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May 2019

Film Review - Funny Story


“Funny Story” is a very small movie about rather large emotions. Screenwriters Steve Greene and Michael J. Gallagher (who also directs) initially establish a slight Woody Allen-esque vibe to the piece, playing light with relationship woes and uncomfortable pairings, but there’s a serious side to the material as well, and when it hits, it hits hard. Thankfully, before characters elect to bring the pain, there’s playfulness to the feature that’s enjoyable, with star Matthew Glave delivering a performance of effortless charm and sharp timing, giving “Funny Story” a pleasant attitude before it grows completely dark, and at the very last minute too. It radiates film festival catnip, but the picture stands on its own, paying attention to wounded people and their habitual interest in making mistakes. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Untamed Heart


Director Tony Bill started his career making gentle pictures about human concerns. He dealt with friendship in 1980's "My Bodyguard," and finality in 1982's "Six Weeks," returning to the land of tearjerker entertainment with 1993's "Untamed Heart." Working from a screenplay by Tom Sierchio, Bill aims to create an unabashedly earnest film about love and devotion, pulling the characters away from gritty authenticity for 100 minutes of sweetened romance, inching toward a fairy tale with this story of two sensitive people finding each other in an unusual way. "Untamed Heart" isn't for cynics, as Bill doesn't weigh the feature down with too much of the hard stuff, preferring to remain in a glow of attraction and protection, touching on mild fantasy overtones that probably wouldn't hold up in the cold light of day, but connect beautifully in the seasonal light. Performances from Christian Slater and Marisa Tomei secure Sierchio's aim to create a something of a cosmic connection between lost souls, while Bill stays in touch with the fragile atmosphere of the movie, which is captured in a deeply heartfelt way. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Murder Rock


"Murder Rock" is the result of a filmmaker who wanted to craft a murder mystery and producers who craved a "Flashdance" knockoff. The genres are smashed together in this 1984 release, and the results are expectedly odd. "Murder Rock" comes from director Lucio Fulci, who assembles a proper giallo, unleashing chaos inside a troubled dance academy, offering familiar sights of black-gloved killers and dreamscape visits, keeping on track with this whodunit. The feature also pays close attention to trends of the day, offering breakdancing and gyrations to go with all the gore (the production could use an anatomy lesson, but it's bloody), providing a dance marathon for a helmer who isn't quite as taken with physical movement as he is with physical pain. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Valentine


After the 1996 release of "Scream," horror suddenly found itself popular again, engaging with a new generation by mixing old tricks with new commentary, giving rise to the popularity of self-aware productions stacked with a roster of pretty people. Director Jamie Blanks participated in the movement with 1998's "Urban Legend," emerging with a modest hit, but one that kept the trend alive, paving the way for more similarly themed endeavors to follow. With 2001's "Valentine," Blanks makes a choice to move away from the growing routine, looking to craft throwback entertainment with the effort, which takes its inspiration from early '80s slasher films. Blanks isn't completely successful with "Valentine," which is weighed down by numerous problems, but in the midst of familiarity, Blanks chose to go retro, doing so with hopes to achieve frights from direct shots of stalking and stabbing. His attempt is admirable, but can't quite get the feature to the point of hysteria it needs to reach. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Psychic


Unlike a lot of giallo that make it a point to deliver shocks before settling into a mystery, 1977's "The Psychic" (titled "Murder to the Tune of Seven Black Notes" on the print) doesn't mind a slower pace. Director Lucio Fulci takes his time with this tale of one woman's struggle with murderous premonitions, gradually working through the layers of the crime and its suspects, trying to make a meal out of the central crisis. It's not a feature that wins on thrills alone, but "The Psychic" is the rare endeavor to actually master a payoff worth waiting for, using stillness to help increase tensions before revealing all in the macabre finale. Read the rest at

Film Review - John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum


The genuine surprise of 2014’s “John Wick” led to the equally surprising “John Wick: Chapter 2,” which was the rare sequel to understand what made the original offering tick, electing to develop its strengths while gracefully expanding an assassin universe merely teased in the previous installment. The adrenaline rush should be weakening at this point, but nobody told that to director Chad Stahelski, who returns to active duty with “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum,” keeping up the good fight with an enchantingly chaotic second sequel that’s ready to deliver the battered and shattered goods once again, only this time there’s a distinct plan to move forward with the series instead of banging around from one sequel to the next. Keanu Reeves as John Wick. There’s not much more one needs from the saga at this point, but “Chapter 3” has plenty of eye-opening moments featuring blunt force trauma, and while Stahelski has some difficulty knowing when to cry uncle, he’s more than ready to showcase an exquisite display of stunt work. Read the rest at

Film Review - Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles


They combined forces on comic book pages, and now they’re set to conquer animation. “Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” brings together two beloved superhero properties, though with wildly disparate backgrounds and standings in pop culture history. Screenwriter Marly Halpern-Graser completely understands the assignment and does a terrific job uniting Batman and the Turtles to face a common foe. A few of them, actually. Action-packed and humorous without being excessively goofy, “Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” does really well within budget animation standards, with director Jake Castorena presenting a stylized, PG-13 extravaganza that’s peppered with enjoyable characters and major showdowns, giving fans the breezy, bruising sit they’ve been waiting for. Read the rest at

Film Review - All Creatures Here Below


David Dastmalchian makes his feature-length writing debut with “All Creatures Here Below,” and the actor makes a leap to take control of his career as a character actor, scripting himself a leading role in this downbeat drama. Taking inspiration from Terrence Malick and John Steinbeck, Dastmalchian and director Collin Schiffli present an American story of poverty and travel, trying to find the humanity in pure survival and denial. This is a not a cheery tale of misbegotten liberation, it’s something far grittier and troubling yet impressively managed by the production, which manages to find poetry within a dire living experience. Dastmalchian isn’t afraid to go to dark spaces with the material, but his attention to character behavior cuts through any bleakness, getting to know the personalities presented with unsettling intimacy. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Professor


It’s been a long time since Johnny Depp played a normal human being. Perhaps he’s never played a role perfectly straight, at least since megafame arrived to claim his everyman appeal. “The Professor” provides the most earthbound Depp performance in a very long time, but that doesn’t mean the actor is ready to holster all his thespian quirks. Instead of Depp losing contact with reality to entertain himself, he’s challenged to play a man facing the end of his life, with all sorts of sobering feelings triggered after such a revelation. It’s not an easy turn for anyone, but Depp makes an attempt to dial down his eccentricities for writer/director Wayne Kramer, working hard to follow the helmer’s often bizarre tonal journey that begins with laughs and tries to end with tears, only most of the emotion doesn’t track as clearly as it should, periodically inspiring Depp to manufacture his own version of the movie with expected exaggeration. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Dog's Journey


2017’s “A Dog’s Purpose” had the advantage of being based on a popular novel by W. Bruce Cameron, giving fans a chance to see the book translated for the big screen. Schmaltz was piled high and its sense of humor was dismal, but “A Dog’s Purpose” found its audience, becoming a hit film. And with any box office success comes a sequel, following Cameron’s lead with “A Dog’s Journey,” which is also based on his work, continuing the adventures of Bailey, the canine who loves to die. While the first feature tried to shoehorn existential consideration into a picture that was mainly about extracting tears and arranging poop jokes, “A Dog’s Journey” doesn’t put in the same effort, eschewing deep thoughts to become a tired melodrama, playing like a Tyler Perry movie, but with dogs. Read the rest at

Film Review - Trial by Fire


Director Edward Zwick has made a few terrific features during his lengthy career (including “Legends of the Fall” and “Glory”), but in recent years, he’s lacked the ability to find decent project, dealing primarily with duds such as “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” and “Love & Other Drugs.” “Trial by Fire” represents Zwick’s effort to get his moviemaking mojo back, turning to the reliably of message-minded cinema for inspiration. The subject here is the death penalty, which has been examined in many pictures, and “Trial by Fire” doesn’t seem to recognize this reality, going through the motions when it comes to unlikely connections and persistent doubt, while the screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher heads to extreme manipulation to squeeze some suspense out of what’s a surprisingly uneventful film. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Violent Separation


After struggling to find their footing with their remake of the French chiller, “Martyrs,” directors Kevin Goetz and Michael Goetz aim to bring a more American crisis to life with “A Violent Separation,” which sorts through family hostilities and murder in a rural southern location. The setting is familiar but always has potential, and screenwriter Michael Arkof has a vision to braid together domestic issues and resentments, aiming for a grand sweep of simmering hostilities. “A Violent Separation” doesn’t meet all its creative goals, but the helmers do try to manufacture gut-rot acts of guilt and maintain a mood of paranoia, with hopes to get the feature up to speed as something suspenseful and meaningful when it comes to the ties that bind. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - The Fifth Floor


Perhaps trying to cash-in on the popularity of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," 1978's "The Fifth Floor" returns to the manic energy of a psychiatric facility, with director Howard Avedis ("Mortuary") steering the effort into more horrifying demonstrations of institutional corruption. "The Fifth Floor" is often caught between its desire to creep out the audience and its attempt to condemn the business of corralling and exploiting the mentally ill, resulting in an uneven picture that fails to make much of an impact, playing more confidently with B-movie hysterics and periodic chases. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Summer Lovers


1982's "Summer Lovers" is an important offering in the career of director Randal Kleiser, who, up to this point, was a major force in Hollywood. Kleiser was able to acquire the attention of a younger audience, making a box office blockbuster in 1978's "Grease," and surprising many with the staying power of 1980's "The Blue Lagoon." He was positioned for another smash with "Summer Lovers," which uses the formula of young people in lust and love and ages it up some, with Kleiser trying to inch his way into adult-oriented complications. His answer to the relative innocence of "The Blue Lagoon" is to spend time on the nude beaches of the Greek islands, capturing the sexual heat and emotional complications of a love triangle in the middle of paradise. Kleiser can't get past the slightness of the material, which never has enough texture to completely realize such psychological gamesmanship and eventual softening of personal defenses. But the helmer does maintain command over the location, constructing an evocative understanding of bodily freedoms and lustful sway, which is almost enough to secure an inviting viewing experience. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Pink Panther Cartoon Collection: Volume 4


With "The Pink Panther Cartoon Collection: Volume 4," the titular animal with an insatiable desire for mischief enters the 1970s, facing a world where things are changing in comedy and culture, forcing the production team at DePatie-Freleng to possibly rethink future adventures for the theatrical short star. However, old habits die hard, and this latest assembly of brief adventures showcasing just how comfort the producers were with routine, trying to keep their star busy with random shenanigans that slowly depart from any earthbound logic, going fully cartoon at times just to give something for Pink Panther to do as ideas for these little slices of animated nonsense dry up. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Uninvited


Writer/director Greyson Clark is one of the more famous names in the B-movie business. For about 25 years, Clark churned out a number of low- budget endeavors, working to cash in on Hollywood and pop culture trends with his own vision for mass entertainment. The helmer of "Joysticks," "Satan's Cheerleaders," and "Lambada: The Forbidden Dance," Clark isn't one for filmmaking finesse, but there's a certain low-wattage pluck to his endeavors. Such minimal expectations should be applied to 1987's "Uninvited," with Clark attempting to make a creature feature on a boat, gifting himself enough isolation to invent horrors plaguing a varied collection of characters. "Uninvited" has the right idea but often the wrong execution, with Clark not quite covering his seams with this effort, getting a little too sloppy at times with surefire ideas for no-budget excitement. Production polish isn't available, but there's always the simple pleasure of a plot that involves roving attacks from a mutant cat. Read the rest at

Film Review - Wine Country


While dabbling in television direction, Amy Poehler makes her feature-length helming debut with “Wine Country,” and it’s amazing how long it’s taken her to make the career leap. To help cushion the experience, Poehler has stacked the cast with friends and frequent collaborators, trying to give the effort a lived-in feel to best support the material, which examines the anxious highs and lows of a 50th birthday party weekend in Napa Valley, California. Joined by screenwriters Liza Cackowski and Emily Spivey, Poehler guides a pleasingly scattered production, merging her skills with casual comedy with tales of tattered bonding, unleashing incredibly talented people on a production that welcomes shenanigans. There’s room for sobering realities, but “Wine Country” mostly remains silly and quite funny, with Poehler happy to let her cast run wild with emotional mood swings. Read the rest at

Film Review - Poms


It feels uncomfortable to criticize “Poms” for its many filmmaking issues. It’s a harmless picture that’s meant to inspire an older audience commonly unrepresented in mainstream releases, presenting them with mildness all around. However, such vanilla interests fail to sustain the viewing experience, with the feature playing like a basic cable production, showing no interest in amplifying jokes or developing compelling obstacles for characters who could use a little more in the way of personal and athletic challenges. “Poms” is made for a specific audience, but that crowd deserves a little better than this movie, which has the potential to tear off into a proper farce, only to be more comfortable as a saccharine, predictable underdog story. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Hustle


Third time’s the charm? Not in the case of “The Hustle,” which is a remake of 1988’s “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” which was a remake of 1964’s “Bedtime Story.” The tale of two con artists and their special way with manic swindling is certainly ripe for a periodic reworking, and the new film delivers an update with a female point of view, turning to Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson to play parts previously worked over by Michael Caine, Steve Martin, Marlon Brando, and David Niven. The shake-up is necessary, but Jac Schaeffer’s screenplay isn’t adventurous, playing the do-over game by reviving scenes from the earlier features, unwilling to color outside the lines with a premise that could do with a change in scenery and plotting. If you’ve seen “Bedtime Story” or “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” you’ve seen “The Hustle,” only the newest version is least effective, least refined version of the tale. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Pokemon: Detective Pikachu


The world of “Pokemon” has been around since 1996. However, its true popularity has always been a mystery, finding the fanbase treating the brand as a secret code (at least in America), permitting its producers to make a fortune without the burden of overexposure, with the last wave of “Pokemon” mania hitting in 2016, after the release of a beloved augmented reality game. The source material has been turned into movies before, plenty of them, but they’ve been animated, some very cheaply too. Now comes “Pokemon: Detective Pikachu,” which brings the characters and their battles to the big screen with a large budget and the participation of U.S. actors, giving this universe its first real test of global appeal since the late 1990s. People seem to love “Pokemon,” and “Detected Pikachu” tries to be respectful of such adoration, blending fan service with blockbuster intentions, coming up with a feature that’s enjoyable, but only when it takes matters seriously. Read the rest at