Film Review - I Am Not Your Negro


It’s difficult to comprehend that the pain contained within “I Am Not Your Negro” is as relevant today as it was during the 1960s and ‘70s, which are the primaries decades of inspection for the documentary. It’s a cinematic rendering of author James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript, “Remember This House,” with Baldwin recounting his experiences as a black man in America, putting his confusion into context as bigotry began to boil over during the Civil Right era, shaking the country. Director Raoul Peck (“Lumumba”) has the benefit of Baldwin’s work, using his eloquence and refined disgust to guide the picture, which evolves from memories to frustrations, recounting the loss of crucial lives during a time of national awareness coming after centuries of willful blindness. “I Am Not Your Negro” is powerful statement of personal experience tempted into resignation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Toni Erdmann


The struggles between fathers and daughters takes a highly unusual turn in “Toni Erdmann,” a German production that does whatever it can to subvert expectations while trying to remain at least passably human at its core. Writer/director Maren Ade starts with semi-autobiographical touches but takes long dips into absurdity with this strange dramedy. She takes her time too, as the feature runs nearly three hours long, which is quite a journey for material that largely employs subtlety to explore the depths of a ruined relationship. “Toni Erdmann” has moments that test patience in full, but it’s also a richly realistic study of interpersonal struggle and fractured communication, delivered with a free-flowing sense of playfulness and concentration from stars Sandra Huller and Peter Simonischek. Read the rest at