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March 2018

Film Review - Thoroughbreds


Writer/director Cory Finley is a playwright making a transition to film, but he doesn’t leave behind the theater in full. “Thoroughbreds” is his helming debut, and it plays very much like a theatrical piece, focusing on the construction of personalities through tightly considered dialogue, not screen movement or cinematic escalation. It’s something to be shared inside an intimate space with talented actors, and as a movie, “Thoroughbreds” lacks vigor, especially with a static finale. Despite some issues with widescreen urgency, the feature certainly isn’t short on commitment, with stars Anya Taylor-Joy, Olivia Cooke, and Anton Yelchin doing a fantastic job getting into Finley’s writing, finding character beats worth savoring as the effort as a whole fights to remain on its feet without act breaks. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Death of Stalin


Armando Iannucci has a long history with improvised comedy, and a reputation for intelligent satire, previously masterminding such productions as “The Thick of It,” “Veep,” and his last big screen directorial endeavor, “In the Loop.” Continuing his interest in political bickering, panic, and ambition, Iannucci takes on the Soviet Union with “The Death of Stalin,” an ominous title for a movie that periodically shows interest in wacky behavior. An adaptation of a graphic novel, the feature remains in line with other Iannucci efforts, with the helmer putting his faith in behavioral extremity and thespian excitement, coming up with a lively but overlong examination of behind-the-scenes unrest after the loss of a feared leader. It plays to expectations, but it also offers some unusual tonal choices that keep it unpredictable.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Beast of Burden


It’s been fascinating to watch the developing career of Daniel Radcliffe. The once and future Harry Potter has been trying to make interesting career decisions, picking roles that take him far away from the Boy Wizard, eschewing fantasy for the hard edges of reality. “Beast of Burden” isn’t a particularly exhausting psychological thriller, but it does merge Radcliffe’s love of the theater with his big screen endeavors, offering him the chance to command a movie basically all by himself. It’s just Radcliffe and an airplane for most of “Beast of Burden,” resembling a higher altitude “Locke” as the actor is tasked with communicating a heightened emotional range, portraying a character dealing with professional, criminal, and domestic pressures while high in the sky.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Wrong Guy


After achieve fame as part of the sketch comedy group The Kids in the Hall, actor Dave Foley tries on leading man moves with "The Wrong Guy." He's not exactly testing his thespian skills in the 1997 effort, but Foley is permitted a frame all to himself, playing a man on the run in this Hitchcockian comedy, primarily in charge of depicting hysterics and executing straight man reactions to the weirdness and extremity the screenplay (written by Foley, Dave Higgins, and Jay Kogen) has to offer. "The Wrong Guy" is silly endeavor, and a consistent one under the guidance of director David Steinberg, who packs a surprising amount of sight gags and goofiness into the picture, while Foley remains in command of reactions, adding his special sense of humor to the mix while running all over the frame.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Woman in Red


It's easy to root for 1984's "The Woman in Red." It's written and directed by Gene Wilder, who also takes the starring role in this remake of the French comedy, "Pardon Mon Affaire." Wilder has increased the odds of laughter by securing such a fine supporting cast, including Charles Grodin, Joseph Bologna, and Gilda Radner. He's gifted the world the sight of Kelly LeBrock, who makes her acting debut as the titular object of desire. There are San Francisco locations to enjoy, and a lively soundtrack is largely supported by Stevie Wonder songs, including the once omnipresent smash hit, "I Just Called to Say I Love You." There's so much to enjoy here that it hurts the heart to realize the feature doesn't quite come together as substantially as Wilder envisions. He's got the tone and the cast, but "The Woman in Red" is something of a mess, with aborted subplots, random encounters, and strange technical choices conspiring to wear down the natural rhythms of the effort. It's easy to see what Wilder had in mind for the semi-farce, but it's difficult to watch him fumble scenes and lose concentration on connective tissue.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Sect


After achieving success with 1989’s “The Church,” co-writer/director Michele Soavi (best known for 1994’s “Cemetery Man”) takes on a smaller enemy for 1991’s “The Sect,” retreating the wilds of the mind for this horror endeavor. Strange water and nightmare realms define the slow-burn shocker, with Soavi taking his time building trouble for his lead character, asking the audience to sit patiently while the material works around some narrative dead ends and lengthy scenes of investigation. “The Sect” isn’t pulse-pounding entertainment, in dire need of another editorial pass, but the helmer scores with certain macabre visuals, offering wild, invasive camerawork and a game cast to conjure a cult disturbance.

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Blu-ray Review - The Man Who Died Twice


There's nothing particularly special about 1958's "The Man Who Died Twice," but it delivers a meat-and-potatoes crime story with relative ease. Directed by Joseph Kane ("The Yellow Rose of Texas"), the picture offers viewers time with very bad people and a mystery involving murder, drugs, and deception. And there's a little feline torment in there as well. "The Man Who Died Twice" is pulpy entertainment with a limited scope, but Kane understands what's expected of him, handling the screenplay's acts of intimidation and burgeoning violence well. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Brothers of the Night


"Brothers of the Night" is often classified as a documentary, but it's difficult to understand where the line between fiction and non-fiction remains. The picture tells the story of young Bulgarian men who've come to Vienna to establish a new life and make money, with some of them ending up as "gay for pay" prostitutes, collecting cash to send back home to family and spouses. Director Patric Chiha has an unusual topic to explore with his feature, but the blend of interview footage and nightlife recreation takes some time to get used to, with "Brothers of the Night" often resembling a reality show, not a deep dive into the wilds of identity. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Death Wish (2018)


The timing of the theatrical release of “Death Wish” couldn’t possibly be worse. In America, the subject of guns and the lunatics who possess them is headline news, and has been for the better part of 2018. And here comes a film that celebrates the destructive wonders of firearms and the value of reaching beyond the legal system to set things rights. All this would be incredibly distasteful if “Death Wish” was a passably provocative feature, but this remake of a 1974 Charles Bronson chiller is directed by Eli Roth, who has yet to fashion a moviegoing experience that didn’t involve the repeated rolling of eyes. Roth goes all Roth on the material, trying to turn the complexity of vigilante violence into a modern exploitation picture, keeping his take on aged material tone-deaf and painfully dim. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Party


Without opening titles and end credits, “The Party” is roughly 65 minutes long. In this day and age of bloated run times and overly plotted wipeouts, it’s refreshing to encounter a film that’s bravely short and to the point, giving audiences a direct shot of drama that’s all about the moment, not the aftermath. It also helps that “The Party” is a wicked little wrestling match of wits that’s darkly hilarious and expertly timed. Writer/director Sally Potter serves up a lean, mean machine of a feature, reveling in social discomfort and the possibility of violence, using a setting of celebration to release the art-house Kraken of suppressed hostilities, giving gifted actors a chance to run wild with pure emotional escalation. 65 minutes is just right for this dip into domestic chaos.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Red Sparrow


Director Frances Lawrence and actress Jennifer Lawrence previously worked together on the last three “Hunger Games” installments, likely forming a creative bond that was cushioned by the brand name’s Teflon appeal. Now they trade Panem for Russia, reteaming for the Cold War-style spy game, “Red Sparrow,” which once again situates Jennifer Lawrence in a position of pained resignation, playing another character battling against an oppressive government, doing anything she can to survive. “Red Sparrow” also has something else in common with the “Hunger Games” saga: an unwillingness to end. Two Lawrences fail to find anything approaching suspense in the thriller, which spend 139 minutes in extended conversations, trading deflated threats. Frances Lawrence appears to be under the impression he’s making opera, but all he’s doing is brewing a pot of Sleepytime Tea.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Mohawk


Co-writer/director Ted Geoghegan made his debut with 2015’s “We Are Still Here,” an effective horror effort that celebrated malevolent ghosts and cinematic tension. He pulled off an impressive B-movie with limited funds and locations, showcasing a love of the genre that helped to patch a few creative potholes. Interestingly, Geoghegan goes a different direction for his follow-up, and while he remains invested in gory events and shock value, “Mohawk” emerges as a period chase picture, with the production turning to the 19th century for inspiration. A sort of low-budget take on “Last of the Mohicans”-style adventuring, “Mohawk” has the right idea for suspense and mood, offering a propulsive pace and deep synth to support a tale of woodsy survival and bloodthirsty revenge.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Mute


Up to this point, Duncan Jones enjoyed a colorful filmmaking career. He’s typically drawn to sci-fi/fantasy ideas, going from small, sneaky tales (“Moon”) to the construction of an entire world (“Warcraft”). Between the extremes, he made his best movie (“Source Code”). Jones is a strong visual helmer, good with actors and tone, but his instincts mostly fail him with “Mute,” which is presented as an extended “Blade Runner” homage, but lacks a hypnotic sense of mystery and otherworldliness, trying a little too hard to show love to the Ridley Scott masterpiece. Unfortunately, Jones is too busy arranging lights and painting things DayGlo to pay attention to his own story, which goes from a mildly arresting detective tale, a future noir, to pure ugliness, stretching on for what becomes an interminable two hours. Jones faces his first real whiff with “Mute,” which grows into a colossal disappointment.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story


As an actress, Hedy Lamarr was defined by her beauty, using good looks to support a Hollywood career that included turns in films such as “White Cargo,” “The Conspirators,” and “Her Highness and the Bellboy.” During her heyday, she created a stir wherever she went, wowing the public with extraordinary glamour. “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story” endeavors to find the woman underneath the attractiveness, identifying the star as a brilliant mind interested in the mastering of inventions, with a strong pull toward science, reaching a specific breakthrough during World War II that’s largely responsible for the world of wi-fi that we know today. “Bombshell” has the benefit of shock value, with director Alexandra Dean selecting an extraordinary topic for documentary dissection, working to redefine Lamarr’s legacy as a figure of allure to one of unheralded brilliance.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Submission


“Submission” examine a common tale of teacher-student impropriety, but it doesn’t simply rest on the simplicity of bedroom manipulations, working to explore the details of obsession when it reaches beyond common attraction. Based on the novel by Francine Prose, “Submission” establishes a curious perspective when it comes to inappropriate urges, trying to disturb expectations for something more lustful by making the central connection between a professor and his comely student more about creative potential and competition while also detailing some unsavory predator business. Writer/director Richard Levine doesn’t always play things subtly, but he does work effectively, creating a small-scale battle of power and credit that feeds into the dual meaning of the title.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Vanishing of Sidney Hall


The feature is titled “The Vanishing of Sidney Hall,” and he’s a character who should probably stay lost. Co-writer/director Shawn Christensen tries to utilize the legacy of reclusive author J.D. Salinger to inspire this tale of creative and psychological burden, but in an effort to become the most serious movie of all time, he overcooks dramatic passages, creating a painful self-serious vibe that transforms into punishment as the film reaches two hours in length. “The Vanishing of Sidney Hall” isn’t meant to be light, but it shouldn’t be suffocating either, with Christensen piling on tragedies and hopelessness to a near-comical degree, trying to make a bleak statement on the stain of guilt, armed with all the wrong cinematic tools to properly excavate intended profundity.  Read the rest at