Film Review - Overlord


Normally, a movie that details rampaging Nazi zombies would attempt to be darkly comedic, but “Overlord” has unusual concentration on the grim realities of the situation. It’s the latest release from production company Bad Robot, the J.J. Abrams-backed genre factory, who usually concoct films about secret behavior and sophisticated puzzles. This time, they’re more interested in becoming a blunt, R-rated weapon. Screenwriters Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith deliver a tale of wartime panic and survival, but instead of embracing historical authenticity, they go wild with weird science, pitting American soldiers and French civilians against a growing population of Third Reich monsters, while director Julius Avery (“Son of a Gun”) strives to keep the endeavor as macabre as possible. It takes a while to get going, but once “Overlord” finds its footing, it becomes a thrilling, profoundly violent ride. Read the rest at

Film Review - Outlaw King


While it was released 23 years ago, “Braveheart” certainly hasn’t lost steam in film appreciation circles, retaining a vocal fanbase for the Best Picture winner that continues to this day, supporting various home video releases. The story of “Outlaw King” picks up where the saga of William Wallace ended, but co-writer/director David Mackenzie (“Hell or High Water”) isn’t making a sequel. At least, this is likely what the helmer was telling himself during production. “Outlaw King” isn’t technically connected to the Mel Gibson effort, but the association isn’t exactly muted, with Mackenzie organizing another historical bloodbath with Scotsmen tearing apart Englishmen over the future of the land. As passionate as the production is about the material, it’s difficult to shake a case of deja vu here, with the epic sweep here closely resembling bigness and toughness of Gibson’s feature, only Mackenzie doesn’t quite have the stamina to keep organizing brutality, slowly losing his ability to tell a clear story as the endeavor grows punch-drunk. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Great Buster


“The Great Buster” is billed as “a celebration,” helping to distance the picture from a documentary label that it doesn’t entirely earn. Instead of a meticulous biographical study of Buster Keaton, director Peter Bogdanovich uses screen time to remind audiences of the subject’s brilliance when it came to making comedies, filing through Keaton’s achievements, not the finer points of his life. The lack of grit is a little disappointing, but “The Great Buster” is on a mission to make sure Keaton’s gifts are thoroughly highlighted, and with that simple goal in mind, Bogdanovich manages to isolate the miraculous creativity and commitment to controlled chaos Keaton used to define his career. Consider it as more of an overview of a master filmmaker than an offering of journalism, and it’s sheer bliss for classic movie admirers.  Read the rest at

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

Blu-ray Review - Tiger by the Tail


1970's "Tiger by the Tail" (released two years after being completed) gifts star Christopher George his own hardboiled detective story, putting him in a tough guy position that makes the most of his hard stares. It's hard to argue with the casting, with George a believably steely man portraying a character who can't seem to escape trouble. "Tiger by the Tail" plays to his thespian strengths, but the movie lacks a lot of chewiness the subgenre is known for, unfolding with a surprising amount of conversation instead of two-fisted conflict resolution, leaving the picture lacking a great of excitement, which is pretty amazing considering that the film opens with a brawl inside a Mexican brothel. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Human Experiments


In the mid-1980s, 1979's "Human Experiments" was added to the UK's list of "Video Nasties," banning it from distribution due to perverse violence. It's difficult to understand this decision, as the film is hardly the torture-a-thon its box art and title suggests, and perhaps producers were delighted to suddenly be in possession of such forbidden fruit, newly empowered to sell the picture as aggressively as possible. The reality of "Human Experiments" is that it's not a particularly haunting endeavor, with director Gregory Goodell and writer Richard Rothstein aiming for something more sinister than graphic, keeping the effort well within television movie parameters for intensity. While sold as an agony machine and a women-in-prison feature, the effort never really settles anywhere specific, more eager to sample different moods than remain frightening for very long.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - 1/1


It's difficult to tell if "1/1" has autobiographical ties to writer/director Jeremy Phillips, but it certainly plays as much, emerging with a level of passion and personal perspective that's explosive at times. It's also a movie that doesn't invite outsiders into the intense psychological inspection, finding Phillips too concentrated on the construction of the film, forgetting to provide a reason why anyone should care about the story. It's an artful journey into the folds of depression, and Phillips is careful with every frame of the endeavor. As technically advanced as it is, "1/1" is also cold to the touch, making whatever inspired this effort difficult to discern as the helmer arranges a sensory assault that's tough to sit through. Read the rest at