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May 2018

Film Review - Adrift


It’s not easy to make a surprising film about a true story that was covered extensively in magazine articles and news reports, and inspired a popular book. However, the makers of “Adrift” are willing to give it a try, working a little movie magic to turn known quantities into renewed suspense, recounting the story of Tami Oldham Ashcraft, who entered a hurricane while sailing across the Pacific Ocean, only to come out the other side with a severely damaged boat, while her fiancé, Richard, was washed overboard. It’s a harrowing tale of survival, but in the hands of director Baltasar Kormakur, “Adrift” isn’t always about the details of self-preservation, maintaining a tight grip on the romantic aspects of Tami’s tale as a way to remain marketable to a wider audience. Suspense is there intermittently, but the screenplay doesn’t trust inherent dangers and tests of endurance, downplaying real-world horrors to coast along on Hollywood conventions. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ibiza


The market is saturated when it comes to raunchy, R-rated comedies that primarily use the scattergun art of improvisation to secure jokes, with recent efforts such as “Game Night” and “Blockers” trying to push make-em-up silly business on fatigued audiences. “Ibiza” doesn’t have a radical approach to funny stuff, remaining in line with similar productions, but it does possess a wonderful velocity for its madcap events. It’s a terrifically high-energy movie that’s certainly light on plot, only submitting basic romantic conflicts and travel challenges, but it has timing, with director Alex Richanbach working to keep “Ibiza” flowing along as fast as possible, creating an appealing screen party with game actresses and a throbbing EDM soundtrack, also providing a steady run of laughs to support all the goofiness.  Read the rest at

Film Review - How to Talk to Girls at Parties


Writer/director John Cameron Mitchell enjoys eccentricity and celebratory chaos, solidifying his creative interests with his first two endeavors, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and “Shortbus.” Mitchell’s last feature was 2010’s “Rabbit Hole,” a sensitive drama that widened his cinematic world view, showcasing his gifts with actors and ability to mute his wild side when necessary. “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” is Mitchell’s return to insanity, or at least his version of it, reuniting with his performance art habits for this adaptation of a Neil Gaiman short story, which requires quite a bit of on-screen hustle to transform into a proper movie. “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” isn’t complete, but that’s the way Mitchell wants it, going loose and free with this valentine to punk music and the mysteries of the universe.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Delirium


Blumhouse Productions receives a lot of credit from the media for their success stories, employing a simple low-budget approach to horror endeavors to achieve their monetary goals. They’ve had their triumphs, but for every “Get Out” there’s a “Delirium,” which joins pictures like “Visions,” “Curve,” and “Stephanie” as another paint-by-numbers genre exercise for Blumhouse, whose see-what-sticks approach to film production coughs up a new instantly forgettable story of murder and insanity. Perhaps the original screenplay by Adam Alleca was once a beaming example of chiller craftsmanship and psychological layers, but in the hands of director Dennis Iliadis, the end result is a dull take on encroaching madness and single location hellraising, rendered incomplete by choppy storytelling and an overall drowsiness that makes it difficult to maintain patience with 90 minutes of routine frights.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Future World


Late last year, James Franco collected numerous accolades and awards for “The Disaster Artist,” a surprisingly sincere dramatization about the making of “The Room.” However, while it was a successful directorial outing for the actor, it was hardly his only helming gig of the year, also responsible for two other movies (“In Dubious Battle” and “The Institute”) in 2017, with an additional six over the last five years. It’s the type of work output that puts Tyler Perry to shame, but while Franco’s fast, he’s also not very attentive to screen details, churning out experimental projects as a way to expand his thespian horizons, not necessarily refine his filmmaking chops. “Future World” is his latest grab-bag of tone and performances, this time trying on the world of “Mad Max” for size, seeing what he can do (with co-director Bruce Thierry Cheung) with a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The short answer: not much.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Social Animals


“Social Animals” plays it safe with its subject matter, taking a long look at the wandering hearts and minds of unhappy people trying to conquer their confusion and chart a different course in life. There’s a bit of arrested development going on, and a lot of domestic disturbance issues. Pieces of millennial anxiety are present as well. Writer/director Theresa Bennett isn’t going for originality with her dramedy, but she does have a valuable perspective on character, managing to form living, breathing people in the midst of clichés, taking at least some of their personal issues as seriously as the effort’s tone allows. “Social Animals” makes a few ill-advised turns during the run time, but it offers a satisfying peek at the difficulties of being an adult, especially when facing relationship woes and professional failure.  Read the rest at

Film Review - A Kid Like Jake


The story of “A Kid Like Jake” details careful steps of observation as two parents of a four-year-old child try to assess his place in the world once they pick up on her transgender future. It’s not an easy tale to tell, with screenwriter Daniel Pearle adapting his own play, laboring to take something very intimate and give it a bigger sense of life and stakes for the screen. He’s mostly successful, as “A Kid Like Jake” does very well putting forth a state of normality that’s corrupted by anxiety, keeping focus on the parents, who wrestle with various issues, trying to care deeply for their child as she goes from the bubble of home life to the social challenges of kindergarten. There’s no sensationalism here, just honest feelings and relatable concern, with Pearle making sure to keep challenges realistic, doing whatever he can to shoo away the artificiality of a television movie.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Cold Skin


Last year, Guillermo del Toro won an Academy Award for “The Shape of Water,” which depicted a loving, sexual relationship between a mute woman and humanoid amphibian. This year, director Xavier Gens drinks from the same creative well, only his “Cold Skin” showcases a more mysterious love triangle between two salty men and the female humanoid amphibian they both strive to possess. Gens doesn’t share del Toro’s love of fantasy and textures, but he does offer intermittent intensity with his latest, which is just strange enough to pass, finding oddity often competing for scene attention with overblown dramatics. “Cold Skin” struggles to maintain pace and surprise, but Gens has the right idea more often than not, staying true to an operatic take on man vs. nature, creating something that’s better with the dark and violent stuff than anything psychologically profound.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Penitentiary


Instead of taking the usual exploitation route, writer/director Jamaa Fanaka attempts something slightly different with 1979's "Penitentiary," using his screen time to orchestrate sporting and tough guy excitement and approach some interesting social and judicial problems, helping the feature achieve a bit more dramatic texture than the average slug-fest. "Penitentiary" has many issues with tone, taste, and fight choreography, but it's also commanding when it needs to be, with Fanaka conjuring interesting characters and a vividly hostile setting, getting the boxing picture all worked up when necessary to keep viewers interested in the fates of hard men locked inside a concrete cage. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Fugitive Girls


Director Stephen C. Apostolof (credited here as A.C. Stephen) and screenwriter Ed Wood collaborated on multiple occasions, with the "Plan 9 from Outer Space" helmer churning out scripts that embraced low-budget possibilities, with exploitation highlights employed to create marketplace demand for the pictures. Their partnership began with 1965's "Orgy of the Dead" and eventually made its way to 1974's "Fugitive Girls" (a.k.a. "Five Loose Women"), and, much like "Dead," the feature does away with most dramatic necessities to charge ahead as a women-on-the-run endeavor, complete with broad characterizations and frequent nudity. It's nonsense, but as B-movie entertainment, Apostolof and Wood rarely pretend that they have anything but sleazy weirdness to share, and the filmmaking honesty is refreshing. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Sinbad of the Seven Seas


Rarely have I seen a movie work as hard to tell a story as 1989's "Sinbad of the Seven Seas." The Italian production has a lot of sequences to get through, but no real way to tie everything together, offering intrusive narration to act as the illuminated lamp working through the editorial darkness, while the picture opens with an extended explanation that it's an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade," despite having almost nothing in common with the short story. "Sinbad of the Seven Seas" is a great many things, which immediately confuses the production, watching star Lou Ferrigno flex, bend, and smash enemies as Sinbad, but he's no match for a feature that plays like a trailer, jumping from one adventure to the next without interest in establishing any connective tissue.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Cemetery Club


It's hard to argue with the thespian skill on display in 1993's "The Cemetery Club." The combination of Ellen Burstyn, Olympia Dukakis, and Diane Ladd offers a level of professionalism that would aid any production, and it just so happens that this picture needs all the help it can get. Writer Ivan Menchell brings his play to the screen, but there's not much of a translation, finding the staginess of the material creating a stiff, dry feature. Director Bill Duke takes a breather from violent escapades (including "A Rage in Harlem" and "Deep Cover") to helm this soft take on grief and friendship, but he's not interested in challenging Menchell's work, preserving the theatrical experience for the movie. "The Cemetery Club" is notable for its casting and attention to the needs of fiftysomething women, but it's rarely amusing and seldom profound, providing flavorless conflicts for its intended demographic, who deserve a little more intensity when dealing with matters of a broken heart.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Fahrenheit 451


There have been many attempts to bring “Fahrenheit 451” to the screen over the last decade (Mel Gibson came awfully close on the few occasions), but now seems like the perfect time to revisit author Ray Bradbury’s iconic tale of government authority and the death of knowledge in America. The producers of the new adaptation are certainly careful not to assign the material to any specific presidential rule, which is a smart move, but the atmosphere of “Fahrenheit 451” is recognizable and its themes timely. It’s only a shame it’s not a better picture, with writer/director Ramin Bahrani generally fumbling the futureworld horror of the premise, which demands a more intricate touch than the problematic helmer is capable of offering. Read the rest at 

Film Review - In Darkness


“In Darkness” attempts to pay homage to the work of iconic director Alfred Hitchcock, and, to a lesser degree, similar cinematic tributes arranged by Brian De Palma. However, to bring out the best Hitchcockian elements from any story, some sense of pacing and a gradual tightening of suspense is required, and “In Darkness,” which arrives with the best of intentions, doesn’t have the same nail-biting interests. Co-writer/director Anthony Byrne doesn’t generate much tension in the feature, which is nicely mounted but lacks a great amount of oomph, playing everything carefully to a point of inertia. Games of murder, betrayal, revenge, and torment are played, but Byrne doesn’t bring anything to a boil.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Misandrists


“The Misandrists” is not a movie built for a casual viewing. It’s the latest from writer/director Bruce LaBruce (“Hustler White”), and he’s not known for his careful way with onscreen elements, often using forward sexuality and heightened personalities to keep viewers on their toes. With “The Misandrists,” LaBruce explores the beginnings of an uprising, using black comedy to detail the happenings at a female-centric revolutionary group as they’re infiltrated by a man and confront rising doubts about their mission. It’s a very strange picture but also a fascinating one, and while the helmer doesn’t have a significant budget to bring many of ideas to life, he has his interests in odd events orchestrated by unbalanced characters, which gives the film a pleasingly off-kilter vibe, going a long way to cover certain limitations LaBruce can’t avoid.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Angie


1994 represents a period of stumbling in the career of Geena Davis. After reaching critical and box office highs with "Thelma and Louise" and "A League of Their Own" in the early 1990s, Davis had trouble keeping up the pace, with 1994 hurting her momentum with the release of "Speechless" and "Angie," a feature which offers a leading role most actresses would kill for, tasked with portraying a complicated woman who quests for independence while smothered by tradition. Davis is up for the task, taking the part seriously with a strong lead performance that hits all the emotional bullet points, but "Angie" has problems with focus, with director Martha Coolidge struggling like mad to keep the titular character on a defined journey of self as dozens of subplots and supporting characters compete for attention. It's a dramatic juggling act Coolidge has difficulty mastering, sending the final cut smashing across melodramatic extremes that dilute the intense character odyssey promised in the opening act. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - The Aviator


After experiencing the critical and commercial disappointment of 1983's "Superman III," Christopher Reeve returns to the skies in 1985's "The Aviator," though he's no longer in superhero mode. Trading blue and red tights for a leather jumpsuit, Reeve plays an emotionally and physically wounded pilot for the burgeoning air mail industry in this period piece, which pairs the star with Rosanna Arquette for maximum discomfort. The novelty of seeing Reeve in the air again wears off fairly fast, as "The Aviator" quickly reveals itself to be a leaden melodrama with mismatched stars and clunky screenwriting trying to marry mountainside survival activity with a postmortem analysis on wounded war pilots. The movie goes everywhere but up, failing to generate interest in the longevity of two annoying characters who insist on making a bad situation worse for themselves, with the production insisting it's creating something of a romance when it's actually inspiring a headache with this achingly insipid effort. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend


For their third release, Touchstone Pictures (Disney's PG-and-over distribution label) elected to make a movie about a baby dinosaur that wasn't appropriate for little kids to see. 1985's "Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend" makes a lot of odd creative and tonal choices as it assembles a jungle adventure, caught somewhere between trying to be cute and cuddly for family audiences and remaining surprisingly violent to keep adults interested in the survival of animatronic creatures (the tale open with a character getting knifed in the gut). Director B.W.L. Norton (who previously helmed the fascinating failure, "More American Graffiti") finds himself overwhelmed with the job at hand throughout the feature, struggling to find storytelling clarity. "Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend" has a retro appeal to it, especially for those who enjoy displays of rubber suit-based antics, along with miniature work and puppetry, but the film as a whole spends so much time juggling light and dark material, it never has a chance to enjoy itself, becoming laborious and behaviorally confusion rather than engrossing, with touches of awkward Disneyfied adorableness.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Wilby Conspiracy


Reuniting with his "Lilies of the Field" and "Duel at Diablo" director, Ralph Nelson, Sidney Poitier attempts to revive one of his major successes with "The Wilby Conspiracy," which plays like a minor version of "The Defiant Ones," only with political and racial chains keeping the main characters bound together, not literal metal. Joined by Michael Caine, Poitier delves into the heart of South African hatred with this thriller, which is interested in providing excitement for viewers, but also ready to deliver a potent message on apartheid, hoping to give those who've arrived to watch an extended chase some time with real-world ills, opening their eyes to the destruction of spirit in a remote land. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Dark Crimes


Jim Carrey’s list of dramatic performances is short, but he’s been here before. Usually, such trips to the grim side of his personality are seasoned slightly with comedy, but much like 2007’s “The Number 23,” the actor’s work in “Dark Crimes” is intentionally free of any sort of sunshine. This is Carrey purging a few demons and showcasing his serious side, but in this film, he flings himself down an abyss of perverse behavior and murder, remaining as bloodless as humanly possible. If only the picture was as committed to something specific as Carrey, with this detective tale (“Inspired by a true story”) from screenwriter Jeremy Brock (“The Last King of Scotland”) endeavoring to be more of a moody odyssey than a detailed one, offering a central whodunit that’s not interesting, while characterization doesn’t pop as significantly as Brock intends. “Dark Crimes” has Carrey, who seems like he’s auditioning for an HBO procedural, but the rest of the movie is motionless when it isn’t baffling. Read the rest at