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May 2018

Film Review - Cold November


“Cold November” is a coming of age tale where maturity occurs over the course of a few days. Writer/director Karl Jacob speeds up a normal period of growth for dramatic purposes, creating a tale of awareness within a young girl who suddenly realizes that things in her life will never be the same. It’s a story of family, tradition, consciousness, and location, with Jacob making smart use of rural Minnesota to help isolate his characters, strengthening their bonds in the process. While its pace can be somewhat trying at times, “Cold November” captures specific lives superbly, while examining the universal truths of burgeoning adolescence, where the comfort of childhood is rudely interrupted by responsibility and bodily changes that are impossible to stop. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Escape


A few weeks ago there was “Tully,” which explored depression emerging from the pains of motherhood and chemical imbalance. It was meant to be a dark comedy with particular sensitivity to the demands of parenthood. “The Escape” handles basically the same idea, but writer/director Dominic Savage goes down a much bleaker route with the material, which is delivered with complete sobriety. “The Escape” offers a personal journey of mental erosion and domestic suffocation, and while Savage tends to the pressure points of household responsibility, he also provides a commentary on gender roles and marital enslavement, giving the screenplay some grit to go along with its study of self-destruction. It’s not a cheery picture, but its level of melancholy is haunting, especially when interpreted by star Gemma Arterton, who delivers career-best work in the challenging feature.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Book Club


“Book Club” is a specific feature for a specific audience. Those who know about it will want to see it. Those who’ve heard about it will likely tolerate it. And those who show no interest in the film won’t go near it. It’s a direct shot of humor, heart, and sassy business for an older demographic, and while there’s no reason for its alleged charms to remain strictly for the senior crowd, it’s unlikely that the movie will appeal to all, mostly due to the softball screenplay by Bill Holderman (who also makes his directorial debut) and Erin Simms. “Book Club” is not an endeavor that takes chances or goes for bellylaughs. It’s mild work that offers comfort food storytelling with a side of fairy tale plotting, and while it’s not impossible to find the appealing ways of the cast, the picture doesn’t strive to be anything more than instantly forgettable.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Cargo


There’s a lot of competition for the zombie-fan’s dollar, inspiring a few productions that explore the world of the undead to try for something a little different than the usual shuffle-and-snack routine. “Cargo” is a severe picture and an original take on the subgenre, blending rural survivor unease with horror developments, finding directors Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke trying to make something meaningful and cultural as they figure out ways to inspire dread. “Cargo” has its issues with length and good taste, but it maintains suspense, especially when the helmers pay attention to the fallout from mistakes, especially ones made during the end of the world. It’s certainly not a lively effort, but Howling and Ramke actually achieve a sense of pathos, which is not traditionally found with this type of nightmare.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Bye Bye Germany


I’ve seen “Bye Bye German” described as a comedy by some publications (even the poster). There are elements of humor to be found in the picture, and the central crisis concerns the very act of telling a joke, but the film is far more sobering than it initially appears to be. It’s a post-war drama, and a literal one, with the tale taking place in Germany during 1946, where the country was shattered after being toppled in WWII, leaving remnants of unimaginable hatred and guilt to live within the populace as the world worked to piece the nation back together. Co-writer/director Sam Garbarski digs into an important moment in history, isolating unexpected emotions and defense mechanisms as he mounts a drama about a group of men coming to terms with the trauma they experienced in a land they can’t bring themselves to leave.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Carter & June


Twisted tales of criminal mischief are common, forcing the makers of “Carter & June” to dream up something grand to help separate the picture from the competition. Co-writer/director Nicholas Kalikow certainly has interest in outrageousness, endeavoring to create a community of crooks, creeps, police, and manipulators, setting them loose inside New Orleans to watch them try to outwit one another, preferably doing so with a strong sense of humor. “Carter & June” almost gets there with help from certain performances and a first act that’s relatively strong with set-ups, getting these combustible personalities into position. Sadly, there’s not much of a payoff to the feature, with Kalikow heading in the wrong direction, eventually trying to soften material that should be played as ruthlessly as possible. Read the rest at

Film Review - Solo: A Star Wars Story


In the quickest turnaround time the franchise has ever experienced, “Star Wars” is back on the big screen a mere six months after “The Last Jedi” dominated multiplexes with a Skywalker Saga installment. Now it’s time for a spin-off, and following 2016’s “Rogue One” comes “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” which moves from grander arcs of rebellion and sacrifice to reunite with everyone’s favorite scoundrel, with the movie exploring how Han Solo developed from a man of talk into a man of action. Directed by Ron Howard and scripted by Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan, the mission of “Solo” is to explore a previously walled-off character and maybe add a little Original Trilogy excitement as old friends join the fight. A few quibbles are triggered along the way, but the adventure remains exciting and the performances satisfy immensely, giving the side mission some real charisma and “Star Wars”-style hustle. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Deadpool 2


Normally, this type of foolishness only works once. 2016’s “Deadpool” was a big surprise, both financially and critically, using salty wit and furious action to pave the way for R-rated comic book extravaganzas, which usually remain in a PG-13 bubble to help encourage mass consumption. “Deadpool” was wily and refreshingly absurd, giving star Ryan Reynolds a chance to show off his natural gifts with deadpan comedy, helping to bring a difficult character to the screen in a movie few were expecting to work. Where the first film slipped through the system as something of an experiment, “Deadpool 2” now carries the weight of expectations, putting pressure on Reynolds and the production to revive the blood-spattered magic for another round of quips and beheadings. The lesson learned before applies here: never underestimate Reynolds and his determination to pull off the impossible. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - The Pink Panther Cartoon Collection: Volume 1 (1964-1966)


The character of The Pink Panther was created to give the Inspector Clouseau movies a special lift during the main titles, establishing a silly, cartoon mood to help the audience get settled into the viewing experience to come. The big cat's popularity was noted by the suits in charge, soon featured in a series of theatrical shorts that attempted to turn a lark into a legend. It worked, with director Friz Freleng and DePatie-Freleng Enterprises masterminding 124 shorts over a 14-year-long period, with the first 20 selections collected on "The Pink Panther Cartoon Collection: Volume 1 (1964-1966)," detailing the producers attempt to establish the mood of the endeavors and The Pink Panther's endless appetite for mischief.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Seven Blood-Stained Orchids


Umberto Lenzi managed a varied career for himself, achieving notoriety with his jungle adventures, such as "Man from Deep River" and "Cannibal Ferox." His forays into giallo-style chillers are less celebrated, but he managed to make his mark with select crime thrillers, finding 1972's "Seven Blood-Stained Orchids" one of his more successful efforts. However, the picture isn't exactly big on shock value, taking its sleuthing seriously, leaving extremity to select moments of punishment. "Seven Blood-Stained Orchids" is an atmospheric feature with occasional inspiration, but it's also surprisingly talky for the genre, with Lenzi strangely sensitive to dramatic needs, dialing down most potential for chaos. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Breaking In


If there’s a rollicking, nail-biting B-movie inside “Breaking In,” nobody told director James McTeigue. The “V for Vendetta” and “Ninja Assassin” helmer is put in charge of the home invasion thriller, which tries to master the simplicity of a mother defending her children and dwelling from a pack of criminals, but doesn’t possess the imagination to do something remarkable with the premise. McTeigue orders up repetitive chase sequences and oversees abysmal acting, desperately trying to fill 85 minutes of screen time that could go anywhere it wants. Instead of a roller coaster ride, the production offers the chance to watch paint dry while it figures out how to take a familiar but potentially ruthless plot and do next to nothing with it. Read the rest at

Film Review - Life of the Party


“Life of the Party” marks the third collaboration between star Melissa McCarthy and director Ben Falcone (her real-life husband). Their first two endeavors, 2014’s “Tammy” and 2016’s “The Boss,” didn’t go well, suggesting that whatever domestic chemistry McCarthy and Falcone share at home isn’t going to translate on the big screen easily. Despite dwindling box office returns, the duo is back with “Life of the Party,” which once again tasks Falcone with giving McCarthy an open field for her natural comedic chaos, this time funneling the monkey business into a collegiate setting, giving the star her own Midwestern take on the “Back to School” formula. Falcone keeps things in focus and McCarthy flops around, and while the picture is an improvement, it’s still not a refined farce that delivers the best of what McCarthy’s got. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Filmworker


There’s an air of mystery that still surrounds the life and times of Stanley Kubrick. He remains an enigma, despite many of his closest associates and family members taking time to detail his work ethic and private life. And yet, the helmer of classics such as “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Dr. Strangelove,” and “Barry Lyndon” remains in the shadows, continuing to intrigue scholars and fans. Kubrick passed away in 1999, but he left behind a significant piece of his life’s puzzle in Leon Vitali, his personal assistant and a man who, since 1973, was a close associate who strived to realize many of the filmmaker’s wishes, sacrificing his own professional dreams to serve a man many consider to be a genius, creating pictures of immense artistic value. “Filmworker” examines Vitali’s gradual submission to Kubrick’s will, with director Tony Zierra shining a spotlight on the man behind the artist, detailing an unusual relationship.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Anon


Writer/director Andrew Niccol is fixated on the future and the way society is corrupted as it marches toward an imagined utopia, searching for the rot underneath the luster. Continuing his examination of control and loss of individuality that began in efforts such as “Gattaca,” “Simone,” and “In Time,” Niccol creates “Anon,” which examines a tomorrow where privacy is a thing of the past, with citizens carrying the ocular power to detail everything about strangers just by appearing in their field of vision. Instead of mounting a warning shot, Niccol remains in “Twilight Zone” mode with “Anon,” presenting an eerie look at complete and unnervingly casual digital exposure, while also working in a detective story that’s riveting at times, but also periodically ridiculous, remaining in line with the helmer’s frustratingly uneven filmography.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Terminal


The criminal interests of hoodlums in a seedy underworld is a topic covered by many movies, and writer/director Vaughn Stein is trying to add to that legacy with “Terminal.” The corrosive attitude of the material is instantly recognizable, and Stein appears to be aware that he’s stepping on ground Tarantino and Ritchie have already marked time and again, inspiring him to eschew grand acts of violence for a more conversational tone to his depiction of troubled people involved in awful deeds. Stein keeps his crooks loquacious for “Terminal,” which, despite its heavy cinematic look, is actually more of a filmed play, watching characters engage one another through monologuing and flaccid banter. Despite its visit to a neon jungle with morally questionable characters, this neo-noir doesn’t possess enough ferocity to secure Stein’s trip into Hell, with the helmer investing in extended conversations, not brute force, while his handle on mystery leave much to be desired.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Honor List


“The Honor List” needs to work a little harder to emerge as something unique. It’s a tale of teenage friendship as it faces challenges from estrangement and distrust, with death bringing together a group of young women who were once inseparable, but now have little idea how to communicate with the same enthusiasm they once shared. The screenplay by Marilyn Fu targets emotional authenticity with the material, trying to sneak around clichés by taking matters of the heart and clique seriously, grounding the feature in relatable behavior. “The Honor List” doesn’t always succeed when it comes to the exploration of various relationships, but there’s an effort to handle delicate feelings with care, giving director Elissa Down (“The Black Balloon”) a tonal challenge she does well with, only periodically losing her grip on nuanced interactions.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Steven Tyler: Out on a Limb


Steven Tyler has been in the public eye for over 40 years, making the possibilities of the documentary, “Steven Tyler: Out on a Limb,” almost limitless, following a career that’s seen its share of glory and humiliation, while intense personality issues color the subject’s professional and personal life. Director Casey Tebo doesn’t wrap his arms around the enormity of Tyler’s existence. He doesn’t event try to examine the true grit of the Aerosmith front man. Instead, “Out on a Limb” is a tongue bath for the now 70-year-old rocker, but it’s a compelling one for those eager to consume anything about the singer. Tebo constructs a celebration of Tyler’s aura and talent, taking the occasion of the musician’s first solo country album as a chance to showcase his newfound joy of performance and an assortment of cheeky moods.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Con is On


I suppose the idea of “The Con is On” is to resemble retro entertainment, recalling a time, around the late 1960s, when filmmakers were chasing every whim, slapping controlled chaos on the screen to create a perfect cocktail hour mood for intended shenanigans. It’s meant to be a criminal caper of sorts, but the clockwork nature of organized theft is suffocated under layers of terrible screenwriting, unleashed performances, and a weird vision from director James Oakley, who seems to think audiences will want to endure double-crosses and near-misses performed by a set of characters in various stages of addiction. “The Con is On” (which was shot three years ago) means to be edgy and cheeky, yet it’s always struggling for oxygen, with Oakley stuck trying to create something appealing when every person onscreen deserves to be pushed into the nearest river.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Anything


Writer/director Timothy McNeil makes a love story with “Anything,” but not necessarily a tender one. Dewy feelings and meet cutes are in short supply here, with the material angling for a different understanding of personal connection, with broken people, not cartoony ones, discovering something special during their time together. McNeil labors to keep the endeavor away from predictability, and his overall control of tone occasionally fails him, but he does manage to locate warmth in the midst of minor upheavals. “Anything” eventually reaches tenderness, but the climb there is more interesting, examining characters figuring out who they are and what they want while experiencing difficult challenges to their mental health while living in the middle of a place many consider to be an absolute hellhole: Hollywood.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Racer and the Jailbird


Director Michael R. Roskam made an art-house impression with the Belgian drama “Bullhead,” and quickly graduated to Hollywood employment with 2014’s “The Drop,” put in charge of a crime saga that featured actor Matthias Schoenaerts, his good luck charm. With studio work out of his system, Roskam returns to Belgium with “Racer and the Jailbird,” an unusual film that teases criminal interests and action before it takes a leap into the deep end of melodrama, with the production aiming to break a few bones before it jerks a few tears. Roskam is after something specific with his latest work, but he doesn’t have a viable map to get there, leaving the picture intermittently alluring, with two fine lead performances from Schoenaerts and Adele Exarchopoulos carrying the effort through some bewildering plotting and sudden emotional manipulation.  Read the rest at