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March 2018

Blu-ray Review - Night Angel


Horror doesn't come easy to 1990's "Night Angel," which is more of an erotic thriller with periodic dips into gore zone activities than a straight nightmare machine. The picture couldn't be more late-1980s if it tried, combining the ways of yuppiedom with freewheeling bedroom antics involving a bloodthirsty demon and her quest to rise in the ranks of the modeling business. Screenwriters Joe Augustyn and Walter Josten are after something awfully specific with the material, which is ambitious in the way it pulls from biblical mythology and Skinemax, but it's clear director Dominique Othenin-Gerard ("Halloween 5," "Omen IV: The Awkening") doesn't quite have a handle on the proceedings, dutifully trying to visualize a haunting of the mind and genitals while keeping the effort soaked in blood. "Night Angel" charms with its interest in make-up effects and period style, but it doesn't have the inspiration to emerge as a formidable genre endeavor, and its titillation factor is debatable.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Salamander


1981's "The Salamander" is meant to be a hard-charging conspiracy thriller, adapted from a novel by Morris L. West. The final cut keeps the general outline of chills and spills, but lacks a considerable amount of energy and clarity, asking the audience to play the name game with a host of Italian characters and their cloudy motivations. The production has all the advantages a movie could ask for, leading with an all-star cast, a rousing score by Jerry Goldsmith, and Italy itself, which provides a memorable backdrop for all kinds of political and personal manipulations. And yet, while stuffed with threats and troublemaking, "The Salamander" is a frustratingly flat effort.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Burning Bed


After becoming a sex symbol, or perhaps THEE sex symbol of the late 1970s, Farrah Fawcett struggled to be taken seriously as an actress. After rising to the top of pop culture awareness with "Charlie's Angels," Fawcett turned to television movies to make a different impression. While trying to find a sense of creative satisfaction, Fawcett struck gold with 1984's "The Burning Bed," which offered the actress a chance to put away demands of glamour and portray a woman subjected to horrific abuse in her toxic marriage. "The Burning Bed" takes inspiration from the true-life tale of Francine Hughes (who passed away earlier this year), and director Robert Greenwald ("Xanadu") treats the severity of the story with some care, trying to keep melodramatics at arm's length for as long as possible. But this is truly Fawcett's big showcase, delivering a haunted performance that's impressive in its dramatic commitment and physical display, helping the endeavor remain grounded as its television interests fight for attention. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Nightkill


Here's one problem with "Nightkill": the first character to die in the film is murdered during the day. It's a small detail, for sure, but an important one that identifies the general lethargy of the event, which isn't even titled correctly. It's meant to be a sinister thriller, a Hitchcockian endeavor with Euro chiller interests, also presenting Jaclyn Smith with a starring role that begins to inch the actress away from her "Charlie's Angels" television success. And yet, while the story details murder, betrayal, and deception, large chunks of the movie are simply devoted to Smith acting agitated and teary, groaning as her character struggles to figure out an impossible situation of guilt and homicide. "Nightkill" is quite dull and somewhat unsatisfying, with director Ted Post fumbling a growing sense of suspense, content to portion out shocks in brief reveals, which does nothing to build the effort's fright factor. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Tomb Raider


Hollywood really wants to make something out of “Tomb Raider,” the famous video game saga that’s been brought to the big screen on two previous occasions, in 2001 and 2003. Both efforts emphasized tech and sex appeal, bringing in Angelina Jolie to deliver curves and power to the character of Lara Croft, and while the movies made some money, it wasn’t enough to keep the series going. There’s a newer Croft on the market (a popular 2013 game), and producers now turn their attention to a fresh take on old business, hiring Alicia Vikander to portray a greener, leaner Croft to a fit a narrative that concerns the character’s introduction into a world of near-misses and survival. And yet, despite a welcome change of direction, the new “Tomb Raider” only intermittently succeeds as a widescreen event, with too much down time taking a bite out of the endeavor’s pace and thrills. Read the rest at

Film Review - Loveless


“Loveless” is a Russian production, and has some very specific commentary on how the country treats its citizens, which might not register as strongly with foreign audiences. What’s more precise is its understanding of a toxic relationship and how such hatred seeps into the system of others. It’s a film that touches on resentment and human nature, but it’s a tale about the loss of a child, with such a traumatic experience nearly regarded as everyday business by the lead characters. Co-writer/director Andrey Zvyagintsev explores the selfishness of a broken marriage in “Loveless,” but pays closer attention to collateral damage, balancing the procedural aspects of a missing child case with the defined narcissism of parents who barely seem to notice their child is gone. It’s a lengthy, slow-burn dip into an emotional abyss, but Zvyagintsev has something to share with viewers, offering a compelling study of denial. Read the rest at

Film Review - Keep the Change


Writer/director Rachel Israel has made a film about autism that’s unlike many pictures about the subject. Instead of creating a mournful endeavor or a shallow quirkfest, she finds the heart and soul of everyday people trying to find their way in the big city. “Keep the Change” has its serious side, but it’s mostly a comedy about building confidence and communication, featuring a cast of autistic people to secure authenticity and celebrate a unique perspective on traditionally neurotic characters. “Keep the Change” is also hilarious and warm, finding its own voice as Israel creates a special space for her cast to shine, preserving idiosyncrasies and timing to best reinforce the unusual atmosphere of pure personality on display.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Hell's Kitty


I’m sure the behind-the-scenes story on “Hell’s Kitty” is far more interesting than tale presented onscreen. Writer/director/star Nicholas Tana is hunting for a paycheck, looking for money he couldn’t find on the internet with his web series, “Hell’s Kitty,” turning his attention to the glory of feature-length filmmaking, only he doesn’t actually have new ideas to share. The movie is stitched together from episodes of the show, displaying little regard for continuity or coherence, with Tana struggling to cover the seams. The gimmick here is the hiring of horror stars to basically recreate some of their most famous roles, and that’s where expectation levels should remain, as Tana does manage to coax a few recognizable faces back in front of a camera. What he forgets to secure are technical achievements and a narrative direction, making the endeavor more valuable as a nostalgia trip than a genre event.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Infinity Baby


I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that “Infinity Baby” was shot over a matter of days. It also wouldn’t be a shock to learn that the movie was created for some type of academic requirement or perhaps an art installation. It’s not a conventional picture by any means, but it’s barely a picture to begin with, unfolding without much care for storytelling support or character arcs. Director Bob Byington and screenwriter Onur Tukel seemingly set out to celebrate the art of acting with the feature, and they’re quite successful, as sharp, committed performances are all over “Infinity Baby,” helping to sell the vague fantasy on display. It’s an odd film, intentionally so, and your mileage may vary when it comes to the lasting impact of an ephemeral effort, but there are interesting attitudes and neuroses here that save the viewing experience, or at least make it tolerable for 67 minutes of screen time.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Love, Simon


“Love, Simon” has a message of compassion and empowerment it wants to share with its target demographic. It’s a story of personal acceptance featuring gay characters, but it’s presented as an average teen movie with quirky personalities, glossy emotions, and a celebratory finale, keeping tight to formula as a way to remain relatable. Intentions are pure and, thankfully, there’s plenty of sincerity to keep the feature afloat, with director Greg Berlanti making sure the emotions that count the most are projected as accurately as possible. The rest of “Love, Simon” isn’t nearly as neatly executed, with some rather severe screenwriting issues making trouble for the picture’s overall effectiveness. There’s plenty to admire here, and any sort of gentleness at the multiplex is something to be treasured, but it’s hard to ignore the film’s general unwillingness to confront cruelty. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bent


While paychecks make the world go round, there must have been something greater about “Bent” at one point during its development to attract actors such as Karl Urban, Sofia Vergara, and Andy Garcia. It’s a dim thriller that strives to emulate detective noir from the 1940s, transferring hard-boiled antics to the current playground of DTV productions: Louisiana. It’s unremarkable in almost every way, but it does have the actors, with Urban showing interest in co-writer/director Bobby Moresco’s crude way with corruption, sex, double-crosses, and standoffs. Perhaps “Bent” was something major in the script stage, but the final cut is a defanged, slightly bewildering collection of motivations and last names, while the overall production is missing a great deal of energy to fuel even its most modest ideas for mystery.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Leaning Into the Wind: Andy Goldsworthy


In 2001, director Thomas Riedelsheimer made an art-house hit with “Rivers and Tides,” his study of the work of Andy Goldsworthy, a British sculptor and photographer whose specialty is the wonders of the natural world. The artist’s work is a proper fit for big screen exploration, and Riedelsheimer was eager to share Goldsworthy’s unique perspective on the living life force that surrounds us, highlighting his interest in the manipulation of found objects, symmetry, and tactile zen. Nearly 20 years later, the helmer has returned to the company of Goldsworthy for “Leaning Into the Wind,” which doesn’t explore the subject’s life as he lives it today, but reunites with his specialized vision, joining Goldsworthy as he travels around the world to refine his influences and continue developing his art, with the movie detailing several installations and private tours that contribute to the creator’s personal view. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Silent Night, Deadly Night


There's a slasher film for every star in the sky, and every now and then, one of these productions manages to upset a lot of people. 1984's "Silent Night, Deadly Night" was intended to become another holiday horror staple, joining the ranks of "Halloween" and "My Bloody Valentine" as a perennial moneymaker. Instead, the Christmas-themed endeavor from director Charles E. Sellier, Jr. was immediately condemned by parents and family organizations, objecting the use of a maniacal, murderous Santa Claus in marketing materials, moving on to destroy the movie itself as protests were assembled during the feature's theatrical run. Even Siskel and Ebert went to town on "Silent Night, Deadly Night," decrying its sleazy content and ill-advised use of an ax-clutching Santa on the poster. The picture didn't have much luck during its initial release, but like everything that's branded taboo and hated by parents, it managed to find a second life on home video, giving horror fans a chance to spy what's actually a fairly clumsy, amateurish, tonal disaster that strives to be cheeky fun, but offers more than enough repellent content to fully stifle whatever yuletide joy ride the producers were intending to make. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - They Call Me Bruce?


"They Call Me Bruce?" is a difficult film to understand, and perhaps it helps to be reminded that the production is from 1982, where stereotype-based humor was in its waning years, finding audiences growing tired of jokes that reinforced ugly ideas about race and foreign cultures. The screenplay strives to get in a few final hits before the window of opportunity closes, with director Elliot Hung seemingly have a ball staging this action comedy, which emerges as a purely cartoon understanding of East meets West clichés, striving to add a serious dollop of Looney Tunes to an already manic creation. "They Call Me Bruce?" isn't a movie that's ideal for a casual viewing, demanding an understanding of the time and place in which it was created, but for those capable of leaping over the effort's questionable taste in jokes, perhaps there's a wily creation in here somewhere that supplies sufficient entertainment value.  Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Kill and Kill Again


Technically, 1981's "Kill and Kill Again" is a sequel to 1980's "Kill or Be Killed," but the productions have little in common besides star James Ryan, who's not even playing the same character. However, hindsight is apparent throughout the picture, as it takes what worked before and amplifies the actioner attitude of the follow-up, with director Ivan Hall (returning for duty) creating a bigger adventure that's filled with martial arts demonstrations and meaty threats, but escalates the whole thing into a James Bond-style spy extravaganza set in South Africa, only without a grand budget.  Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - The Untamed


After exploring a real-world nightmare in "Heli," co-writer/director Amat Escalante returns with something sinister from outer space for "The Untamed," though the effort is far from a traditional alien terror extravaganza. The helmer goes for unease with this study of relationships and profound sexual experiences, with Escalante working a more metaphorical route to disturbing behavior, locating unusual suspense as he achieves a clear view of domestic dysfunction.  Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Strangers: Prey at Night


A decade is an eternity when it comes to the wait for a sequel. That’s an entire generation, and horror franchises generally keep puffing along when chapters are issued annually, maintaining whatever freshness was there originally that beguiled audiences. 2008’s “The Strangers” was a low-budget success, securing a certain future of follow-ups, but they never arrived until today, with “The Strangers: Prey at Night” taking on the unwelcome challenge of connecting to the original feature and showcasing a sense of renewed purpose to appeal to a younger audience. “Prey at Night” remains stuck with some editorial issues, and there’s the dead-end premise to grind things to a halt, but the newest celebration of nihilism and chart-topping hits from the 1980s is actually quite effective when it wants to be, finding signs of life in a brand name that was on its way to the morgue. Read the rest at 

Film Review - A Wrinkle in Time


Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 book, “A Wrinkle in Time,” is a beloved “science fantasy” novel that’s often been described as impossible to adapt for the screen. There was a 2003 television movie that attempted to bring the author’s rich imagination to life, and now director Ava DuVernay tries her hand at interpretation, armed with a substantial budget and a bit of star power. Of course, DuVernay isn’t a seasoned filmmaker, previously working on smaller scale pictures such as “Selma,” and her inexperience riding the bucking bronco of CGI, whimsy, and world-building is evident from the first frame. “A Wrinkle in Time” doesn’t work, and while the helmer struggles to transform the complex material into the starting line for a fresh Disney franchise, she often comes up short, finding the feature too stiff and underdeveloped to connect as an awe-inspiring tribute to the power of science and love.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Hurricane Heist


There’s no fighting Rob Cohen’s directorial style, which is meant to simulate a jackhammer to the senses. He’s a crude architect of mainstream entertainment, unwilling to make something special when he can just blow something up, and “The Hurricane Heist” is exactly the type of movie he does repeatedly and poorly. After bottoming out with the worst Mummy sequel (2008’s “Tomb of the Dragon Emperor”), the unwatchable “The Boy Next Door,” and the strangely mean-spirited “Alex Cross,” Cohen remains revved up for this mix of “Twister” and “Hard Rain.” It’s meant to be spectacle, but the helmer only knows noise, offering a 100-minute-long cluster of puzzling action, dreadful performances, and a loose understanding of how Mother Nature works. Not that “The Hurricane Heist” needs to be a documentary, but a little meteorological authenticity would’ve been a fine distraction from all the bottom shelf creative decisions peppered around this dud -- the latest addition to a particularly odious filmography.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Gringo


2008’s “The Square” marked the feature-length directorial debut for Nash Edgerton, who crafted a wonderful homage to Coen Brothers cinema while stoking his own interests in macabre turns of plot and damaged characters. Weirdly, he never produced an immediate follow-up, spending time in television and creating shorts, but now Edgerton has returned to the big screen with “Gringo,” which carries a few of the same mischievous impulses that made “The Square” such a winner. Sadly, the effort as a whole is a let-down, watching the helmer take on too much characterization as he masterminds a cat’s cradle of combustible personalities trying to control aspects of Mexico, with some hoping to make it out alive. “Gringo” is a misfire, and a periodically painful one too, almost unwilling to come together with any sort of welcome ferocity, watching Edgerton spend too much time on narrative dead-ends and not enough on an end game for all this widescreen bustle.  Read the rest at