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August 2017

Film Review - Wind River


It’s been a lively last couple of years for Taylor Sheridan. Entering the entertainment industry as an actor, Sheridan made a transition to screenwriting, scoring major successes with “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water,” my choice as the best film of 2016. While he’s directed before (the little-seen “Vile” from 2011), Sheridan graduates to the big leagues of helming with “Wind River,” which puts him in the driver’s seat for his own material, now in charge of grim criminal and police procedural interactions he was previously limited to simply writing about. While it doesn’t have the definition and timing of “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water,” “Wind River” is an assured addition to Sheridan’s oeuvre, once again examining an alien setting with concerned characters, fashioning a western out of contemporary grievances. It’s mournful, more pained than exciting, but it offers some real craft from Sheridan, who proves he has a long career ahead of him, should he choose to remain fascinated with the cruelty of life.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Layover


William H. Macy has enjoyed an incredible career as an actor, with lauded turns in such classics as “Boogie Nights” and “Fargo,” while his presence in other productions has managed to salvage lesser films. He’s even made an impression on pay cable with the long-running show, “Shameless.” Macy is now transitioning to direction to help refocus his professional ambition, making his debut with 2014’s largely unseen “Rudderless.” To make more of an impression, Macy abandons most of his dignity to craft “The Layover,” a profane, mildly raunchy comedy that’s big on silliness but shockingly low on laughs. Perhaps in Macy’s mind, “The Layover” is a throwback to goofy European farces from the 1960s, but it plays far more uneventfully in 2017, struggling to do something, anything, that might trigger a smile.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Goon: Last of the Enforcers


2011’s “Goon” was a real surprise. Not only was it an effective comedy that prized a degree of silliness, it was a decent hockey picture as well, living up to the legacy of “Slap Shot,” arguably the greatest hockey picture of all time. “Goon” found its identity early, forging ahead as a brutally violent summary of life as an enforcer, following Doug “The Thug” Glatt as he learned the ugly business of hockey, which requires the beating of men to keep fans interested and testosterone flowing during games. It took the producers long enough, but now there’s “Goon: Last of the Enforcers,” which picks up Doug’s story at the end of his playing days, hoping to find dramatic inspiration in a retirement situation. While “Goon: Last of the Enforcers” has its share of blood-spattered fights and weirdo supporting characters, it goes a little soft, which doesn’t feel appropriate, especially after the freewheeling shenanigans of the original movie.  Read the rest at

Film Review - I Do...Until I Don't


Four years ago, “In a World…” turned actress Lake Bell into a writer/director. It was a valentine to the world of voiceover professionals and a neuroses-laden behavior from itchy characters, establishing Bell’s interest in feelings and mild jesting, though she was much better with confrontations than hugs. Bell returns to the power of ellipsis with “I Do…Until I Don’t,” which goes deeper into intimacy, this time taking on the brutality of marriage, exposing its nuance, hostilities, and strain of commitment, but with a pronounced comedic approach that find Bell in a Woody Allen mood, picking up on behaviors instead of giving her story a major presence. While her debut had charm to save it, “I Do…Until I Don’t” tries too hard to silly and sincere, finding Bell’s effort to preserve a causal vibe crushing its lasting appeal.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Unlocked


There’s a good reason to hope for the best when it comes to the career of Noomi Rapace. She’s a wonderful actress and an atypically focused talent, often drawn to characters with severe psychological damage. Her skills were put on view recently, in Tommy Wirkola’s “What Happened to Monday,” which challenged Rapace to play septuplets, each with a distinct personality. While she’s had her professional ups and downs, she’s trapped in career carbonite in “Unlocked,” which sticks Rapace in the middle of a terribly formulaic thriller, which often plays like a television pilot. She’s handed another roughhouse role here, tasked with mastering spy-on-the-run moves, and Rapace is one of the few highlights of “Unlocked,” which is faced with tough competition on screens big and little, but doesn’t pursue anything novel or ferocious enough to make a deep impression.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Death Note


No matter what “Death Note” does, it’s going to be subjected to intense scrutiny. It’s an adaptation of a popular Japanese manga that debuted in 2003, which spawned a media empire with live-action features, a television series, a musical, video games, and an anime offering. This universe has been covered numerous times, but not from a Western perspective. Enter director Adam Wingard, fresh off his swing-and-a-miss reimagining of the “Blair Witch” franchise, who’s tasked with making sense of this strange concoction of adolescent woe and pure horror. Wingard has the right idea when it comes to screen style, but for everything that actually happens in the story, there’s not much of a movie beyond basic offerings of gore and demon visitations. As grand as the franchise has become around the world, this “Death Note” doesn’t learn from its mistakes, showing little regard for plot as the picture manufactures disorienting character leaps and a non-ending to reward those patient enough to sit through it.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World


As music documentaries get more specific with their subject matters, education grows, exposing viewers not just simply to artists, but the worlds they inhabit, the camaraderie they’ve built, and the mysteries they encourage. “Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World” should be a precise cut into the artery of American music, discovering the origin of national sounds, with most early rock and roll rooted in Native American culture. Directors Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana embark on quite the journey with “Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World,” attempting to change the “narrative” in industry credit, but also basking the glow of various First Nation creative triumphs that have largely gone unnoticed. It’s ambitious, and it doesn’t always work, with the helmers biting off more than they can chew with this exploration of achievement. Culture sensitivities are always welcome, but Bainbridge and Maiorana never seem to share a vision for the feature, which largely remains respectful of its interview participants, but fails to build into something profound.  Read the rest at

Film Review - A Boy Called Po


It’s wonderful that there’s growing awareness of autism, especially in cinema, which, in recent years, has gotten serious about the subject, with brave filmmakers searching for ways to tell inclusive stories as a way to demystify the disorder, exposing its mysteries and reinforcing its unique sacrifices. Director John Asher has firsthand knowledge of the subject, co-parenting an autistic boy (his ex being famous anti-vaxxer Jenny McCarthy), making his perspective on the rituals of raising special needs child valuable to “A Boy Named Po,” which is dedicated to his kid. And yet, Asher, and screenwriters Colin Goldman and Steve C. Roberts, seem terrified of following through on a realistic feature, turning “A Boy Named Po” into TV movie-style viewing experience, hitting conflicts and emotional beats with a sledgehammer, while the ending is borderline inexcusable. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - The Paradine Case


1947's "The Paradine Case" is a rest stop during an incredibly fertile time in Alfred Hitchcock's creativity, arriving after "Spellbound," "Notorious," and "Lifeboat," while preceding 1948's "Rope," which this picture feels like a test run for. Far from his greatest work, "The Paradine Case" still offers a few premiere Hitchcock moments, attempting to jazz up a murder mystery/courtroom drama with visual control and a few fine performances, working to make something passably meaty out of a dry run of suspicion and obsession (a Hitchcock specialty). Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Zaza


"Zaza" was originally a 19th century French play concerning the relationship between the titular musical hall entertainer and a married man. The material caught on in a big way, adapted for stage and screen multiple times over the decades, with one of those efforts a 1923 feature from director Allan Dwan, who cast Gloria Swanson in the lead role. Granted, the idea of a play with a certain level of timing transformed into a silent movie is very strange, but this "Zaza" has plenty of spirit thanks to Swanson, who delivers a full-body performance to make sure the camera picks up her emotional range and comedic abilities, sold without the use of verbal wit. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - One, Two, Three


1961's "One, Two, Three" isn't just a Billy Wilder movie, it's the helmer's follow-up to "The Apartment," which is largely considered to be one of the maestro's finest achievements during his long directorial career. However, instead of aping his success, Wilder and co-writer I.A.L. Diamond decide to head in the opposite direction, arranging a farce with "One, Two, Three," which takes place in Cold War-era Germany, right before the construction of the Berlin Wall. The men also invest in speed, keeping the feature moving along at an incredible pace, preserving the material's theatrical origins with an endeavor that's loud and broad, treating the widescreen frame as a stage.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - VHS Massacre


There's been much debate on the possibly of physical media coming to an end, replaced by the rise in downloading and streaming offerings that utilize faster internet speeds, playing directly to an audience that doesn't feel the need to own movies or visit a theater. It's a sad state of affairs, and demands a documentary that carefully examines both sides of the argument, inspecting the history of physical media and its evolution over the years to its current position of perceived extinction. Sadly, "VHS Massacre" is not the production prepared to dissect the essentials in education and example to make a strong argument for either side. Instead of an insightful endeavor that makes an effort to encompass a wide range of topics, the documentary is more of a grab bag of ideas, pinballing around discussions and interviewees with little to no focus, failing to achieve a greater presentation of theme and nostalgia.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Son of the Sheik


Facing a dip in his career after the massive success of 1921's "The Sheik," star Rudolph Valentino returns to the well with 1926's "The Son of the Sheik," which attempts to revive the actor's "Latin Lover" image with a second helping of Middle Eastern obsession and romance. However, Valentino doesn't take the challenge lying down, electing to play two roles, father and son, in the feature, which provides a vigorous enough thespian experience to help liven up an otherwise agreeable but unremarkable sequel.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Good Time


Directors Benny and Josh Safdie don’t like to take it easy on their audience. The helmers behind “Daddy Longlegs” and “Heaven Knows What,” the Safdies love to turn their cinema into an endurance test, using extreme close-ups to inspire claustrophobia and creating characters who are addicted to bad decisions. “Good Time” is the new addition to their festering oeuvre, and it’s their finest work to date, finally masterminding a way to play to their strengths of diseased cinema and still tell a compelling story, with this round of anguish devoted to the dogged determination of brotherly bonds. “Good Time” is the most accessible Safdie production to date, but that’s not an invitation to all, as the feature requires ticket-buyers to be prepared for a grueling viewing experience, but an exceptional one, nudged along by star Robert Pattinson’s career-shifting performance.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Terminator 2: Judgment Day 3D


About five years ago, James Cameron elected to convert his 1997 Oscar-winning, pop culture dominating smash hit, “Titanic,” into 3D, trying to stir up some renewed excitement for the feature and add to his collection of 3D achievements after turning “Avatar” into the biggest movie of all time. Now he’s back with “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” which doesn’t instantly lend itself to the 3D conversion process, requiring some delicate tinkering to bring out a worthwhile viewing experience that expands on the depth of the original theatrical release. With “Judgment Day” already an absolute classic and one of Cameron’s best pictures, there’s little need for such gimmickry to justify a return to the multiplexes. But, for 3D-heads, Cameron does a tasteful job creating immersion into the blockbuster, sustaining balance between the original cinematography and new layers of distances and pointy metal threats.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Bushwick


In an incredible feat of timing, “Bushwick,” which is about the division and crumbling of the United States, comes out during a month were it feels like the county is about to be torn apart by a second Civil War. It’s a little eerie watching the feature, which explores the unraveling of society during a violent invasion, and it’s not the first time directors Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott have prepared something unsavory for viewers. Two years ago, the pair masterminded “Cooties,” which turned elementary school kids into bloodthirsty zombies. They’ve sobered up completely for “Bushwick,” and for this strange tale of domestic upheaval, Murnion and Milott construct a fluid, vivid depiction of battle zone panic and desperation, approaching the horrors of a war movie from an interesting point of view.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Ingrid Goes West


While there have been many films covering the millennial experience, few have captured the social media plague like “Ingrid Goes West.” It’s a tale of obsession that name-checks “Single White Female” in the screenplay, deflecting obvious comparisons to the 1992 female-on-female stalker cult effort, but screenwriters David Branson Smith and Matt Spicer (who also directs) tap into a specific position of fixation, using the full exposure of social media to manufacture an uneasy dark comedy about personal need, and there’s potent commentary about the overshare generation, which teases satirical highs. “Ingrid Goes West” doesn’t sustain its overview of delusion, but it gets most of the way there, showcasing sharp insight and sly wit as it investigates the madness of exclusion.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Ghost House


If you must steal, steal from the best. That appears to be the motto of “Ghost House,” a fairly obvious riff on Sam Raimi’s 2009 horror extravaganza, “Drag Me to Hell.” Many filmmakers have lifted from Raimi before, making director Rich Ragsdale part of a club, but where “Drag Me to Hell” was a thunderous, enchantingly bizarre tale of a young woman cursed, “Ghost House” (curiously, also the name of Raimi’s production company) merely offers a few neat visual ideas while grim acting and an overbearing score generally wear down the feature’s capacity to impress. Ragsdale appears eager to please here, which is a good thing, but this Thai chiller tends to be more abusive than frightening, though there’s potential for something macabre that keeps it moderately interesting, but never satisfying. If there’s one thing Ragsdale does exceedingly well, it’s his ability to remind the viewer just how well Raimi pulls off this kind of visual nightmare.  Read the rest at

Film Review - England is Mine


Instead of undertaking a full-on recreation of the formation of The Smiths, Co-writer/director Mark Gill has decided to forgo an examination of Steven Patrick Morrissey’s ascent to music dominance and simply focus on years of transition in the 1970s. This was long before the world understood the Morrissey brand name, when he was just a depressed, intelligent young man with a Shangri-Las fixation trying to figure out his way in the world, albeit the world of Manchester, England, where the skies are always gray, residents are temperamental, and flowing rivers mock those who can’t escape the city limits. It’s “Smiths Begins” in a way, a rock and roll origin story much like Anton Corbijn’s “Control,” only the emphasis here is on the slow burn of sadness, tracking Morrissey’s response to constant disappointment, paralyzing shyness, and isolating intelligence.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Leap


For family entertainment in the summer of 2017, there have been movies dedicated to the inner lives of cars, minions, squirrels, and emojis. Perhaps it’s time for a human story. “Leap” endeavors to provide a slightly less manic distraction for younger audiences, examining the inner light of an orphan dreaming big, finding herself with a chance to become a star ballerina in Paris in the late 1800s. Directors Eric Summer and Eric Warin make the feature’s entertainment value a priority, but the helmers seem terrified to stay away from formula, slowly erasing everything that makes “Leap” appealing just to keep up with animation expectations. There are plenty of likable elements in the picture, and it serves its purposes as an empowerment tool, but the production spends too much time on autopilot, failing to follow through on its rather bold decision to tell a tale that doesn’t involve cuddly, slapstick creatures.  Read the rest at