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April 2017

Film Review - Gifted


There’s always talk concerning Hollywood’s inability to make smaller movies about people that’s not after Oscar gold. Multiplexes are usually light on such dramatic storytelling, making something like “Gifted” a rarity, forced to compete against supercharged sequels and brand names. It should be a home run, especially considering the lack of competition, but “Gifted” doesn’t make a difference, laboring through clichés and botched editing as it searches for a way to reach the hearts and minds of its intended audience. Director Marc Webb and screenwriter Tom Flynn try to retain softness and intimacy, but they don’t know when to quit, making the endeavor feel overly fluffy with its study of a kid genius, her troubled guardian, and a custody battle. Read the rest at

Film Review - Cezanne et moi


“Cezanne et moi” is a tale of friendship, but one where the participants just happen to be giants of art working through various struggles in their separate lives. It’s not a bio-pic of Emile Zola and Paul Cezanne, but an imagining of their longstanding connection, which weathered all kinds of domestic turmoil and insecurities, helping the pair generate an unlikely bond as they grew into their creative legacies. Writer/director Daniele Thompson shares his appreciation for the combustible union, trading a clinical listing of accomplishments for something far more talkative and episodic, keeping the conversation moving as he jumps around in time, working to shape a portrait of two wildly different men connecting through talent and spirit, trying to remain in each other’s lives as time and temper attempt to divide them. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Honky Holocaust


One has to be careful when approaching a movie titled "Honky Holocaust." It's a Troma Production, which is as brief a review as I can provide, and one that's filled with racial hostilities, epithets, and stereotypes, with writer/director Paul M. McAlarney trying his hardest to make an offensive, hyper-violent exploitation picture that pushes every button imaginable. It's a shame the helmer doesn't have the budget to do something more inventive with his faintly subversive premise, instead spending pennies to achieve his vision for excess, somehow believing that creating a mess is the best way to reach closed minds. "Honky Holocaust" is expectedly awful, but not in an ideal Troma-esque way. It's just an icky, fetishistic take on an alt-history disaster, with McAlarney flexing his anger issues instead of making a legitimate film. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Slaughterhouse


Hoping to launch his own horror icon in Buddy, the beefy, snorting, cleaver-wielding, pig-loving madman, writer/director Rick Roessler submits 1987's "Slaughterhouse," his take on "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre," only with more consumption of Diet Pepsi. The slasher picture lives up to its blunt title, trying to creep out the room with happenings at southern slaughterhouses, pitting a group of fun-loving kids against dear old Buddy, who isn't about to be stopped by puny youth only interested in sex, dares, and amateur filmmaking. What separates "Slaughterhouse" from the pack is production polish, with Roessler backed by a talented crew who give the horror antics touches of artistry, making what becomes a routine display of killing somewhat memorable. And there's Buddy, who's a prototypical backwoods creep with atypical strength, with Roessler finding plenty of awful business for the monster to participate in. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Point of Terror


Much like "Blood Mania," "Point of Terror" isn't a movie that lives up to its title. Instead of embarking on a series of murders or macabre events, it's more of a psychodrama about ambitious, overly sexual people trying to use one another for various reasons. Part of it is music industry melodrama, the rest is a weirdly slack domestic drama, and it's only interrupted by a few deaths along the way. Star Peter Carpenter (who also receives a story credit) imagines a chance to go full Brando with his take on the loser trying to make something of himself in the worst way possible, and his thespian commitment helps "Point of Murder" reach a few of its dramatic goals. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Blood Mania


With a title like "Blood Mania," certain expectations are put in place, goosed some by the feature's animated title sequence, which highlights a pair of hands tearing at the title while a woman screams on the soundtrack. It's quite the introduction, but it doesn't represent the movie. "Blood Mania" isn't a slasher film, it's more of a chiller featuring a collection of corrupt people spending their every waking moment either trying to kill or sleep with one another. Director Robert Vincent O'Neill knows exactly what's expected of him, and he keeps up with demands for sex and violence, making sure the picture is all stocked up on nudity. Suspense is harder to conjure, with O'Neill struggling with a limited budget, working overtime to make casual encounters vibrate with intensity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Colossal


Writer/director Nacho Vigalondo has been known to make some very strange films. The helmer of “Timecrimes,” “Open Windows,” and “Extraterrestrial,” Vigalondo is drawn toward material that allows him to experiment with form and approach psychological issues from unusual perspectives. While previously exploring intimate spaces of thought, the Vigalondo goes building-sized big for “Colossal,” which offers a deep emotional dive in the guise of a kaiju movie, tinkering with wrath of massive monsters and robots as it pertains to the frazzled mental state of a single woman who can’t seem to get her act together, even when she’s turned into a formidable enemy. “Colossal” isn’t what it initially appears to be, delivering a Chinese box viewing experience that mostly connects as intended, eased along by Anne Hathaway’s exceptional lead performance, which mercifully grounds many of the lofty therapeutic ideas Vigalondo dreams up. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Fate of the Furious


2015’s “Furious 7” brought the aged “Fast and the Furious” franchise to a new peak of box office success, fueled in large part by the death of co-star Paul Walker, with many curious ticket-buyers turning out to see how the successful series would handle such a blow to the brand name’s appeal. Now without Walker, producers are left to reinvent the story, reworking the team dynamic to feed a new trilogy of movies. Kicking things off with a winded howl is “The Fate of the Furious,” which attempts to comb a little Just for Men through the graying temples of the saga by going even bigger and bolder with its car stunts and displays of brawn than ever before. If you’re a fan of everything “Fast and Furious,” why are you even looking at film reviews? But for the rest of the public that’s aware of thespian limitations and directorial mayhem, “The Fate of the Furious” simply serves up more noise and jaw pumping, doing surprisingly little to rewire the narrative, protecting the core appeal of the now billion-dollar-grossing extravaganzas. Read the rest at

Film Review - After the Storm


Hirokazu Kore-eda has crafted a series of mournful, compelling Japanese dramas over the last few years, hitting creative highs with “Our Little Sister,” “I Wish,” and “Like Father, Like Son.” He’s filling a career already stocked with impressive efforts, forming something of a hot streak with achingly human pictures that touch on universal realities and showcase unusual sides to Japanese culture and fatherhood. “After the Storm” is his latest endeavor, and it sustains the helmer’s concentration on the subtle challenges of life, again returning to an emphasis on character, watching these personalities work on their behavioral and psychological issues. It’s a tender and wise feature, sustaining Kore-eda’s inspection of family and the bittersweet experience of aging. Read the rest at

Film Review - Tommy's Honour


As the golf season arrives with spring, bringing hordes of players to the links for that first sampling of outdoor splendor, the producers of “Tommy’s Honour” have decided to celebrate the yearly awakening with a golf story of the their own. A bio-pic of Young Tom Morris, a professional golfer from Scotland, the picture desires to return viewers to the early days of the sport, where attendee aggression was more of a powder keg situation, and wagering was the real test of skill, making or losing a fortune over a single putt. Movies about golf are few and far between, making “Tommy’s Honour” a bit of a novelty, but one that takes the sport seriously, attempting to shine a spotlight on one of its greatest players, while his father, Old Tom Morris, was one of golf’s first visionaries. Read the rest at

Film Review - 1 Mile to You


While it isn’t used as a gimmick, “1 Mile to You” does reunite actor Billy Crudup with the sport of distance running, where he once portrayed legend Steve Prefontaine in 1998’s “Without Limits.” Crudup’s comfort on his feet and two decades worth of acting experience certainly provides much needed help to “1 Mile to You,” which mixes sport film formula with a personal drama about grief. It’s based on a book and feels it, with director Leif Tilden fighting to preserve narrative expanse, but only cherry picking moments that covey the movement of a life. It’s somewhat ironic that a picture about endurance is exhausted long before it’s over, but the production has trouble prioritizing characters and confrontations, making the movie more of a chore to watch after a decent, heartfelt first half. Read the rest at

Film Review - All This Panic


In 2008, there was “American Teen,” a buzzy documentary about adolescents in the Midwest struggling with life, love, and a year of high school. Director Nanette Burstein aimed for verite, but she couldn’t hide the fiction, caught creating instead of observing, which rendered the film useless. “All This Panic” shares a similar vibe, submitting itself as a documentary on New York City teenagers trying to find their way in the great big world, with director Jenny Gage surveying their battles at home and with one another, trying to fashion a depiction of maturation over a three-year-long shooting period. And yet, large sections of “All This Panic” feel cooked to make a movie, with the stars spending as much time posing for the camera as they do dealing with one another. There are moments when the effort looks more like an acting reel than a non-fiction odyssey into juvenile decision-making. Read the rest at

Film Review - Little Boxes


Everyone has their own personal experiences to inform their life journey, and I respect that. However, I’d like to know what the heck suburbia personally did to screenwriter Annie J. Howell and director Rob Meyer to make them so mad at it. “Little Boxes” is the umpteenth picture to explore the poisonous reach of casual living, only here the focus is less on the temptation of boredom and more on racial issues, playing into the zeitgeist. “Little Boxes” isn’t robust enough as a drama and routinely unfunny, but one can spot what the filmmakers were aiming to achieve with this collision of skin color, teenage rebellion, and social awkwardness. Howell and Meyer shoot for a dramedy, but they end up with a feature that’s tonally confused and frequently meandering. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Dr. Orloff's Monster


Jess Franco is an acquired taste. The genre filmmaker has his devoted fans, most drawn to his most popular offerings of horror, conveniently forgetting just how insanely prolific the helmer was, diluting whatever creative drive was there to begin with. Franco is a difficult director to place, as he clearly has love for chillers, spending most of his career on eerie endeavors that toyed with classic monsters and often veered unsteadily into sexploitation territory. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - What a Way to Go!


When one considers the possibilities of a Marilyn Monroe replacement, Shirley MacLaine doesn't immediately spring to mind. However, 1964's "What a Way to Go" endeavors to transform the actress into something of a glamour icon and sex symbol, weighing her down with Harry Winston jewels and keeping her spinning in Edith Head-designed costumes. Mercifully, she's game to go wherever the picture leads, but unfortunately, "What a Way to Go" heads in multiple directions, often at the same time. It's a farce from director J. Lee Thompson, and not always an amusing one, always playing loudly to the back row when a nice hit of subtlety would do just fine. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Vessel


The mysteries of faith and God are explored in "The Vessel," but such questioning is never direct. Co-producing the picture is Terrence Malick, and writer/director Julio Quintana is a major fan of the helmer's work, going out of his way to mimic a Malickian storytelling ebb and flow that's intended to become some sort of screen poetry. It's a valiant effort, but there's no reason for such artistic replication when Quintana has passable puzzling to work on and a co-star in Martin Sheen to bring ideas to life. "The Vessel" isn't as ambitious as one might think with such a provocative premise, often pretending to be other movies when it should really be its own. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Loving


Writer/director Jeff Nichols is enjoying an amazing creative streak, crafting thought-provoking, atmospheric features that highlight outstanding performances and intimate emotions, exploring soft-spoken types experiencing tremendous psychological turmoil. There's been "Mud" and "Take Shelter," and Nichols even sampled sci-fi with last spring's "Midnight Special," a fascinating movie that few people saw, as major studios tend not to know what to do with sophisticated, unusual deviations from the norm. "Loving" is perhaps his most human picture, inspecting real-world turmoil born from a legal fight for civil rights, but the helmer's tempo and attention to detail remain, treating the corners of this tale as importantly as everything else. "Loving" has its missteps, but it's a typically strong effort from an increasingly reliable filmmaker. Read the rest at

Film Review - Smurfs: The Lost Village


For almost 60 years, “The Smurfs” has developed into a brand name for children’s entertainment, beginning life as a Belgian comic book series, but perhaps best known as a cartoon from the 1980s that launched the little blue creatures to worldwide fame. Hollywood took its time devising a big screen blockbuster for the source material, and 2011’s “The Smurfs” was a massive hit, conquering the box office with unexpected speed, making the possibility of a sequel a certainty. Unfortunately, 2013’s “The Smurfs 2” wasn’t able to match the success of the original film, with audiences likely turned off by the CG-animated/live action approach, making two efforts more about dopey humans than the titular characters. Sony Pictures Animation is looking to return the franchise to its roots, ditching Neil Patrick Harris for a fully animated endeavor, positioning “Smurfs: The Lost Village” as a back-to-basics production, keeping focus on the Smurf community. However, not all problems are solved by the new creative direction. Read the rest at

Film Review - Aftermath


Returning to acting after his stint as the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger has endured some difficulty getting his big screen mojo back. His post-political career has fired a few blanks (including “Terminator: Genisys” and “The Last Stand”), but his acting has improved, and Schwarzenegger is finally at a place where he’s willing to take some creative chances with difficult material. In 2015, there was “Maggie,” a grim zombie saga that was more about the pains of parenthood than brain consumption. Now there’s “Aftermath,” a stark drama that examines the tunnel vision of grief and initial instincts for revenge. However, it’s not an action picture pitting Schwarzenegger against a formidable foe. Instead, director Elliot Lester (“Blitz”) and screenwriter Javier Gullon deliver a waking nightmare of guilt and confusion, cutting deep into complex emotions without the safety net of ultraviolence. It’s an engrossing study of despair. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Void


“The Void” has plenty of invention to share with hungry horror fans, but it also plays like a mix-tape of genre highlights, and that’s a compliment. Sampling beats from “The Thing,” “Hellraiser,” and “Martyrs,” the feature makes a wonderful mess of blood and guts as it achieves a rare level of suspense, with directors Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski creating a descent into Hell that’s genuinely mysterious and frightening. “The Void” is rough stuff, but for those who have an appetite for vividly staged screen violence and unsettling tales of evil exposure, this is practically a sure thing. Members of the cinema satirists guild, Astron-6 (creators of pure B-movie gold like “Father’s Day,” “Manborg,” and “The Editor”), Gillespie and Kostanski follow their influences and utilize their talents, transforming a spare, low-budget endeavor into something quite special and haunting. Read the rest at