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December 2018

November 2018

Film Review - Here and Now


“Here and Now” is a loose remake of the 1962 Agnes Varda film, “Cleo from 5 to 7.” It’s a tricky thing to remake French cinema during its more fertile creative period, and director Fabien Constant takes on a lot of responsibility with this retelling, which has changed locations to the heart of New York City. A tale about the acceptance of mortality in the midst of planning for the future, “Here and Now” is meant to be somber and thought-provoking, giving the viewer a reflection of life lived with a known expiration date. What Constant actually comes up with is an unenlightening summary of sadness. The psychological dig site is surprisingly shallow here, forcing Constant to depend on stale poetry to get by, which stops the feature in full.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Taking Care of Business


Disney was in the James Belushi business in 1990. Joining "Mr. Destiny" is "Taking Care of Business," the actor's second collaboration with the studio, and while "Mr. Destiny" was a shot at turning Belushi into a more traditional leading man, "Taking Care of Business" is right in the actor's wheelhouse, tasked with bringing to life a slightly oafish man with limited social skills and an appetite for party time fun. While the film is directed by Arthur Hiller, the respected helmer of "The Out-of-Towners," "Silver Streak," and "The Hospital," the project is more recognized today as the screenwriting debut of J.J. Abrams (then Jeffery Abrams), who launched his career (with co-writer Jill Mazursky) with this incredibly formulaic comedy, focusing primarily on creating a sitcom world for the big screen, crafting a movie that's starving for edge. There's Belushi and co-star Charles Grodin trying to do something here, but without a firm funny bone to dance on, the endeavor never comes to life. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Mr. Destiny


James Belushi has never been an easy guy to cast. In the 1980s, the actor built his career on wiseacre roles, portraying tough and dim guys who were quick with a quip, but he rarely found himself in the arms of the leading lady. 1990's "Mr. Destiny" was part of an effort to soften Belushi for mass acceptance, watering down his blue collar bluster with a role that required him to play an everyman in a fantasy world. Belushi has been better in different movies, but "Mr. Destiny" turns him into a teddy bear, which is unusual casting, tasking the star to generally go along with co- writer/director James Orr, ditching improvisational instincts to make nice in a film that wants to be loved, going all Capra to secure a sugary viewing experience about a basic human oversight: appreciation.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The House of the Dead


1978's "The House of the Dead" was originally released under the title "Alien Zone." The film doesn't contain any aliens and very few zones, making it strange name for the movie, but that's the fun of theatrical releases from desperate producers. "The House of the Dead" isn't better, but it's slightly more accurate title for the anthology effort, which presents four tales of death and denial from the comfort of a mortician's showroom floor. Screenwriter David O'Malley and director Sharron Miller have the vague shape of an omnibus chiller here, but they seem terrified to follow their ideas in full, leaving the feature a strange assortment of half-realized chapters in an unfinished picture. Some bits and pieces show promise, but the overall experience presented here is clouded by confusion and hesitation.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Buddies


The selling point of 1985's "Buddies" is its status as the first movie to confront the growing AIDS pandemic of the decade, coming out a few beats before television and indie film set out to explore the subject matter. Written and director by Arthur J. Bressan Jr., the picture deserves accolades for timing and its sincere handling of a troubling topic, taking a theatrical approach to the study of disease, fear, and human connection. It's a little rough around the edges, but "Buddies" has an impressive concern for life and love, with Bressan Jr. trying to articulate the frustration of living with an illness most have chosen to ignore, offering no help or comfort to those forced to deal with what was then a brutal death sentence. Read the rest at

Film Review - Nobody's Fool


After a decade working with Lionsgate Films to build the Tyler Perry big screen brand, the mogul has decided to switch studios, with “Nobody’s Fool” his first release for Paramount, or “Paramount Players” (I’m not sure what that means). To mark the occasion, Perry has decided to unleash his first R-rated comedy, perhaps feeling left out of the raunchfest gold rush that’s been leading to diminishing returns at the box office in recent years. Perry’s always been off-trend, but he’s always been determined too, with “Nobody’s Fool” missing overt gross-outs, but it stays salty enough to earn its restriction. Not on the helmer’s to-do list is the manufacturing of a single punchline, instead keeping the cast in a state of frenzied improvisation, which leads to chaos and awkwardness, not laughs. It’s a new studio, but Perry remains fearful of planning scenes out ahead of time. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Nutcracker and the Four Realms


As Disney prepares to launch three major live-action adaptations of animated classics in 2019 (“Dumbo,” “Aladdin,” and “The Lion King”), the studio closes 2018 with perhaps their last attempt to bring something marginally original to the screen. That’s not to suggest “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” is a creative triumph, far from it, but the film represents the old way of Disney thinking, with the company trying to launch a fantasy franchise instead of picking up one in progress. Taking inspiration from Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” an E.T.A. Hoffmann short story, and Marius Petipa’s famous ballet, “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” is a large-scale collision of the performing arts and a CGI orgy, with the production fighting for some type of storytelling clarity as it’s slowly smothered by excess. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Bodied


Enjoying a lively career as a music video director, Joseph Kahn hasn’t made many features during his time behind the camera. His last effort was 2011’s little-seen “Detention,” while his debut was 2004’s “Torque,” a grotesque actioner that would normally end industry advancement, but Kahn survived, creating epic visuals for pop music, honing his craft. He returns to screens with “Bodied,” smartly going low-key for this study of battle rap, which saves most of its firepower for verbal jousting and satire, delivering an energetic but overlong assessment of P.C. culture as it collides with the traditions of rap and rhyme. Kahn mutes his instincts for this endeavor, and he ends up with his best film to date, keeping “Bodied” silly but smart, understanding that character is best served by restraint, showing impressive discipline with occasional bouts of feral energy.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Can You Ever Forgive Me?


While the last few years have hardly been disastrous for Melissa McCarthy, a bit of her comedy luminance has dimmed as she participates in disappointing movies which fail to make full use of her considerable gifts. With “The Boss,” “Life of the Party,” and “The Happytime Murders,” McCarthy has been forced to make something remarkable out of bad material, and her path to success has been blocked by a sense of sameness to her latest endeavors. She’s done dramas before, but “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” provides an ample acting challenge for McCarthy, who’s tasked with portraying a real figure of dishonesty and misanthropy, unable to access her bottomless bag of goofballery. McCarthy’s outstanding in the picture, and it helps that “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” is quality work overall, with director Marielle Heller summoning a jazzy, snowy New York City mood to backdrop an intimate tale of personal distortion, keeping her star committed to the process of screen mimicry.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Unlovable


“Unlovable” takes on the subject of sex addiction, with star Charlene deGuzman pouring her own life experiences into the screenplay (Mark Duplass and Sarah Adina Smith share credit). It’s not an easy illness to dramatize, and while deGuzman tries to create an approachable film, she’s not willing to discount the darker aspects of the life. “Unlovable” has its quirkiness and mild levity, but director Suzi Yoonessi attempts to retain as much reality as possible, giving the endeavor welcome grit and ache, striving to be as respectful to the steps of recovery as possible. It doesn’t always make for an easy sit, but there’s behavioral clarity in “Unlovable” that’s uncommon, giving viewers a full sense of internal confusion and social battles.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Wildlife


After a career of starring in sophisticated, often difficult movies, actor Paul Dano has finally decided to make one himself. Moving behind the camera for his directorial debut, Dano offers “Wildlife,” which is an adaptation of a novel by Richard Ford, transformed into a screenplay by Dano and Zoe Kazan. While the material is yet another deep slice of domestic discontent served on a repressed period plate, Dano manages to find some feeling to the picture, leading with tough but fair characterizations that seek to do a little more than remain pawns in a game of melodrama. “Wildlife” gives off the vibe of formula, watching yet another irritable family crumble over time, but the writing is attentive and the helming respectful, with Dano getting the feature to unique perspectives and dramatic sensitivity, delivering a special debut.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Suspiria


The eternal hope is that when a someone decides to remake a movie, they choose material that didn’t work before, giving the production room for improvement as it searches for reinterpretation. 1977’s “Suspiria” is a horror masterpiece, emerging from the demented depths of co-writer/director Dario Argento, who took the premise of an innocent coming into contact with pure evil and twisted it into a Technicolor freak-out, creating a thunderous achievement in sight and sound, also developing his interest in abstract areas of the occult. Screenwriter David Kajganich and director Luca Guadagnino have decided to return to Argento’s original picture for an update, and while they deserve some credit for trying to keep their feature as far away from the original as possible, this obsession to do something different results in a self-conscious, overwrought film that runs nearly twice as long as Argento’s endeavor.  Read the rest at

Film Review - A Happening of Monumental Proportions


After commanding a career that’s largely gravitated toward playing best friends, bitter rivals, and plenty of sarcastic types, actress Judy Greer makes a move toward direction with her helming debut, “A Happening of Monumental Proportions.” Sparking to something in Gary Lundy’s screenplay, Greer makes an important career transition for the dark comedy, and she comes up with a picture that’s largely ineffective but not without some charms. To help the cause, Greer calls in numerous favors to stock the ensemble with famous faces, and the star power doesn’t hurt. It’s the storytelling that could use more attention, finding Greer distracted by quirk, trying to make something cutesy when focus is needed on the construction of subplots, most of which never truly follow through on any sort of closure.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Death House


“Death House” is supposed to be an event movie. And perhaps it will be for horror hounds who demand very little from storytelling as long as highlights involving gore, nudity, and snarling genre legends are included. With those limited demands in mind, yes, “Death House” does deliver, with writer/director Harrison Smith in charge of a battle royal of cult film legends, pitting famous faces against one another to delight the faithful. The reality of the picture is its tedium, with Smith possibly unable (due to budgetary limitations) do something appropriately volcanic with the premise. He aims for something slightly ambitious, trying to bring a John Carpenter sensibility to what eventually becomes a prison riot feature, but Smith doesn’t work the material into a frenzy, potentially disappointing those expecting more of a free-for-all bloodbath, not just a series of pseudoscience monologues.  Read the rest at