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July 2018

Film Review - Mary Magdalene


Director Garth Davis won accolades and reasonable box office for his last feature, “Lion,” which detailed a young man on a special emotional and spiritual journey. Now Davis tackles unfinished business with the Bible, examining a more famous story of self-inspection, giving the saga of Jesus a special spin with “Mary Magdalene,” which sets out to right the titular woman’s wronged reputation, isolating her origin story, giving her a modern appreciation in line with current filmmaking trends. Davis doesn’t do explosive, keeping this drama extremely mild, aiming more for poeticism and reflection than prolonged suffering, approaching familiar stories from the Bible with a more artful perspective. “Mary Magdalene” isn’t a fiery collection of characters and their struggles to define faith, with Davis keeping the effort crawling along, electing to make something visually appealing and insular than traditionally dramatic.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Celtic Pride


Full disclosure: I've never read Judd Apatow's original screenplay for "Celtic Pride." However, I choose to believe that whatever he was able to come up with in the initial planning stages for the film has to be funnier than what ended up in theaters in the spring of 1996. Here's a movie about fandom, taking a look at the lengths sports nuts will go to protect the good fortunes of their favorite teams, using the idea to inspire a comedy about extremes and mishaps, while saving a little space to pants the NBA and its collection of arrogant athletes. And yet, "Celtic Pride" doesn't work, missing a sharp sense of humor and fondness for farce that could elevate some good ideas into an uproarious picture. Perhaps Apatow is to blame for whiffing with a surefire premise, but, more often than not, director Tom DeCerchio is lost, preferring to have his cast scream into the camera than craft a slightly more devilish understanding of the deceptively bitter relationship between fan and player. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Like Me


With the release of "Ingrid Goes West" last summer, there's already been a fairly accurate summary of social media and its capacity to distort lives, exposing dangerous levels of need and delusion. "Like Me" has the same interest in the potency of stranger celebration and condemnation, but writer/director Robert Mockler isn't interested in playing straight with what little drama he offers here. "Like Me" is more of a modern art installation, going the abstract route with wild visuals and anxious editing, keeping Mockler busy orchestrating a 79-minute-long freak out. Your mileage may vary with the picture, as those particularly interested in an artful summary of personal ruin while find something to embrace here. It's not for everyone, but what's disappointing about the movie is that, at times, it's only really for Mockler.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Babyface 2


"Babyface 2" offers the suggestion of a sequel to Alex de Renzy's 1977 original, but the features are miles apart in story and tone. While the previous picture carried a bit more severity when it came to the sexual gamesmanship between men and women, the follow-up is more of a stand-alone endeavor, finding the writer/director in a particularly scattered mood as he hires half of the adult films stars from the 1980s to join what's essentially a filmed party. Imagine if Robert Altman helmed a teen horndog comedy from the era, and that's kinda, sorta how "Babyface 2" plays, putting in a group effort to detail a network of young(?) characters finding excuses to experience carnal pleasures in random locations. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Mission: Impossible - Fallout


2015’s “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” brought the longstanding franchise to full attention, with writer/director Christopher McQuarrie trying to leave his fingerprints on the evolving series by stretching the spy game and upping the suspense factor, bringing classic Hollywood reverence to modern blockbustering. “Rogue Nation” supplied some of the finest set pieces the big screen brand name has produced since its debut in 1996, but it also suffered from iffy plotting and pacing, with McQuarrie excited to launch the sequel but unsure how to land it. With “Mission: Impossible – Fallout,” McQuarrie is determined to show his work, creating an extended climax that will likely blow audiences away. The rest of the movie isn’t bad either, with Tom Cruise and the IMF unit continuing their impressive cinematic hustle for a new adventure that’s the most bruising to date, and the most cohesive in years. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Puzzle


“Puzzle” presents a story that’s been done many times before, examining the awakening of a bored homemaker as she finds inspiration beyond daily duties and finds attraction to another man. It’s the stuff of Lifetime Television, where such primal urges are approached with a superficial treatment. “Puzzle” offers blue-collar New York stasis, marital shackles, and parental concern, but screenwriters Oren Moverman and Polly Mann remain attentive to the subtleties of distress and the first steps of liberation, creating a drama that’s tinged with quirk (taking place in the world of competitive puzzle assembly) but always interested in difficult spaces of communication and messy acts of empowerment. It might sound cutesy, but “Puzzle” has a real soul and interest in the working parts of its personalities, largely refusing the easy route of melodrama to capture deadening routine shattering into a hundred little pieces.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Under the Tree


If you’ve ever experienced any sort of conflict with a neighbor, the Icelandic production “Under the Tree” will most certainly trigger some level of PTSD. Co-writer/director Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurosson is endeavoring to make a dark comedy out of this saga of warring couples living inside tight spaces, but he’s especially skilled at detailing the madness of suburban hostilities and the escalation of minor quibbles into all-out war. “Under the Tree” has some laughs along the way, but it mostly remains in a state of shock, picking up on human behavior when unimaginable stress is introduced, with Sigurosson playing a chess game with rattled characters, working his way to perhaps the most fitting conclusion of the film year. It’s uneasy work and wonderfully so, getting under the skin as it slowly works its way into madness.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Teen Titans Go! To the Movies


While it’s difficult to forecast just how well “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” is going to go over with ticket-buyers, the picture will likely find two distinct audiences: those who live, eat, and sleep the “Teen Titans Go!” franchise, and those who wanted to get out of the heat for a chunk of time watching a hyperactive cartoon about marginalized superheroes. It’s the big screen debut for the popular Cartoon Network series (which began its run in 2013), with producers hoping to cash in on comic book cinema fever by stretching a show that runs 11 minutes into a cheeky blockbuster that runs 90 minutes. The strain to fill the feature with stuff to do is evident throughout, but there’s a defined sense of humor on display that helps “To the Movies” get to where it wants to go, triggering sensible chuckles and a boatload of superhero cameos and references that should make it the second most pointed at picture of 2018 (placing right behind “Ready Player One”).  Read the rest at

Film Review - King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen


They don’t make ‘em like Larry Cohen anymore. The veteran helmer of such cult classics as “It’s Alive” and “The Stuff” is a man from a different age, when moviemakers went out into the world and just made features, often without asking permission. Cohen used New York City as his own personal playground, forging a career that celebrated the DIY spirit and satisfied genre appetites. “King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen” is a valentine to the creative force, using interview time with Cohen and his friends, family, and frequent collaborators to explore a wily oeuvre that transformed a guy from New York into a one-man movie studio, creating crazy pictures that were made with smarts and surprises when budgets weren’t immediately available.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Dead Night


Even if the whole thing doesn’t quite come together as forcefully as it should, “Dead Night” does have a great deal of inviting peculiarity. Screenwriter Irving Walker has a decent idea to develop, approaching slasher cinema from two perspectives, while adding some monstrous events to keep things comfortably growly and gross. And there’s help from actress Barbara Crampton, who seems to be having genuine fun in a villainous role, giving the feature some needed eccentricity. “Dead Night” is minor, running only 76 minutes, but there are many technical achievements to enjoy, and director Bradford Baruh (making his debut) certainly has potential as a genre helmer, displaying appreciation for gruesome events and moody settings.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Father of the Year


I’ve stated it in previous reviews and I’m reiterating it here: I believe David Spade is a funny guy. The snarky comedian usually does well on talk shows, and his television output has been mostly successful, while recent forays into literature have permitted him time to explore a more autobiographical path to humor, putting a personal stamp on traumatic events and humiliations, always preserving the silliness of every situation. I like David Spade, but I loathe most of his movies, which never take advantage of his timing and successfully translate his stage persona. “Father of the Year” is his latest endeavor (working once again with Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions), and while it isn’t his worst picture (that honor goes to the wretched “Joe Dirt 2”), it’s pretty close, watching Spade stumble through a no-budget comedy for Netflix (apparently financed by Postmates, who enjoy a huge plug in the feature) that requires no punchlines, reactions, or acting. Just pratfalls. So many pratfalls.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Hot Summer Nights


With a title like “Hot Summer Nights,” certain promises are made by the production, and they’re not kept by writer/director Elijah Bynum. The idea here seems to be a modern revival of the 1950’s greaser drama, exploring bad boy concerns in a recognizable setting, with Bynum hoping to inject as much style as possible while wrestling with a smaller budget. Lusty business is staged and generally falls apart in “Hot Summer Nights,” with the rest of the feature weighed down by tedious subplots and an overall turn to hysterics in the finale. Bynum is a first-time filmmaker and it shows, getting the movie all worked up with potential, only to suddenly lose interest in the job at hand, with the screenplay piling on clichés just to connect the dots.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Welcome Home, Brother Charles


Best known as the creator of the "Penitentiary" saga, writer/director Jamaa Fanaka began his career with student features, crafting dissections of black life in America while receiving his education from UCLA. Keeping up with the cinematic movements of the day, Fanaka hoped to twist the Blaxploitation trend by focusing more on the human element of the black community while still delivering all the violence and sleaze this type of entertainment normally requires to attract audience attention. "Welcome Home, Brother Charles" is a 1975 effort from Fanaka, and it showcases a raw desire to be provocative with unreal plot developments and empathetic to the financially and spiritually unstable locations the production utilizes. "Welcome Home, Brother Charles" takes a considerable amount of time before it reveals its reason to be, and along the way, Fanaka delivers a passionate study of poverty and desperation, doing his best to fit in his perspective on life while tending to levels of outrageousness the picture eventually indulges in. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Gate II


An inventive and semi-wild overview of backyard hellraising, heavy metal, and suburban survival, 1987's "The Gate" scored big with a limited budget. It featured engaged performances from its young cast and memorable special effects, with director Tibor Takacs handling a PG-13 horror movie with confidence, making sure to maintain creepiness while selling the fun factor of true minion mayhem. 1992's "Gate II" (which was completed in 1989, but suffered a distribution delay) does what it can to replicate the inherent appeal of kids fighting miniature demons, but Takacs and returning screenwriter Michael Nankin attempt to age-up the viewing experience, heading in an R-rated direction with even less money to help bring an apocalyptic vision to life. "Gate II" isn't nearly as wily as the original picture, but the production manages to score with what little they have to work with, offering neat special effects and a renewed focus on wish fulfillment to help reheat the formula.  Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Star Time


Writer/director Alexander Cassini takes an experimental route when conjuring the ravages of mental illness in 1991's "Star Time." To describe the picture as strange is an understatement, with the helmer embarking on a Lynchian tour of psychological decay, clinging to a few horror traditions to preserve some sense of movement for a production that doesn't always prize forward momentum. It's not a slasher movie, but there's a body count and masked killer brandishing an ax, delivering a sense of threat to a feature that's interested in deconstructing the ways of serial killing. "Star Time" has moments of abstraction, but it works as a swan dive into madness spotlighting a truly unhinged individual coming to terms with the expanse of his treasured media-worshiping delusions. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - The Soldier


After trying his luck with a "Death Wish" knock-off in 1980's "The Exterminator," writer/director James Glickenhaus ups his game to the international level, trying on the world of 007 in 1982's "The Soldier," which positions Ken Wahl as a James Bond-style superspy trying to prevent the end of the world, or at least the end of affordable gas and peace in the Middle East. Obviously, Glickenhaus doesn't have the money to bring an expansive thriller to life, but he does have a few scrappy ideas for chases and confrontations. "The Soldier" is clunky, teeming with filler and drowsy acting, but when it makes the effort to lock into excitement and supply some crazy stunt work and multiple explosions, it remains passable entertainment, rarely working overtime to become something special. Wahl isn't easy to buy as a world-class master of assassination and political relationships, but he's much more appealing in panic mode, adding his special, slightly sluggish charms to Glickenhaus's vision for big screen adventuring. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea


To pull off a disaster movie set inside a high school, animation is the only art form left to handle the enormity and fantasy of the event. Death and destruction are contained within "My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea," a darkly comedic take on adolescent survival (both literal and social) from writer/director Dash Shaw, who examines the plight of a crumbling school with emphasis on quirky, psychedelic visuals and distinctive voice work. "My High School Sinking Into the Sea" isn't a major offering of animation, but it's wonderfully creative in its approach to doomsday, with Shaw arranging an idiosyncratic tour of behavior and physical challenges that permit him time to conjure a charmingly low-fi world of teen neuroses. It's strange work, but accomplished and quite funny when it wants to be. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Unfriended: Dark Web


2014’s “Unfriended” was a minor surprise during the film year, offering a desktop chiller aimed at teenagers that actually worked in many respects, keeping suspense alive and the strangeness of the setting active. It was small in design and supernatural to boot, but it managed to make something out of next to nothing, giving the computer-based thriller subgenre a nice boost of invention. Four years later, there’s a sequel, and one that does away with ghosts and jittery teenagers, graduating to a more mature set of victims and the grim evening they’re about to experience. “Unfriended: Dark Web” doesn’t have the element of surprise, and it doesn’t have much of a story either, finding writer/director Stephen Susco (screenwriter of “Texas Chainsaw 3D”) trying to be edgy by going bleak with laptop hellraising, engineering a strangely angry sequel that liberally borrows from better movies to feed its own mediocrity. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again


The world doesn’t need a “Mamma Mia!” sequel, but when a jukebox musical that wasn’t expected to make many waves at the box office ends up grossing as much as a superhero film, an attempt to make a second chapter isn’t surprising. What is unusual about “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” is that it took a decade to reach multiplexes, which is an eternity with this material, which generally thrives on in-the-moment charms, not waiting games. There’s some disappointment with this rusty installment of an unlikely franchise, which clearly doesn’t have the same spring in its step as the 2008 original, but writer/director Ol Parker tries to put on a big show with a limited scope, going the origin story route to establish a fresh perspective and inject a little youthful energy into a movie that always seems happiest when sitting down. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Cakemaker


“The Cakemaker” contains a lot of heartache, examining the ways of love and obsession, but writer/director Ofir Rual Graizer handles all the hurt in a most humane way, capturing unspeakable feelings with a powerful cinematic language. It’s a production from Germany and Israel, already bridging a few gaps in culture and history while the script sets out to do the same thing, with the titular character working through emotional divides while embarking on an unusual mission of observance as a form of grief. “The Cakemaker” is tender and often unexpected, and Graizer absolutely nails the confusing feelings and anxieties of the moment, creating a modest but open space for the actors and the craft to achieve a sublime rhythm of discovery, making the endeavor quite special.  Read the rest at