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October 2017

Film Review - Amityville: The Awakening


Anytime a film misses a release date, it’s usually a bad sign. “Amityville: The Awakening” missed a whole bunch of them, kicked like a rusty can around the years as the studio worked up the nerve (or financial means) to slip the picture in front of audiences. Shot three years ago and teased with posters and trailers ever since, it’s finally time to witness the rebirth of the “Amityville” brand name, which was last seen on screens in a 2005 remake, starring Ryan Reynolds. Clues pointing to disaster were all there, and “Amityville: The Awakening” is happy to meet lower expectations, offering no real scares and even less common sense for a chiller. Writer/director Franck Khalfoun tries to be a little bit clever with the effort, frosting the endeavor with self-awareness, but what he really needs are effective frights and less predictability in this, the latest chapter in a weirdly enduring franchise.  Read the rest at

Film Review - M.F.A.


The timing for the release of “M.F.A.” couldn’t be better, presented to filmgoers during a difficult time of debate and frustration over the subject of sexual assault, especially pertaining to the silencing of victims for the betterment of assailants. New frontiers of understanding have been achieved though efforts such as Kirby Dick’s “The Hunting Ground,” and “M.F.A.” certainly has focus when it comes to the depiction of shame and fear facing those who’ve been brutalized and have no path to justice. Screenwriter Leah McKendrick and director Natalia Leite (“Bare”) shape a provocative story of simmering rage and encroaching depression, but they make a deliberate choice to transform the endeavor into an exploitation movie, using graphic depictions of revenge to offer some level of catharsis. It doesn’t always feel like the right choice for an otherwise clear-eyed view of systemic suppression.  Read the rest at

Film Review - 6 Below: Miracle on the Mountain


Last week, there was “The Mountain Between Us.” This week, there’s “6 Below: Miracle on the Mountain,” making October a big month for survival films featuring desperate people stuck at high altitudes in the snow and bitter cold. Where “The Mountain Between Us” was a highly fictional romantic saga about strangers growing close in a crisis, “6 Below” recounts the true life horrors that visited hockey player Eric LeMarque, who, in 2004, became lost in the Sierra Nevada wilderness while on a snowboarding adventure. What’s promised is a frightening story of personal endurance rooted in fact, but the movie doesn’t deliver that tension. Instead, the feature goes the inspirational route, with director Scott Waugh trying to depict the internal churn of a man who’s not just facing death, but an expiration pounded into place by guilt, addiction, and fear, forcing Eric to dig within to live another day. Read the rest at

Film Review - Demons


One year ago, I reviewed “The Hollow,” the second directorial endeavor for Miles Doleac, who also scripted and starred in the movie. I wasn’t a fan, finding the film slow and dramatically unrewarding, while editorially, the picture needed to be slimmed down, with Doleac showing some indulgence with an unnecessarily permissive run time. He’s back in action with “Demons,” which, thankfully, is a shorter feature and slightly stronger representation of his creative interests, which mainly reside in characterization and the contrast of human concerns against seemingly supernatural forces. “Demons” ultimately comes up short, but Doleac goes down swinging, working to braid timelines and temperaments as he makes what initially appears to be an exorcism effort, only to slowly transform into a domestic drama.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Road to Rio


For their fifth "Road" picture, 1947's "Road to Rio" doesn't actually make much time for terra firma, keeping stars Bob Hope (playing trumpeter Hot Lips Barton) and Bing Crosby (as nightclub singer Scat Sweeney) on a boat, with Rio more of a destination than a playground for their latest adventure. Keeping up with their customary charms and wit, along with plenty of musical numbers to help win over audiences, "Road to Rio" is a largely successful installment of the comedy series, keeping Hope and Crosby busy with shenanigans that make the most of their individual gifts, while keeping things relatively casual to encourage the franchise's cocktail hour ambiance. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Kingdom of the Spiders


1977's "Kingdom of the Spiders" is not a particularly original film, but it does have specificity of threat, selecting one of the more powerful phobias shared by millions. Sure, sharks and birds don't provide the most peaceful imagery, but there's something about spiders that hits right at the heart of horror. Director John Cardos doesn't have much of a budget to do something epic with "Kingdom of the Spiders," but he values his tiny stars, keeping crawly things motoring along as the cast and a substantial number of extras explore levels of panic. It's not polished work, but it's mostly fun and filled with cheap thrills.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hell in the Pacific


Returning for duty with his "Point Blank" star Lee Marvin, director John Boorman cuts to the heart of war in 1968's "Hell in the Pacific," which boils down World War II conflict to the adventures of two soldiers (one American, one Japanese) stranded on a remote island. Boorman ditches dialogue and throttles incident with "Hell in the Pacific," wisely investing in pure physicality to communicate ideas both large and small, allowing Marvin and co-star Toshiro Mifune to play out their scenes in a feral manner, which makes for riveting cinema. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Dying to Know: Ram Dass & Timothy Leary


Director Gay Dillingham wants to accomplish a few goals with the documentary "Dying to Know: Ram Dass & Timothy Leary." Part of the picture delivers a biography of its subjects, tracking their life experiences, especially the ones that helped to shape their future as gurus of sort, with both men taking command of the psychedelics movement of the 1960s, finding Leary's more radical vision for brain-altering odysseys matching well with Dass's spiritual hug. "Dying to Know" also explores the mystery of death, asking fascinating questions about the journey to the other side, with both men seeking out ways to comfort those who refuse to embrace the finality of life. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Mountain Between Us


There has to be a reason why fine actors such as Kate Winslet and Idris Elba were drawn to “The Mountain Between Us.” There’s no professional challenge to the project, which tonally resembles a Lifetime Movie, presenting the stars with a tale of unexpected love emerging from a traumatizing survival challenge. Director Hany Abu-Assad has done fine work before, with “Paradise Now” and “Omar,” but he’s wrapped up in the nothingness of the picture as well, pretending that the sudsy elements of the screenplay (an adaptation of a 2011 novel by Charles Martin) are soulfully meaningful. “The Mountain Between Us” is a silly feature, but there’s no sense of such awareness from the production team, who plow ahead with a tedious, shallow soap opera that wastes the time of everyone involved. Read the rest at

Film Review - Blade Runner 2049


1982’s “Blade Runner” started off life as a box office disappointment in a particularly lively summer release season. Its reputation and influence developed radically over the decades, taking the Ridley Scott film on a wild ride of reappraisal and celebration, building a protective fandom who championed the construction of multiple cuts and numerous home video releases. Keeping up with trends of the day, there’s now a sequel, released 35 years after the original picture, hoping to give the faithful the cathedral tour they’ve been requesting for the decades now. The good news is that “Blade Runner 2049” is a sensational movie, loaded with outstanding technical accomplishments and revelatory performances. Even better, the follow-up manages to line up with the pure cinematic glow of the Scott endeavor, with helmer Denis Villeneuve paying careful attention to homage and narrative extension as he attempts to pull off what’s long been considered to be an impossible task. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Gerald's Game


After a rocky start this year, Stephen King adaptations are having a thrilling autumn. After the shocking success of the recent “It,” which has gone on to break box office records and rescue a grim moviegoing year, “Gerald’s Game” arrives on the scene. It’s a smaller production than “It,” but just as twisted, with an endless appetite for the macabre and the grisly, bringing King’s vivid imagination to the screen, seemingly unmolested by outside interference. After scoring creative hits with “Hush” and “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” co-writer/director Mike Flanagan returns to his horror interests with this wicked tale of imprisonment, refusing to let the smallness of the story get in the way of its potential to unsettle. “Gerald’s Game” is not a slam-bang genre exercise, but a slow descent into psychological depths, keeping Flanagan busy as he attempts to visualize a tale that largely takes place inside one panicked woman’s mind.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Barracuda


“Barracuda” is a homecoming tale in a way, opening as a story of a reunion between sisters before it develops into so much more. It’s set in Austin, Texas, and keeping the film sufficiently weird are directors Jason Cortlund and Julia Halperin, who invest in a slow-burn sensation of discovery, asking audiences to be patient with a movie that gradually evolves from a relationship saga to a horror endeavor, but not in an obvious, blood-and-guts way. “Barracuda” is sinister stuff, smartly conceived and executed by the helmers, who conjure darkness without announcing it, using the power of folk music to disarm viewers while the characters are carefully positioned for more macabre, distressed reveals. It starts small, but the picture escalates magnificently.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Osiris Child: Science Fiction Volume One


Co-writer/director Shane Abbess has something planned with “The Osiris Child: Science Fiction Volume One.” He’s attempting to go big with a sci-fi epic, but doesn’t have the necessary funds to truly indulge his franchise fantasies, requiring not just invention, but complete confidence to piece together an homage to B-movie escapism without a major push of financial comfort. Abbess doesn’t iron out all the kinks, but “The Osiris Child” is an engaging actioner with some striking visuals and a tireless need to entertain, making something about of next to nothing. The production hopes to disrupt expectations with a non-linear storytelling approach, mixing things up dramatically, but the picture comes through with periodic clarity, with urgent performances, appealing visual effects, and a sense of genre love coming together to create an energetic, pulpy feature, with Abbess succeeding where many other have tried and failed.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The King's Choice


The endlessly unfolding saga of World War II on the big screen takes a visit to Norway for “The King’s Choice.” It’s a historical film, detailing the plight of King Haakon VII as he confronts growing Nazi interests in his country, forced to deal with the encroaching threat when it finally reaches his front door. It’s a story of contemplation and debate, with periodic bursts of warfare, but director Erik Poppe isn’t entirely interested in detailing the visceral elements of combat. He’s made a theater piece in a way, concentrating on verbal jousting and acts of intimidation as Norway faces a German future. Poppe crafts a talky picture, but also a compelling one, understanding the internal unrest of a man who’s trained to be a royal ornament, only to find himself with a direct opinion on the arrival of an enigmatic enemy.  Read the rest at

Film Review - My Little Pony: The Movie


31 years ago, there was the first “My Little Pony” feature, created to cash in on the surprising success of the Hasbro toy line, giving fans a long-form version of the thing they love, expanding the world and the potential of the brand name. After a long breather from the multiplex, Hasbro returns with “My Little Pony: The Movie,” which is meant to amplify the very strange but sincere success of the “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” universe, which helped to make magical ponies relevant again and spawned an intriguing subculture hauntingly known as “Bronies.” “My Little Pony: The Movie” doesn’t generate an epic march for its big screen graduation, but it tries to open the world up in smaller ways, bringing in a hero’s journey plot and celebrity voicing to reach beyond the core demographic and offer family audiences something colorful, empowering, and semi-silly to enjoy together.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Walking Out


“Walking Out” takes viewers deep into the wilds of Montana to experience a particularly harsh survival challenge for a father and son on a hunting trip. It doesn’t shy away from formula when it comes to analyzing the pain of men unable to communicate properly while enduring difficult challenges together. You’ve seen this type of story before, but what “Walking Out” offers are beautiful locations and a more precise understanding of paternal influence, using generational woes to deepen the feature. Directors Alex and Andrew J. Smith are determined to generate atmosphere during the picture, but there’s not much going on with the lead characters besides pressure points of masculinity and physical endurance, leaving the effort a bit lacking in the drama department, even with a few terrific scenes to hold the movie together.  Read the rest at

Film Review - So B. It


The strangely titled “So B. It” is an adaptation of a 2004 novel by Sarah Weeks, and perhaps it should’ve remained in literary form. Despite its classification as a children’s book, the material covers difficult emotional ground, putting the protagonist through the wringer as she claims independence and searches for the truth behind her family history. Sent in to tame the writing is director Stephen Gyllenhaal and screenwriter Gary Williams, who try to create a warm glaze to pour over frightfully abrasive interactions, doing their duty to make the picture approachable for a wide audience. Unfortunately, “So B. It” is stunningly unpleasant, asking viewers to endure scenes of hysteria and loss that are almost impossible to process in a loose 90 minute run time. The feature aims to be a tearjerker and something of a mystery, but it misses a sense of settled discovery and catharsis by a country mile.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Cold Moon


“Cold Moon” is being advertised as the latest work from the man who co-wrote “Beetlejuice,” and that’s an accurate claim, as Michael McDowell wrote the original 1980 novel that’s inspired the new film. And that’s pretty much it for connective tissue to the Tim Burton classic. While “Cold Moon” does deal with the horrors of the afterlife, it does so with a sobering haunting, far from any comedic promises the marketing makes. Co-writer/director Griff Furst has an interesting challenge with McDowell’s material, striving to keep the more sellable elements of the picture alive while the story slowly creeps away from nightmarish violence and demented characters. It’s more Florida Gothic than “Beetlejuice,” so buyer beware.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Son of the Pink Panther


If there was anyone capable of doing something with a shot at becoming the next Inspector Clouseau, it's Roberto Benigni. While he wasn't a household name in the U.S. in 1993, Benigni was making his way to global recognition with films like "Johnny Stecchino," "Down by Law," and "Night on Earth," earning raves for his special sense of humor, with emphasis on slapstick. That co-writer/director Blake Edwards cast Benigni in "The Son of the Pink Panther," his second attempt to revive a dead franchise, is not a surprise. What is amazing about the production is how little comedy it gives its star, who's often out there on his own, working to make weak jokes work with help from his special way with broken English and physical endurance, hoping to live up to Peter Sellers standards with his take on Clouseau-ian tomfoolery. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Curse of the Pink Panther


By 1983, the "Pink Panther" franchise was big business for co-writer/director Blake Edwards, who was eventually stuck without his all-important star after the death of Peter Sellers in 1980. Edwards wasn't ready to slaughter the golden goose, concocting a "tribute" with 1982's "The Trail of the Pink Panther," which utilized old footage to resurrect Sellers for one final victory lap as Inspector Clouseau. Edward waltzed into reboot territory with "The Curse of the Pink Panther," which debuted less than a year later, submitting a new bumbling detective in Sleigh, played by Ted Wass. Trying to keep the heart pumping on a dying series, Edwards bends over backwards to make "Curse of the Pink Panther" work, but all it takes is two minutes of Wass in the starring role to understand how badly miscalculated the refreshing is, stumbling through old jokes with man who just doesn't possess the proper insanity to carry the brand name forward.  Read the rest at