Previous month:
July 2018
Next month:
September 2018

August 2018

Film Review - Searching


The desktop thriller is generally associated with horror pictures, with last month’s “Unfriended: Dark Web” a recent example of the genre moving toward an online realm to toy with evil as it emerges from the shadows, using the anonymity and ubiquity of screen slavery to conjure a new style of chills for the target demographic of young teenagers. “Searching” breaks from the norm by refusing supernatural influence, trying to remain grounded as it unfurls a missing persons case where the lead detective is an average suburban father trying to follow his own daughter’s digital footprints to bring her back home. “Searching” isn’t scary, only suspenseful for about an hour before co-writer/director Aneesh Chaganty gives up on the concept of everyday fears, electing instead to close a previously promising mystery with a prolonged Lifetime Movie-style decline. Read the rest at

Film Review - Boarding School


Working on a directorial career for nearly 25 years, Boaz Yakin has been an extremely problematic helmer. There was mainstream success with 2000’s “Remember the Titans” and critical respect with 1994’s “Fresh,” but the rest of his filmography is littered with dire endeavors such as 2003’s “Uptown Girls” and his last effort, 2015’s “Max.” He’s drawn to tales of outsiders and identity, coming up with a genre tease in “Boarding School,” which initially seems like an off-kilter, Burton-esque study of damaged youths coming together to fight the evil of conformity (shades of “Miss Peregrin’s Home for Peculiar Children”), but Yakin doesn’t possess that level of focus, going here, there, and everywhere with “Boarding School,” which fails to congeal as a mischievous chiller. It’s a big mess, but not without some appealing ideas and performances that manage to survive Yakin’s sluggish execution. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Power of Grayskull: The Definitive History of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe


Last December, Netflix released an episode of their popular show, “The Toys That Made Us,” that focused on the rise and fall of the “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” toy line. It was done with the program’s attitude and speed, acting as more of an overview than a detailed breakdown of just what happened with the brand name during the 1980s and beyond. Directors Randall Lobb and Robert McCallum attempt to go deeper into the He-Man universe with “Power of Grayskull: The Definitive History of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe,” offering a more ambitious survey of the ins and outs of the Mattel moneymaker, looking to scan 40 years of development and execution in 90 minutes. “The Toys That Made Us” got there first, but Lobb and McCallum have more material to work with, offering some lively interviews and fascinating discoveries as they examine how He-Man exploded from a throwaway idea into a toy that was, for many years, the most popular item on store shelves.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Kin


“Kin” doesn’t have it easy. It has a terrible title, a worst release date (the dumping ground of Labor Day weekend), and the story is incredibly ambitious, starting as a family drama before evolving into a crime movie, and eventually becoming a sci-fi saga with YA overtones. Directors Jonathan and Josh Baker make their feature-length helming debut here, giving themselves quite the tonal and thematic challenge. The good news is that “Kin,” while problematic in some areas, is promising work from the brothers, who give the endeavor style and suspense, and they do well with the stranger events that periodically emerge during the run time. Screenwriter Daniel Casey also pulls off an impressive feat with his attention to character, giving the effort a tad more feeling than what’s typically extracted from this type of glossy entertainment. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Wife


“The Wife” finds its inspiration from a Meg Wolitzer novel, but it comes alive on screen due to the efforts of its cast. Acting is one of the most intoxicating elements of the feature, with Wolitzer dreaming up a prime conflict to explore, using the occasion of a Nobel Prize ceremony to unleash all kinds of anxiety and rage while examining the world of success from a female point of view. “The Wife” is powerful and intentionally grotesque at times, with leads Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce finding their footing immediately with the picture, giving director Bjorn Runge plenty of fire to photograph, opening the tale with cracks in a seemingly perfect foundation before slipping into Shakespearean lunges of malice. It’s quite the emotional ride.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Nico, 1988

NICO 1988 3

Most musical bio-pics tend to favor a lifespan when examining the creation of an artist, tracing childhood dreams to adult woes, or matching youthful trauma to mature excess. “Nico, 1988” doesn’t make much time for biographical excavation, preferring to stick with its subject for the last two years of her life. Nico was an enigmatic musician and singer, and writer/director Susanna Nicchiarelli respects some boundaries as she hopes to assemble something of an understanding when it comes to self-destructive behavior and longstanding fatigue with a troubled career and life itself. “Nico, 1988” is also notable in the way it permits those with only a fringe appreciation of the subject to understand a larger psychological study in motion, with star Trine Dyrholm absolutely mesmerizing as Christa Paffgen, also known as Nico, who struggled to keep herself together while enduring personal catastrophes and industry dismissal.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Blood Fest


As the Halloween season begins, the folks at Rooster Teeth are right there at the starting line with a film to help usher in the spooky season. The creators of “Lazer Team” and assorted online offerings, Rooster Teeth attempts to bite into a satiric genre offering with “Blood Fest,” which tries on the “Scream” formula for size, participating in horror cliches while lampooning horror cliches, hoping to come up with a mischievous bloodbath to tickle funny bones before breaking them. “Blood Fest” feels a little stale in the imagination department, but there’s motivation here to so something energetic with recognizable targets, gifting fans of Rooster Teeth and chiller entertainment in general with a valentine to all types of ugliness, often delivered with a slapstick sway.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Let the Corpses Tan


As they proved with their previous collaborations, “Amer” and “The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears,” directors Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani are not interested in supporting a traditional dramatic viewing experience. They like to toss their audience into the deep end of the ocean, pumping up stylistics and abstract asides to a point where everything else about the movie becomes a secondary pursuit, with pure cinema their personal deity. “Let the Corpses Tan” is actually based on a novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette and Jean-Pierre Bastid, but the film version doesn’t concern itself with the ways of literary structure. Instead, the feature is a blast of sound and vision, becoming a premiere sensorial free dive that, after the first 30 minutes, does away with any intentions to tell a story. The helmers go wild with their widescreen craftsmanship, supplying a groaning, grinding cops and robbers tale that has no distinct shape, just pure filmic power.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Trigger, Jr.


Nearing the end of his lengthy career as a Hollywood hero and cowboy legend, Roy Rogers elected to make one for the horses with 1950's "Trigger, Jr." While Rogers remains the lead actor, keeping up his end of the bargain with sharp western swagger, songs, and fast fists, the rest of the picture remains with the titular horse and his unexpected adventure in the American southwest. Being a Rogers endeavor, "Trigger, Jr." isn't big on surprises, keeping close to comfort food formula as bad guys square off against the good guys, and the horses end up in big trouble, inspiring a fresh round of chases and mild shenanigans, sweetened with a few songs to settle the mood. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - The Boneyard


Seeing Phyllis Diller credited as part of the cast of 1991's "The Boneyard" inspires certain expectations for the film. However, while she is portraying a woman named Ms. Poopinplatz, Diller is actually quite game to go wherever writer/director James Cummins leads, including a rare screen appearance without her famous fright wig, showing up here with her naturally thinning hair, adding to the characterization. "The Boneyard" is an odd mix of camp and emotional sincerity, but Diller certainly helps the cause, adding enough energy to her corner of the movie to help boost the appeal of the overall work, finding Cummins struggling with pacing issues in the first half of the effort. It's a wild movie, but only when it finally reaches a point of explosion, and that's a long journey to a proper screen release.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Resurrected


The quest to bring the works of author H.P. Lovecraft to the screen has never been easy, demanding inventive filmmakers willing to work overtime to preserve the writer's artful appreciation for the macabre. Director Dan O'Bannon tries his luck with "The Resurrected," which adapts Lovecraft's 1941 novella, "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward," bringing a smaller period mystery to a more modern age via noir-ish intentions, transforming horror into a detective tale courtesy of screenwriter Brent V. Friedman. O'Bannon has a vision for "The Resurrected," which is teeming with atmospheric changes and cinematic tributes, but it lacks a defined pace, often sluggishly doling out gruesome imagery and sleuthing discoveries, most of which fail to charge up the viewing experience despite the production's interest in bizarre events and encounters.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - A Pyromaniac's Love Story


There's the surface appeal of "A Pyromaniac's Love Story," and there's the more interesting tale of William Baldwin, with the 1995 picture coming at a crucial time in his then-burgeoning career. He was positioned as a Hollywood heartthrob, successfully navigating a few roles, such as 1990's "Flatliners," and won a massive break as the lead in 1991's "Backdraft," where he did a fine job portraying a conflicted firefighter suddenly thrust into a role of familial and professional responsibility. He seemed poised to take off, but along came 1993's "Sliver," a botched (but not entirely uninteresting) erotic thriller that asked too much of him, caught on a sinking ship as the movie bombed, which didn't simply throttle his career, but cooled his heat in full. 1995's "A Pyromaniac's Love Story" delivers a different side of Baldwin, who tries to be a comedian in the romantic film, channeling Jim Carrey with a wild-eyed performance that's ambitious and completely out of his range. Baldwin's acting dream dimmed in 1995 (coupled with the disastrous "Fair Game"), and there's a good reason for that, finding his take on an unhinged fire-starter with a pronounced limp wholly unpleasant, making his turn the most unlikable addition to an already joyless and aggressively quirky creation. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - The Lodgers


Those in the mood for a creepy gothic chiller might respond highly to "The Lodgers," but the picture seems intentionally made for fans of Hammer Films and their unique legacy of horror endeavors. Director Brian O'Malley makes a distinct effort to replicate the deliberate moves of the studio's creepy productions, and screenwriter David Turpin fills the story with enough guarded perversion and unease to maintain interest in the unfolding tale. However, "The Lodgers" is a slow-burn viewing experience, almost to a point of complete stoppage at times, finding O'Malley so caught up in the atmosphere of his work, he periodically forgets to nudge it along. There are enough macabre interests to maintain an absorbing sit, but to reach a point of actual momentum, one must accept O'Malley's overly cautious handling of the feature's fright factor. Read the rest at 

Film Review - A.X.L.


Whether or not he intended to, “A.X.L.” writer/director Oliver Daly creates an ode to Amblin Entertainment efforts from the 1980s, when producer Steven Spielberg invested in a few movies that detailed the cuddly relationship between man and machine. Daly gives the production a modern edge, updating his 2015 short film with bigger effects and a larger scale, making his feature-length helming debut. It’s a picture for a younger audience, but the boy and his dog formula is successfully reheated for this adventure, which offers mild thrills but decent charms. Daly keeps chases and discoveries coming, and while familiarity shadows the endeavor, “A.X.L.” gets by on little blasts of excitement and the core relationship between a meek young man and the robotic war dog he befriends. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Happytime Murders


Brian Henson has had a difficult time trying to sustain the legacy of his father, the great Jim Henson. He directed a couple of Muppet movies and worked on various puppet-related television shows, but the old Henson magic wasn’t quite there for him. “The Happytime Murders” feels like the work of a frustrated guy who’s trying to torch expectations for puppet-based entertainment, longing to make something offensive just to shake off the burden of the family name. If the film was funny, perhaps such an experiment would’ve been amazing, returning the Henson company back to the aggressive sense of humor Jim favored before he became a master of the art form. Brian doesn’t have the vision for such cleverness, and his work on “The Happytime Murders” is depressing to watch, finding the helmer barely making an effort with this rare R-rated outing. Read the rest at 

Film Review - What Keeps You Alive


To help explore “What Keeps You Alive,” I have to expose a bit of its plot, which, for some, is situated in spoiler territory. I have no interest in ruining the picture for others, so here’s a mini-review: it’s terrific. It’s a wicked, somewhat surprising chiller from writer/director Colin Minihan, who impressed mightily with “It Stains the Sands Red” a few years back, now newly energized to offer another slice of horror cinema that’s genuinely frightening at times, also doing much with very little money. Minihan’s got a special vision for “What Keep You Alive,” and his execution is confident, perhaps too much so at times. In short, it’s an impressive feature, and one that will likely delight those in the mood for something merciless and feral. If you’re sensitive to story information, this is a good place to stop reading.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Support the Girls


At first glance, “Support the Girls” seems like another restaurant comedy, picking up where movies like “Office Space” and “Waiting” left off, using the already iffy atmosphere of an objectification-centric establishment to inspire daily drudgery for the employees. Writer/director Andrew Bujalski doesn’t take the idea in an expected direction, which is a positive development for the feature. But he really doesn’t take the material anywhere, encouraging a meandering vibe to the effort to best dissect a particularly rough day for a managerial character. “Support the Girls” is hampered by habitual slackness, showing no interest in sharpening attention to a plot, but there are performances here worth paying attention to, rising above casual atmosphere to identify real frustration and confusion while trapped in the middle of professional duty. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Bookshop


After a small break from American distribution, writer/director Isabel Coixet returns with “The Bookshop,” bringing Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel to the screen. It’s a fitting project for the helmer, who typically finds creative inspiration with tales about the inner workings of women, and she has a careful story of submission to work with here. “The Bookshop” has all the opportunity in the world to become a soap opera, working through extreme frustrations and monitoring awful human beings, but Coixet doesn’t take the bait, instead offering a gradual unraveling of confidence that’s dotted with realistic emotions and literary liberation, achieving a sense of cultural position instead of blasting everything with hysterics. The feature may be too glacial for some, but those who can locate the rhythm of ache that’s presented here are sure to value the filmmaker’s patience with character development.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Blue Iguana


While Guy Ritchie is trying to secure a place as a go-to director of monster-budgeted adventure films, there’s still a push by some to replicate the crime pictures he left behind. Writer/director Hadi Hajaig may have a plethora of influences he’s paying tribute to in “Blue Iguana,” but it’s hard to escape the blanket of pop music, stylistics, brohiem bickering, and casual ultraviolence of the endeavor. “Blue Iguana” wants to be a wild ride with criminals and the mishaps they encounter while trying to pull off a plan, but Hajaig gives the effort a lightness that makes it float away, wasting too much time trying to be funny when the heist movie really needs concentration on sharper scripting and underworld stakes.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Arizona


After working for decades as an assistant director, Jonathan Watson finally takes command of his own production with “Arizona.” Scripted by Luke Del Tredici (“30 Rock”), the picture is a darkly comic thriller that carefully establishes the setting and characters, but enjoys the hunt more than the meet and greets. It’s the rare chiller that could use more meat on its bones, with Del Tredici hesitant to add more substance to his writing, which merely sets things up for a few prolonged chases. Watson’s ready to show off his command of suspense and violence, and “Arizona” has plenty of tense stretches, but such sustained intensity starts to wear out the endeavor at the midway point, making set-ups the most appealing elements in the feature, while payoffs take too long to find their way.  Read the rest at