Blu-ray Review - The Lemon Drop Kid


Perhaps the most fascinating bit of trivia associated with 1951's "The Lemon Drop Kid" (adapted from the short story by Damon Runyon) is the debut of "Silver Bells," a Christmas song that started here and grew to become a holiday perennial, covered by a multitude of artists, most famously conquered by star Bob Hope's frequent screen partner, Bing Crosby. Of course, there's an entire movie here as well, with seasonal cheer put into hands of Hope, who tries on a thin layer of Capra for this con man tale of semi-redemption, with the production making the most of his special brand of comedy. "Silver Bells" is merely icing on the cake.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Boo 2: A Madea Halloween


Last year, “Boo! A Madea Halloween” managed to scare up some sizable box office for writer/director/producer/star Tyler Perry, giving him a hit film for the scary season. It was a cheap, unfunny offering of his typical air horn-style of comedy, but it managed to lure in a new, younger audience looking to “hate watch” the endeavor, laughing at the movie instead of with. Either way, Perry’s financial standing improved, which is why, one year later, there’s a sequel. “Boo 2: A Madea Halloween” isn’t about to deviate from the Perry formula of terrible improvisation and limited locations, charging full steam ahead with a revival of Madea and her special way of dealing with the frights of the holiday. “Boo 2” is terrible, but you know that already, though it does identify just how little Perry cares about the look and content of his features, as the sequel is padded with inane conversations taking place in painfully static locations. Read the rest at

Film Review - Geostorm


The second half of October’s “Whatever happened to that movie?” release event (following “Amityville: The Awakening”) is “Geostorm,” which was shot three years ago, extensively reshot one year ago, and has been waiting for its multiplex debut ever since. It’s hard to believe any studio would hesitate for a moment when it comes to the distribution of a visual effects-laden disaster film. After all, it’s a genre that’s largely appreciated for its campy qualities and melodrama, welcoming hoots and hollers from audiences as the productions detail extravagant nightmares. Take “Geostorm” as an offering of extreme silliness, and there’s some approachable absurdity, but only in small amounts. The majority of the effort is leaden, noisy, and generally tone-deaf when it comes to the delivery of a rock ‘em sock ‘em entertainment, gradually revealing why the studio was reluctant to release it.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Brawl in Cell Block 99


Writer/director S. Craig Zahler made a strong debut with 2015’s “Bone Tomahawk,” which arrived in the form of a traditional western and gradually transformed into a vivid horror show. Zahler showcased a commitment to patient reveals, meaty characterizations, and ferocious violence, while his command of escalation was chilling, making “Bone Tomahawk” unforgettable. He’s returned with “Brawl in Cell Block 99,” which arrives in the form of a grindhouse-y prison free-for-all, though, once again, the danger is portioned out deliberately, with each scene building toward something unsettling. And bless his heart, Zahler delivers with the feature, which is unbearably ugly at times, but in all the right ways, presenting an exploitation pummeling that’s moody, grim, and utterly mesmerizing. And it doesn’t hurt to have star Vince Vaughn provide one of the best performances of his career.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Only the Brave


Heroism is difficult to define on the big screen. These days, most offerings of selflessness belong to fantasy characters from comic books, providing a larger-than-life depiction of boldness to achieve a sense of escapism and wish-fulfillment. There’s nothing wrong with the movement, but every now and then, it’s vital to be reminded of the human side of courage. “Only the Brave” details the rise of Granite Mountain Hotshots, a wildfire fighting team that suffered a catastrophic loss of life in 2013, bringing national focus to what these men actually do when they stare down untamable infernos. There’s a certain way such a tale can be played, but screenwriters Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer don’t take the bait, working on the creation of living, breathing characters, choosing to celebrate complexity over extravaganza. “Only the Brave” is a powerful feature, partially due to the sacrifices depicted, but primarily because it remains so grounded, appreciating the firefighters on a relatable level, without slopping on layers of melodrama. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Snowman


This past week, director Tomas Alfredson went to the press to admit that his latest movie, “The Snowman,” doesn’t work. He’s not kidding. While it’s a rare move for a filmmaker to disparage his own picture before it’s fully released (shades of Josh Trank and “Fantastic Four”), Alfredson should be commended for his honesty, as the feature displays a shocking lack of coherence and suspense. Previously helming the sublime “Let the Right One In” and the complex “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” it’s very strange to watch “The Snowman” fall apart almost immediately after it begins. It’s meant to be a franchise-starter, pulling inspiration from author Jo Nesbo and his Harry Hole detective series, but this is no way to start a big screen relationship. Alfredson goes in with the best intentions, but he ends up checking out long before the story reaches its non-conclusion.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Leatherface


1974’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” is a horror classic, but the nightmare didn’t end there. There were sequels (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III”), a whatever (“Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation”), a remake (2003’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”), a prequel to the remake (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning”), and a sequel to the original that wasn’t very good at math (“Texas Chainsaw 3D”). It’s a franchise that’s carried on despite enduring a few bombs and general confusion, but the genre loves a defined brand name, leaving the producers of “Leatherface” to come up with another reason to detail human butchery in the wilds of Texas. It’s not exactly a sequel, not precisely a prequel, and possibly not remake. “Leatherface” is just 90 minutes of nothingness posing as a scary movie, with fans subjected to the same old buzzing, maniacal business, while newcomers might wonder how such a singular filmgoing event over 40 years ago has managed to survive in pop culture consciousness for so long.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Killing Gunther


“Killing Gunther” marks the directorial debut for actor Taran Killam, who’s perhaps best known as a former cast member on “Saturday Night Live,” also appearing on Broadway in “Hamilton.” A talented comedian and a fan of the absurd, Killam preserves all silliness for his first effort as a helmer, stoking laughs and weirdness as he attempts a faux documentary approach for an action film, working to twist the Christopher Guest formula in a more manic direction. “Killing Gunther” has some big laughs and a fair amount of chuckles, though tonally, it dips on a few occasions, suggesting that while Killam marched into the production with a concept, he never fully worked out all the scenes. Still, it’s confident work with some sharp, impish performances and a chance to see Arnold Schwarzenegger play as loose as he’s even been, keeping up with the practiced comedians in his own inimitable fashion.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Bachelors


Perhaps writer/director Kurt Voelker deserves kudos for not turning “The Bachelors” into a comedy, which it might appear to be from the outside, slapped with ill-fitting title and a premise that would feel comfortable on a CBS sitcom. However, the screenplay is serious about grief and familial relationships, with Voelker creating characters in dire need of human contact, hit with painful loss, which has knocked their instinct out of whack. It’s a relationship drama, but Voelker doesn’t pour on the syrup, creating an approachable but deeply felt picture that’s curious about behavior and therapy. The production presents a fine cast capable of matching Voelker’s sincerity, resulting in feature that’s as genuine as it can be, handling topics such as loss and adolescent love with genuine concern for the characters. Read the rest at

Film Review - Never Here


There are mysteries within mysteries in “Never Here,” a beguiling take on the madness of art and the dangers of impulse control issues. It’s a bewildering picture, but that’s exactly how writer/director Camille Thoman wants it, keeping characters enigmatic and the plot fluid, though she achieves select genre appreciation at times, identifying a true filmgoer spirit in the midst of all this interpretive fog. Thoman also casts smartly, unleashing Mireille Enos on a role that plays to her strengths of physical communication and psychological unraveling. “Never Here” isn’t the smoothest viewing experience around, but it’s full of haunting images and provocative ideas, blending art world immersion with detective noir, offering the curious plenty to sift through as reality bends and obsessions graduate into horror.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Tragedy Girls


There’s going to be a generational divide when it comes to the audience for “Tragedy Girls.” There will be those who understand, possibly even relate to the modern depiction of teenagedom, which is showcased here as a marathon of social media anxiety, bullying, and insincerity. Older audiences will likely spend the viewing experience being grateful they are no longer adolescents, forced to compete in a ferociously connected world. Thankfully, “Tragedy Girls” isn’t a documentary, but a horror comedy, offering satiric touches and exaggerated performances to help viewers ease into the challenges of juvenile life, which, for this endeavor, include murder. Co-writer/director Tyler MacIntyre pulls off a bit of a miracle here, finding ways to connect to unpleasant characters, while the rest of the movie speeds ahead with macabre twists and turns, and shares a love for bloody mischief.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Shortwave


Horror is a game of influence, and while certain directors (e.g. John Carpenter) receive a lot of attentions these days, “Shortwave” makes a different choice. Writer/director Ryan Gregory Phillips seems to be in a Shane Carruth mood for his helming debut, conjuring a style and dramatic distance that’s similar to “Primer” and “Upstream Color,” but with a decidedly more macabre intent. Perhaps this approach will be most appreciated by cinephiles, as “Shortwave” always feels just out of reach, working to summon a different form of menace with artful technique but a loose appreciation of authentic suspense. It’s a striking picture at times, and one can see Phillips is a talent in the making, but the feature always feels more interested in the visual experience, rendering the storytelling somewhat flat, even when it touches on unbearably devastating events.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton


Surfing movies were once a common event in specialty theaters, but they aren’t as popular these days, perhaps due to market saturation. Director Rory Kennedy tries to avoid the appearance of a daredevil surf film with “Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton,” which positions itself as an examination of one of the most famous surfers of all time, tracking Hamilton’s life as it burns through behavioral issues and wave-based trial and error. Glorious oceanic cinematography remains open for inspection, but the documentary strives to celebrate the concept of Hamilton as a god of the sport and a man for himself, eschewing prolonged clips of surfing performance for something slightly more intimate, but never abyssal in its inspection of a complex personality.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Humongous


After scoring a hit with the 1980 disco-infused slasher film, "Prom Night," director Paul Lynch remains with the genre that gave him a career, returning to scary business with 1982's "Humongous." While formula remains, putting young people against a shadowy evil, the setting has changed radically, with Lynch moving to a remote island to stage his chiller, using empty forests and houses to help with ambiance has he works to communicate a slightly more sophisticated motivation for a massacre. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Who's Crazy?


1966's "Who's Crazy?" is a filmed project for The Living Theater, an experimental theater group co-founded by Julian Beck, who starred as Kane in "Poltergeist II: The Other Side" (surely not his finest hour, but his most recognizable turn). Keeping up with the group's mission to explore the inner and outer space of life through performance, "Who's Crazy?" is an explosion of imagery, symbolism, and musical performance, offering a buzzing, swirling, swooping jazz soundtrack to support the endeavor, created by Ornette Coleman, David Izenzon, and Charles Moffett (with vocals by Marianne Faithfull).  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - My Favorite Brunette


Bob Hope is generally known as a rascal, often employing a sardonic wit to best his challengers on television, film, and radio. Always armed with an ace one-liner and complete comfort with any situation, it's somewhat bizarre to watch Hope in 1947's "My Favorite Brunette," which asks the comedy legend to play unhinged for 90 minutes, always stuck in losing situations, caught in the middle of complicated problems. While it's far from fresh ground for the performer, it's a nice change of pace, working to bend his big screen persona in unusual directions with "My Favorite Brunette," which keeps him busy for nearly every frame of the feature. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Road to Bali


Taking an extended break from collaboration after 1947's "Road to Rio," Bob Hope and Bing Crosby return to franchise duty with 1952's "Road to Bali," which marks a Technicolor debut for the series. Director Hal Walker takes the visual challenge seriously, working to pack in as many dazzling views as possible for the sixth installment of the comedy travelogue, giving his stars a brighter big screen playground to work with. "Road to Bali" also introduces a more manic approach to humor, with the production working in gags whenever they possibly can, turning what was once simple jesting into an occasionally bizarre farce that's guided by well-rehearsed shenanigans from Hope and Crosby.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Spielberg


When it comes to the dissection of the life and career of Steven Spielberg, I’m not sure what exactly director Susan Lacy was expecting to achieve. There’s no way to get one’s arms around the enormity of Spielberg’s achievements, professional and charitable, leaving Lacy at a distinct disadvantage, tasked with highlighting 50 years of artistic accomplishments and family ties. And yet, with some help from an impressive roster of interviewees, “Spielberg” the documentary comes through with stunning clarity, offering the most rounded portrait yet of a complex individual who, for most of his career, has enjoyed unequaled success and cultural presence. It’s not easy to summarize Steven Spielberg, but Lacy has achieved that and so much more with the picture, which isn’t truly a trip down memory lane, but a guide map to influences and interests that helped to define an impressive man who’s made more than a few all-time classics during his career. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Happy Death Day


While there are always strange horror movies hitting it big at the box office, blame for “Happy Death Day” belongs to 2014’s “Ouija.” A minor PG-13 chiller and a terrible film, “Ouija” managed to find a sizable pre-teen audience looking for vanilla frights on a late October weekend, surpassing all expectations. And now there’s “Happy Death Day,” which offers the same type of banal scares and screenwriting aimed directly at 12 year olds. It’s certainly a brighter picture, almost qualifying as a comedy, but director Christopher Landon isn’t putting in much of an effort with this “Groundhog Day”-inspired time loop endeavor, keeping a macabre premise cuddly for mass consumption, while the material’s juvenile tonality only takes minutes before it begins to feel like multiplex imprisonment.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Marshall


“Marshall” is not a bio-pic of the late Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall. Frankly, the film that bears his name isn’t even really about his career as a triumphant lawyer dealing with seemingly impossible cases steeped in prejudice. The Thurgood presented in the picture is more of an inspirational figure, handed defined attitude and authority as a black man trying to achieve justice in a white world. The screenplay by Jacob and Michael Koskoff (2015’s “Macbeth”) endeavors to transform Thurgood into a beacon of defiance, almost superhero-ish in design, gifting “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman a rare opportunity to play two men of action in his blossoming career. And he’s terrific in “Marshall,” handling the Koskoffs’ broad writing with care, making the most out of what becomes a supporting role in the feature, which probably wouldn’t welcome the same titular posture if it was called “Friedman.”  Read the rest at