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May 2017

Blu-ray Review - Compulsion


1959's "Compulsion" goes out of its way to avoid naming Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb as its inspiration for a tale of murder and intellectualism, but this adaptation of Meyer Levin book dramatizes most details from the heinous crime committed by the frightfully rational duo. It's a story that was already worked over in Alfred Hitchcock's "Rope," but "Compulsion" has a more direct link to the Leopold and Loeb case, with director Richard Fleischer going the "Law and Order" route as the details of a crime are examined in full before the tale turns into a courtroom showdown where punishment is debated, not innocence. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - 23 Paces to Baker Street


1956's "23 Paces to Baker Street" has often been compared to Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window," and the similarities are there, studying the increasing agitation of a murder witness who can't convince the world of his valid observations, soon embarking on his own investigation to help avoid a future disaster. Director Henry Hathaway does a passable job with mild escalation and characterization, but he's no Hitchcock, and "23 Paces to Baker Street" often struggles to sustain a rhythm of suspense that takes it from discovery to payoff with engaging speed. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Teen Witch


The "Teen Witch" that exists today is a major cult film, beloved by a certain audience raised on the movie through cable and VHS repetition, bending to the effort's strange magic through extensive study of its earnest details. The picture wasn't always appreciated like that, with its 1989 theatrical release disastrous, offered to audiences unwilling to accept the endeavor's eye-crossing mixture of musical numbers, teen anxiety, and dark arts, making it more of a fit for sleepover party analysis and lazy afternoon viewings. It's difficult to peel the reputation of "Teen Witch" away from its actual creative accomplishments, but director Dorian Walker provides something familiar that's appealing to those hungering for a surprisingly pure shot of sincerity, keeping the picture cheeky and bizarre, but also universal with its themes of social acceptance and displays of fantasy power. It's not impossible to comprehend why the feature is so popular these days, it's just more difficult to digest some of effort's broader scenes of personal expression and romantic intent. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Being 17


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 - Alien: Covenant


In 2012’s “Prometheus,” director Ridley Scott’s was looking to take the “Alien” franchise in a whole new direction, moving past xenomorph mayhem to reach the very nature of existence, challenging ideas of gods and monsters with a promising concept that allowed very little time for Ripley-esque survival games. It was met with critical indifference and audience derision. “Alien: Covenant” isn’t interested in making the same mistakes, and while it’s a sequel to “Prometheus,” it mostly severs what little existential ambition remained at the end of a wildly disappointing movie. Scott would rather remake “Alien” than answer many of the questions left behind five years ago, using “Covenant” to recycle the same old cat and mouse game with a fresh assortment of blue-collar space workers. Scott is seriously spinning his wheels here, and what’s worse, he seems to be proud of all this inanity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Snatched


In 2015, comedian Amy Schumer made a strong impression with her starring debut, “Trainwreck.” Under director Judd Apatow, Schumer managed to be hilarious and heartbreaking, displaying impressive range in what ended up being one of the top performances of the year. For her follow-up, Schumer stays with the silly business in “Snatched,” a kidnapping/survival comedy that’s rarely consistent, but periodically hilarious. It’s Schumer’s attempt at a buddy comedy, and one where she’s wisely paired up with Goldie Hawn, famously coming out of semi-retirement (her last acting gig was 2002’s “The Banger Sisters”) to join Schumer, creating warm, amusing chemistry, helping “Snatched” crawl out of the tonal whoppers and dead spots it occasionally finds itself in. Read the rest at

Film Review - King Arthur: Legend of the Sword


After scoring two massive hits with the popular and surprisingly sly “Sherlock Holmes” series, which effectively refreshed a stuffy literary world with some clenched-fist energy and funky comedy, director Guy Ritchie attempted to bring the same firepower to another aged property, 2015’s “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” Lightning didn’t strike a third time, with woeful miscastings and lethargic timing hindering what should’ve been a jaunty spy game with distinct period style. Weirdly avoiding a third “Sherlock Holmes,” Ritchie now turns his attention to Arthurian legend, hired to jazz up material that’s been revived repeatedly for screens big and small, with each production striving to be the hot take on round tables and swords in stone. Cruelly, Ritchie remains in “U.N.C.L.E.” mode with “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword,” which takes the wilds of magic and action and transforms it all into a disappointing lump of a movie, but one that Ritchie does his damndest to keep alive with every trick he’s capable of producing. Read the rest at

Film Review - One Week and a Day


“One Week and a Day” is about parents going through the grieving process after losing a child, but its first image is one of household sport, watching the father battle opponents on the family ping pong table. It’s the first of many surprising directions for the story, which offers a more grounded, authentically human take on personal loss. The Israeli picture marks the feature-length directorial debut for writer Asaph Polonsky, who captures realistic response to an impossible situation of mourning, locating the comedy, fear, and frustration of life in motion. “One Week and a Day” contains moments of expected heartache, but its primary mission is to follow particularly scrambled characters for an eventful afternoon, studying the confusion of this aching new reality. Read the rest at

Film Review - Take Me


Actor Pat Healy has been involved in a few very uncomfortable films, playing unsettled types in “Compliance” and “Cheap Thrills.” For his latest directorial effort, Healy collects every darkly comedic trick he’s picked up while working in front of the camera, joining screenwriter Mike Makowsky for a twisted romp that examines escalations in violence and fetishism, making “Take Me” a decidedly weird and often surprising viewing experience. The production doesn’t always sustain momentum, but Healy manages his opening and closing to satisfaction, while leaving plenty of room for himself and co-star Taylor Schilling to communicate a specialized situation of mutual antagonism, making excellent scene partners as the oddity of the movie ebbs and flows, sometimes spilling over in the best ways. Read the rest at

Film Review - Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie


Comedian Jeff Garlin is an acquired taste, with his pinched voice, casual delivery, and fondness for the uncomfortable moments in life fueling successful careers in stand-up comedy and television, appearing on the popular HBO program, “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Along the way, Garlin has attempted feature film direction, helming “I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With” and the improvised comedy, “Dealing with Idiots.” Both were highly amusing efforts that showcased Garlin’s comfort with actors and stillness, trying to find the funny in awkward encounters and everyday frustrations. Taking a slight detour into genre moviemaking, Garlin mounts “Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie,” a strange whodunit that adds to his cinematic interests in weird wit, once again turning to a talented cast to make magic in a relatively calm, but silly, manner. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Wall


When one considers the filmography of director Doug Liman, a certain adrenaline level comes to mind. He’s a helmer who embraces the visceral possibilities of cinema, drawn to stories that emphasize physical peril and group mayhem, and he’s quite good at making a sweat-drenched mess. Think about efforts such as “The Bourne Identity,” “Edge of Tomorrow,” and “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” which all shared delirious peaks of bold action, mixing raw energy with precise chorography. “The Wall” brings Liman to the Iraq War, but instead of going haywire with an oft-used setting, he settles into a simple study of battling temperaments and survival skills in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, “The Wall” is a disappointment, carrying more of an iffy experimental tone than a richly suspenseful atmosphere, watching the production try to cook up something heart-racing with almost nothing to work with. Read the rest at

Film Review - Tracktown


“Tracktown” is all about the details. Making her feature-length co-writing/co-directing/acting debut is Alexi Pappas, an accomplished long-distance runner and recent Olympian trying to bring elements of her life to the screen. Playing to her strengths, Pappas tells the story of a young runner suddenly facing the pressures of a world beyond training and competition, joining fellow filmmaker Jeremy Teicher to give “Tracktown” a lived-in feel to help inspire a bizarre coming-of-age story. Delayed adolescence, first romance, and mother issues generate the drama of the effort, but Pappas and Teicher are at their best with the particulars of the running world, giving the movie a distinct personality when it moves away from formula and samples athlete routine, allowing its star to relax and simply exist in the world she’s creating. Read the rest at

Film Review - Whisky Galore


Following the recent “Dad’s Army,” “Whisky Galore” is another remake that looks to revisit beloved British material with contemporary timing. It’s a reworking of a 1949 Ealing Studios Comedy, making another pass at a strange but true World War II story, offering director Gillies MacKinnon (“The Playboys,” “Hideous Kinky”) a chance to reassess older material with some degree of hindsight, permitted a shot at fixing the shortcomings of the original picture. Unfortunately, MacKinnon doesn’t reach down deep enough, showing signs of stress as he juggles the broadly comedic movements of “Whisky Galore” and its often sobering sentimental side. It’s a digestible feature, a safe matinee choice, and while it’s easy on the senses, it could be strong and should be funnier. Read the rest at

Film Review - Violet


Grief, and its many stages of evolution, is the focus of “Violet,” which marks the feature-length directorial debut for Bas Devos (who also scripts). Following a chain of artistic freedom that wraps around the works of Bela Tarr and, soon after, latter-era Gus Van Sant, Devos devotes himself to the power of film imagery, telling as much of the story in silence, permitting cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis full command of the effort, dictating moods with shots that either ripple with meaning or trail off into nothingness. “Violet” is a specialized sit for a specific moviegoer, dealing with death in a manner that feels distant for much of the picture, yet the pain of loss comes surging into view periodically. While Devos gets a little too wrapped up in his process, trying to remain elusive, he certainly has a vision for the endeavor that braids art with ache, looking to make sense of personal loss. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Schoolgirls in Chains


Granted, no one expects spectacular, meaningful things from a movie titled "Schoolgirls in Chains," but what's wrong with a little pace? The 1973 effort from writer/director Don Jones isn't short on salacious material, but basic screen energy is sorely lacking from this tepid sexploitation endeavor. Merging gratuitous nudity with profound mental illness, "Schoolgirls in Chains" is slow to boil, taking pleasure in exposing kinky business and violence, while its overall thrust as a chiller of sorts is underwhelming as Jones tries to make shock value meaningful with a psychological study that's poorly conceived. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Saint Jack


Before 1979's "Saint Jack" was put into production, director Peter Bogdanovich was in a difficult position career-wise. After breaking through with "The Last Picture Show" and "Paper Moon," the helmer harpooned his popularity with the flops "Nickelodeon" and "At Long Last Love." Requiring a centering of his moviemaking chakras, Bogdanovich ran away to Singapore for "Saint Jack," which erases any hope for Old Hollywood glamour and Americana to deliver a complex tale of a pimp inching closer to trouble, keeping star Ben Gazzara on the move as the locations are explored in tremendous detail. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Framed


After 1973's "Walking Tall," actor Joe Don Baker became the king of the drive-ins, finding his natural way with intimidation a perfect fit with audiences looking for something more American in their big screen heroes. Reuniting with director Phil Karlson, Baker tries a similar approach for 1975's "Framed," which once again pits the beefy performer against the worst enemies Tennessee has to offer, taking control of a revenge story that tries to inflate itself up as some type of grand mystery, but it really exists as B-movie entertainment, sticking with a steady diet of chases and brawling to please viewers. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - In the Aftermath


1988's "In the Aftermath" is a curious mix of live-action and animation, with the production bending chunks of the 1985 anime feature, "Angel's Egg," to fit a post-apocalyptic tale of exploration and human connection. It's not an ideal marriage, as the feature often doesn't know what to do with itself, rarely putting in the effort to connect the disparate displays of artistry, settling on a muddled whole. I extend a hearty congratulations to anyone who can follow this loose stitching of visuals, as "In the Aftermath" doesn't make any sense, and that seems to be the intent, trusting that those sitting down to watch it are probably high as kites, absorbing this sci-fi/fantasy/doomsday tale with the least amount of resistance. Read the rest at

Film Review - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2


While hardly a risk for Marvel Studios, the 2014 release of “Guardians of the Galaxy” was a bit of a curveball for comic book movie enthusiasts. Up to this point, it was mostly a brand name business, with the studio careful to use their biggest names to help secure what would become the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Guardians of the Galaxy” didn’t offer superheroes, just various aliens, sold with a funky presence by co-writer/director James Gunn, who used a tightly curated soundtrack and bottomless enthusiasm for fantasy shenanigans to bring fringe characters to the big leagues of multiplex domination, with audiences falling in love with the rag-tag band of outsiders and their newfound interest in helping those in need. It was an exhaustively charming film, but it also provided a challenge for Gunn, who left plenty of mysteries to solve if a sequel should ever arise. Read the rest at

Film Review - My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea

My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea 2

To pull off a disaster movie set inside a high school, animation is the only art form left to handle the enormity and fantasy of the event. Death and destruction are contained within “My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea,” a darkly comedic take on adolescent survival (both literal and social) from writer/director Dash Shaw, who examines the plight of a crumbling school with emphasis on quirky, psychedelic visuals and distinctive voice work. “My High School Sinking Into the Sea” isn’t a major offering of animation, but it’s wonderfully creative in its approach to doomsday, with Shaw arranging an idiosyncratic tour of behavior and physical challenges that permit him time to conjure a charmingly low-fi world of teen neuroses. It’s strange work, but accomplished and quite funny when it wants to be. Read the rest at