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March 2017

Film Review - Ghost in the Shell


The drive to bring “Ghost to the Shell” to the screen isn’t perplexing. What began life as a manga series graduated to a respected animated film adaptation in 1995, which launched its own universe of sequels and reimaginings. It’s juicy fantasyland material with velvety sci-fi edges, making it catnip for a director who’s skilled at bringing out rich futureworld detail to help backdrop an intimate saga of identity. Sadly, the producers landed on Rupert Sanders, a visual wizard but a storytelling snoozer, who’s already displayed his allergy to cinematic momentum in 2012’s inexplicably successful “Snow White and the Huntsman.” Sanders delivers urban sweep with “Ghost in the Shell,” and his command of design elements is appreciable. However, the feature is a leaden, bizarrely uneventful blockbuster that’s heavy with CGI and light on dramatic content, attempting to dazzle instead of engage, leaving it all cold to the touch. Read the rest at

Film Review - All Nighter


It’s strange that “All Nighter” has very limited interest in becoming a farce when it has all the ingredients to do so. Director Gavin Wiesen plays the feature carefully, almost fearful of allowing it to snowball into a series of crazy encounters in different locations, instead trying to find the truth in scenes that demand insanity. It’s not an especially effective movie, with “All Nighter” rarely making time to form its own personality as it plays up Long Night formula. Wiesen and screenwriter Seth W. Owen have the concept of clue gathering and charged interactions for their askew detective tale, but the picture desires to be funny, and it’s never that. It’s flat work crying out for more inventive leadership. Read the rest at

Film Review - Peelers


There have been a few attempts to detail horror insanity occurring inside a strip club. “From Dusk Till Dawn” is perhaps the most famous example of the breasts-and-blood formula, while “Zombies vs. Strippers” is the more memorably titled endeavor. “Peelers” is a latest addition to the subgenre, and there’s a clear desire to deliver a goopy, icky chiller that’s capable of delivering overwhelming gore while still remaining comedic enough to sustain a B-movie mood. Director Seve Schelez has exploitation interests, and “Peelers” has the right idea for R-rated entertainment, but what begins as something silly, populated with oddball characters, eventually becomes deadly serious, which is a strange tonal direction for a picture that features an extended scene of an exotic dancer spraying urine on her customers. Read the rest at

Film Review - Here Alone


It’s a big, dark world out there, and screenwriter David Ebeltoft and director Rod Blackhurst are going to make viewers feel every last second of suffering and solitude. “Here Alone” has the unenviable task of coexisting in a world where “The Walking Dead” is the biggest show on television, bravely submitting yet another post-apocalyptic depiction of a world overrun with zombies and populated with anguished people making difficult, soul-flattening choices during their trials of survival. There are a few other movies the production pinches from, yet all this familiarity doesn’t translate to comfort, with “Here Alone” a slog to get through, content to reach a level of stillness which is supposed to translate into profundity, but it merely remains stillness. An action spectacle isn’t expected here, but Blackhurst’s allergic reaction to pace and dramatic discovery is often painful to sit through. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Blue Money


1971's "Blue Money" is a domestic drama and a procedural feature about the production of pornography, mixing some soulfulness into an effort that's primarily about sneaking in as much skin as possible. Director Alain Patrick funnels his experience in adult entertainment into this movie, hope to bring to the screen an authentic recreation of life as a porno producer, with all the flakes, crooks, and fear involved, often preventing a smooth assembly of sex. As a semi-documentary, "Blue Money" is actually quite interesting, capturing corners of the skin business that aren't normally addressed, going a long way to demystify how the industry works. The rest of the film isn't nearly as compelling, finding Patrick too enamored with himself to honestly attack his woeful lead performance and uninspired screenplay. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Little Sister


Director Zach Clark's last picture was 2013's "White Reindeer," a fascinating dive into holiday depression and substance abuse, sold with a darkly comic attitude that gifted the effort a charmingly askew perspective. He returns with "Little Sister," adding to his growing interest in unusual behavior and personal problems, trading Christmas gloom for religious questioning. Clark's a compelling helmer, showcasing interests in characters struggling mightily to define themselves and deal with harsh observations from the outside world. "Little Sister" has a frustrating tendency to forgo resolution, but the journey is fascinating, picking up on the particulars of itchy personalities faced with an impossible challenge of self-awareness, forced to confront questionable decisions and commitments that threaten to take their lives in unwanted directions. Clark doesn't enjoy endings, but he's good with introductions. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - No Highway in the Sky


Based on a novel by Nevil Schute, 1951's "No Highway in the Sky" is a bizarre combination of drama and disaster movie, enjoying the tension of potential airplane disasters and long debates on the science of airplane design. It's not easy to figure out what this effort is trying to be, but it does enjoy the services of stars James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich, who act up a storm trying to make the milder moments of "No Highway in the Sky" feel significant. The feature isn't quite the roller coaster ride it initially promises to be, but the performances are terrific, communicating intensity the rest of the film often lacks. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Taboo IV: The Younger Generation


Going about as far as they could with the Barbara Scott saga, helmer Kirdy Stevens and writer/producer Helene Terrie take a different tonal direction for 1985's "Taboo IV: The Younger Generation." While soap opera-esque exchanges remain, the sequel actually attempts to take this entire universe of rampant incestual activity seriously, playing it unnervingly straight as the screenplay moves from cheap titillation to abyssal psychological exploration, doubling down on perverse activities and blood relation couplings. It takes a few moments for the severity of "Taboo IV" to sink in. However, this dramatic concentration is actually fascinating to watch, with Kirdy and Terrie pushing the envelope instead of merely licking it.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Boss Baby


“The Boss Baby” presents a literary adaptation challenge not unlike ones found in “Jumanji” and “The Polar Express,” where the filmmakers are tasked with producing 90 minutes of entertainment based on 20 pages of text and illustration. Author Marla Frazee’s 2010 creation was a witty take on the early toddler years and the power of first words. The movie version of “The Boss Baby” is an elaborate fantasy involving magical formulas, alternate worlds, chases, and Elvis impersonators. Much has been change to give the feature something to do, and while screenwriter Michael McCullers gives it his best shot, one can actually feel the strain of the production as it dreams up something to do with a thin concept, throwing anything at the screen to see what sticks. Read the rest at

Film Review - Life


It’s uncomfortable timing to have “Life” debut in the same year as the prequel “Alien: Covenant,” as it takes a remarkable amount of mojo from Ridley Scott’s original 1979 “Alien” creation. It doesn’t simply pinch outer space horror, but creature motivation, claustrophobic spaces, and combative characters. Helping to separate the picture from its obvious inspiration is a tone of real-world space exploration, combining a NASA procedural adventure with a grisly horror event, keeping director Daniel Espinosa (“Safe House,” “Child 44”) busy managing intricate science and engineering and the essentials in haunted house terror, crafting an initially suspenseful chiller that effectively introduces a threat from Mars, organically figuring out a way to unleash it on the crew. The rest of “Life” doesn’t share the same excitement for deadly encounters, quickly finding a groove where it can rest with repetitive scenes of survival and rumination. Read the rest at

Film Review - Power Rangers


The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers franchise has always been a bit bewildering. There's clearly a huge fan base for the brand, but numerous television shows and previous attempts to bring the series to the big screen have already been aimed at a younger audience, with children delighting in the mix of sci-fi fantasy and cartoonish action, much the dismay of parents forced to endure constant living room recreations. To help the saga reach a new level of popularity, “Power Rangers” is a reimagining of the source material, butching it up for a PG-13 audience used to a little more grit than stuntmen in primary colored suits battling rubber monsters typically provides. Trying to compete with all the superhero extravaganzas out in the marketplace today, “Power Rangers” goes big with emotional reach and visual effects, with director Dean Israelite (“Project Almanac”) fighting to make something substantial out of weekday afternoon entertainment. He doesn't quite pull off a spinning, high-kicking triumph, spending so much time establishing the heroes that they barely have time to be heroes. Read the rest at

Film Review - Wilson


“Wilson” has trouble with translation. The film is an adaptation of a graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, best known for his work on “Ghost World.” Paying tribute to Charles Schultz and his “Peanuts” comic strip origins, Clowes created a book of one-page adventures for his misanthropic hero, keeping Wilson a contradiction of self-awareness and actual behavior, finding darkly comic wonder in his daily life. Bringing that specific tone to the big screen proves too difficult for Clowes, with cinematic construction and emotional throughlines demanding more consistency than what this picture is willing to give. While boosted by terrific leading performances from Woody Harrelson and Laura Dern, “Wilson” is fatigued quickly, working very hard to sell an atmosphere of illness that, while insistent, isn’t all that compelling. Read the rest at

Film Review - CHiPs


Someone, somewhere gave piles of money to writer/director/star Dax Shepard to make a film version of “CHiPs,” a late 1970s television show that’s mostly known today for its ridiculous episode on the Los Angeles punk rock scene and for being the program that featured Chris Pine’s father, Robert. Not just taking a cue, but the entire approach of the Channing Tatum/Jonah Hill “21 Jump Street” adaptation, “CHiPs” aims to be violent, irreverent, and comically casual, working very hard to appear effortlessly crude. What Shepard actually achieves here is an oppressive viewing experience that’s shockingly light on action and stunts and abysmal with funny business, missing the experience of the original show to be just another riff-heavy stinker that mistakes moronic shock value for cleverness. Read the rest at

Film Review - T2 Trainspotting


21 years ago, “Trainspotting” arrived in America. Depicting a heroin hell populated with Scotland’s worst, the picture became a cult hit, reaching a generation that demanded their own story of self-destruction, sold with extreme style by director Danny Boyle and soaked in sneering mockery by screenwriter John Hodge (adapting the book by Irvine Welsh). Two decades later, “Trainspotting 2” has materialized (the actual title is “T2 Trainspotting,” but, come on, there’s only one “T2,” and it’s not a Danny Boyle movie), and it wisely doesn’t try to compete with what’s come before. Building on the idea of lost years and wayward lives, “Trainspotting 2” manages to be a deeper, more meaningful chapter in this brain-scrambled saga, enjoying the rush of nostalgia and renewed danger as it deals with a crisis that’s more universal than substance abuse: aging. Read the rest at

Film Review - Prevenge


Alice Lowe has amassed a substantial amount of credits as a character actress, making brief appearances in “The World’s End,” “Locke,” and “Paddington.” Her most substantial screen role was found in “Sightseers,” a wonderful dark comedy from director Ben Wheatley, who showed uncharacteristic focus and made the most of Lowe’s screen presence. Taking command of her professional future, Lowe makes her directorial debut with “Prevenge,” also scripting herself a prime role in a slasher film that’s more about the anxieties of motherhood than the piling of dead bodies. Crafted with wit, terrific performances, and some unexpected trips into the gore zone, “Prevenge” is striking work from Lowe, who not only understands the constant concerns that swirl around the journey of pregnancy, but she’s good with violence as well, keeping the feature suspenseful when it isn’t refreshingly insightful. Read the rest at

Film Review - Raw


Much pre-release hype has collected over “Raw,” which shocked some audience members to a point of physical illness during its film festival debut, offering the type of “dare to see it” publicity every movie studio dreams about. The reality is, “Raw” isn’t that extreme, and those who embrace the horror genre on a regular basis are likely going to feel underwhelmed by the grisliness of the effort, which is regulated to only a few brief scenes. Thankfully, the rest of “Raw” is interesting enough to pass, with writer/director Julia Ducournau picking apart femininity and sexual awakening with this tale of cannibalism, constructing a stylish coming-of-age chiller that’s big on bodily fluids and Italian cinema worship. The endeavor is certainly graphic, but it’s also patient with its reveals, which doesn’t always mesh with its shock value intent. Read the rest at

Film Review - Contemporary Color


Throughout his career, David Byrne has been committed to the arts. World famous for his years as the lead singer of Talking Heads, Byrne has devoted himself to the ways of creation, taking his vision to museums, theaters, and even city streets. And now Byrne has turned his attention to the color guard, an often disregarded dance tradition looking for its moment in the spotlight. “Contemporary Color” is a celebration of music and the color guard, paired with live performances for an evening of musicianship and physical challenges, watching high school heroes put their heart and souls into intense choreography, offered a rare shot at visibility for an art form that demands intense timing, flexibility, and enthusiasm, with Byrne curating the eclectic soundtrack of the evening. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bokeh


To best detail the end of humanity, it’s interesting to visit a corner of the world that hasn’t found finality yet. “Bokeh” (which takes its name from a photographic event) isn’t a disaster movie, but it does venture into the great unknown within an empty world, following two lovers into the wilds of Iceland, which has become the place to be for recent film productions looking for unusual scenery to backdrop dramatic endeavors. The unthinkable and unknowable occurs in “Bokeh,” but writer/directors Geoffrey Orthwein and Andrew Sullivan don’t indulge spectacle. Instead, they make a relationship picture, and one with atypical points of stress, hoping to find the nuances of love and survival as two people spending time together are left with only each other, struggling to make sense of their new reality. Read the rest at

Film Review - Personal Shopper


Marking their second collaboration, Kristin Stewart once again submits to the enigmatic ways of writer/director Olivier Assayas, following up their lauded work on “Clouds of Sils Maria” with “Personal Shopper,” which once again tempts the troublesome actress into the light of adult performances. Teasing horror highlights with his take on grief and the ghostly beyond, Assayas instead plays a familiar game of misdirection, trying to lure audiences in with spooky events, but never settling anywhere significant, electing to float around sponging up behaviors and revelations. “Personal Shopper” is also a struggle for Stewart, who puts in a professional effort to communicate inner turmoil, but often falls back on fingers-through-the-hair indication that undermines the subtle rise in uncertainty Assayas is ultimately hunting for.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Sicilian Clan


At the time of its release, "The Sicilian Clan" was a fairly big deal. The 1969 endeavor is not only a crime thriller looking to bring an action cinema aesthetic to a subgenre normally reserved for heated conversations, but it features top-tier European talent, inviting Alain Delon, Jean Gabin, and Lino Ventura to star in this epic saga of mafia antagonism. "The Sicilian Clan" has all the thespian power it needs, but it's the story that tends to wear down the viewing experience, with director Henri Verneuil out to make something sophisticated and smashmouth, but has difficulty juggling the plethora of names and faces the screenplay introduces. Read the rest at