Film Review - Life


It’s uncomfortable timing to have “Life” debut in the same year as the prequel “Alien: Covenant,” as it takes a remarkable amount of mojo from Ridley Scott’s original 1979 “Alien” creation. It doesn’t simply pinch outer space horror, but creature motivation, claustrophobic spaces, and combative characters. Helping to separate the picture from its obvious inspiration is a tone of real-world space exploration, combining a NASA procedural adventure with a grisly horror event, keeping director Daniel Espinosa (“Safe House,” “Child 44”) busy managing intricate science and engineering and the essentials in haunted house terror, crafting an initially suspenseful chiller that effectively introduces a threat from Mars, organically figuring out a way to unleash it on the crew. The rest of “Life” doesn’t share the same excitement for deadly encounters, quickly finding a groove where it can rest with repetitive scenes of survival and rumination. Read the rest at

Film Review - Power Rangers


The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers franchise has always been a bit bewildering. There's clearly a huge fan base for the brand, but numerous television shows and previous attempts to bring the series to the big screen have already been aimed at a younger audience, with children delighting in the mix of sci-fi fantasy and cartoonish action, much the dismay of parents forced to endure constant living room recreations. To help the saga reach a new level of popularity, “Power Rangers” is a reimagining of the source material, butching it up for a PG-13 audience used to a little more grit than stuntmen in primary colored suits battling rubber monsters typically provides. Trying to compete with all the superhero extravaganzas out in the marketplace today, “Power Rangers” goes big with emotional reach and visual effects, with director Dean Israelite (“Project Almanac”) fighting to make something substantial out of weekday afternoon entertainment. He doesn't quite pull off a spinning, high-kicking triumph, spending so much time establishing the heroes that they barely have time to be heroes. Read the rest at

Film Review - Wilson


“Wilson” has trouble with translation. The film is an adaptation of a graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, best known for his work on “Ghost World.” Paying tribute to Charles Schultz and his “Peanuts” comic strip origins, Clowes created a book of one-page adventures for his misanthropic hero, keeping Wilson a contradiction of self-awareness and actual behavior, finding darkly comic wonder in his daily life. Bringing that specific tone to the big screen proves too difficult for Clowes, with cinematic construction and emotional throughlines demanding more consistency than what this picture is willing to give. While boosted by terrific leading performances from Woody Harrelson and Laura Dern, “Wilson” is fatigued quickly, working very hard to sell an atmosphere of illness that, while insistent, isn’t all that compelling. Read the rest at

Film Review - CHiPs


Someone, somewhere gave piles of money to writer/director/star Dax Shepard to make a film version of “CHiPs,” a late 1970s television show that’s mostly known today for its ridiculous episode on the Los Angeles punk rock scene and for being the program that featured Chris Pine’s father, Robert. Not just taking a cue, but the entire approach of the Channing Tatum/Jonah Hill “21 Jump Street” adaptation, “CHiPs” aims to be violent, irreverent, and comically casual, working very hard to appear effortlessly crude. What Shepard actually achieves here is an oppressive viewing experience that’s shockingly light on action and stunts and abysmal with funny business, missing the experience of the original show to be just another riff-heavy stinker that mistakes moronic shock value for cleverness. Read the rest at

Film Review - T2 Trainspotting


21 years ago, “Trainspotting” arrived in America. Depicting a heroin hell populated with Scotland’s worst, the picture became a cult hit, reaching a generation that demanded their own story of self-destruction, sold with extreme style by director Danny Boyle and soaked in sneering mockery by screenwriter John Hodge (adapting the book by Irvine Welsh). Two decades later, “Trainspotting 2” has materialized (the actual title is “T2 Trainspotting,” but, come on, there’s only one “T2,” and it’s not a Danny Boyle movie), and it wisely doesn’t try to compete with what’s come before. Building on the idea of lost years and wayward lives, “Trainspotting 2” manages to be a deeper, more meaningful chapter in this brain-scrambled saga, enjoying the rush of nostalgia and renewed danger as it deals with a crisis that’s more universal than substance abuse: aging. Read the rest at

Film Review - Prevenge


Alice Lowe has amassed a substantial amount of credits as a character actress, making brief appearances in “The World’s End,” “Locke,” and “Paddington.” Her most substantial screen role was found in “Sightseers,” a wonderful dark comedy from director Ben Wheatley, who showed uncharacteristic focus and made the most of Lowe’s screen presence. Taking command of her professional future, Lowe makes her directorial debut with “Prevenge,” also scripting herself a prime role in a slasher film that’s more about the anxieties of motherhood than the piling of dead bodies. Crafted with wit, terrific performances, and some unexpected trips into the gore zone, “Prevenge” is striking work from Lowe, who not only understands the constant concerns that swirl around the journey of pregnancy, but she’s good with violence as well, keeping the feature suspenseful when it isn’t refreshingly insightful. Read the rest at

Film Review - Raw


Much pre-release hype has collected over “Raw,” which shocked some audience members to a point of physical illness during its film festival debut, offering the type of “dare to see it” publicity every movie studio dreams about. The reality is, “Raw” isn’t that extreme, and those who embrace the horror genre on a regular basis are likely going to feel underwhelmed by the grisliness of the effort, which is regulated to only a few brief scenes. Thankfully, the rest of “Raw” is interesting enough to pass, with writer/director Julia Ducournau picking apart femininity and sexual awakening with this tale of cannibalism, constructing a stylish coming-of-age chiller that’s big on bodily fluids and Italian cinema worship. The endeavor is certainly graphic, but it’s also patient with its reveals, which doesn’t always mesh with its shock value intent. Read the rest at

Film Review - Contemporary Color


Throughout his career, David Byrne has been committed to the arts. World famous for his years as the lead singer of Talking Heads, Byrne has devoted himself to the ways of creation, taking his vision to museums, theaters, and even city streets. And now Byrne has turned his attention to the color guard, an often disregarded dance tradition looking for its moment in the spotlight. “Contemporary Color” is a celebration of music and the color guard, paired with live performances for an evening of musicianship and physical challenges, watching high school heroes put their heart and souls into intense choreography, offered a rare shot at visibility for an art form that demands intense timing, flexibility, and enthusiasm, with Byrne curating the eclectic soundtrack of the evening. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bokeh


To best detail the end of humanity, it’s interesting to visit a corner of the world that hasn’t found finality yet. “Bokeh” (which takes its name from a photographic event) isn’t a disaster movie, but it does venture into the great unknown within an empty world, following two lovers into the wilds of Iceland, which has become the place to be for recent film productions looking for unusual scenery to backdrop dramatic endeavors. The unthinkable and unknowable occurs in “Bokeh,” but writer/directors Geoffrey Orthwein and Andrew Sullivan don’t indulge spectacle. Instead, they make a relationship picture, and one with atypical points of stress, hoping to find the nuances of love and survival as two people spending time together are left with only each other, struggling to make sense of their new reality. Read the rest at

Film Review - Personal Shopper


Marking their second collaboration, Kristin Stewart once again submits to the enigmatic ways of writer/director Olivier Assayas, following up their lauded work on “Clouds of Sils Maria” with “Personal Shopper,” which once again tempts the troublesome actress into the light of adult performances. Teasing horror highlights with his take on grief and the ghostly beyond, Assayas instead plays a familiar game of misdirection, trying to lure audiences in with spooky events, but never settling anywhere significant, electing to float around sponging up behaviors and revelations. “Personal Shopper” is also a struggle for Stewart, who puts in a professional effort to communicate inner turmoil, but often falls back on fingers-through-the-hair indication that undermines the subtle rise in uncertainty Assayas is ultimately hunting for.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Sicilian Clan


At the time of its release, "The Sicilian Clan" was a fairly big deal. The 1969 endeavor is not only a crime thriller looking to bring an action cinema aesthetic to a subgenre normally reserved for heated conversations, but it features top-tier European talent, inviting Alain Delon, Jean Gabin, and Lino Ventura to star in this epic saga of mafia antagonism. "The Sicilian Clan" has all the thespian power it needs, but it's the story that tends to wear down the viewing experience, with director Henri Verneuil out to make something sophisticated and smashmouth, but has difficulty juggling the plethora of names and faces the screenplay introduces. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Unholy Four


While it details strong violence at times, 1970's "The Unholy Four" remains a jaunty spaghetti western, keeping the cowboy routine lubricated by a wonderful score from Riz Ortolani, who's the real white hat of this production. Music helps to point the picture in the right direction, as helmer Enzo Barboni makes a stylish, short-tempered effort, but also one with bizarre pit stops, including a full minute of screen time devoted to watching four characters eat in extreme close-up. Barboni has a firm handle on the basics of the genre, but his ideas for dramatic grit are occasionally bewildering. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Who?


There was no shortage of strange sci-fi and fantasy tales from the 1970s, a decade that was wallpapered with outrage and paranoia, fueling such endeavors. It was a way to provide global commentary to those perhaps unwilling to listen, or identify trouble when it wasn't allowed. 1974's "Who?" is one of the stranger offerings from the era, merging the oddity of cyborg construction with the gamesmanship of Cold War spy missions, wrapped up in a detective story of sorts that takes everything presented onscreen with the utmost seriousness. It's an adaptation of an Algis Budrys novel, which keeps it away from B-movie shenanigans. Instead, "Who?" questions the nature of identity and the price of national security, all the while featuring actor Joseph Bova dressed up as a robot, and there's not a single character who's disturbed by the sight. While hardly outrageous, the picture is strange enough to hold attention, using the oddity of the robot visual to sneak in some interesting thoughts on the nature of humanity. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Scavenger Hunt


Released during the 1963 holiday season, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" broke several comedy rules, making it a filmgoing event. Besides achieving an absurd length, the feature collected a wealth of funny people to participate in a madcap adventure, making it a must-see during its theatrical release, triggering the envy of producers around town. Knock-offs weren't immediate, but they eventually arrived, including 1979's "Scavenger Hunt," which is a rather bold photocopy of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," only without the sterling cast and widescreen expanse. While it retains a lack of editorial control, "Scavenger Hunt" attempts the same manic energy, boosted here with pronounced "Looney Tunes" inspiration, finding director Michael Schultz more of a manager than a director, trying to juggle groups of actors who are here to play, delivering extremely broad performances in a movie that welcomes any and all forms of goofballery. It's a silly endeavor, but it's also exhausting to watch, with its inherent harmlessness evolving into a threat as the one-dimensional picture is stretched over nearly two hours of screen time. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Belko Experiment


Before he became the affable architect of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” franchise, director James Gunn was once a filmmaker who reveled in extreme violence, always sold with a dark sense of humor. With credits such as “Super” and “Slither,” Gunn’s particular way with tone was always polarizing, and while he doesn’t helm “The Belko Experiment,” his inky fingerprints are all over this oddball slaughterhouse movie. Gunn hands control to Greg McLean, who tries to keep up with Gunn’s scripted vision for nonstop carnage, but so much suffering and whiffed jokes tends to wear down any possible appreciation of the material’s study of abominable human behavior. Gunn cherry picks from the boldest in battle royal cinema (including the 2000 Japanese cult hit, “Battle Royale”), but doesn’t sharpen the effort into a fine point, content to manufacture a massacre, but wary of assigning any deeper meaning to it. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mean Dreams


The oddly titled “Mean Dreams” is reminiscent of “Mud,” the 2013 Jeff Nichols picture that explored adolescent awakening in the great outdoors while maintaining suspense from troublesome adults. While it doesn’t share the same poetic qualities, “Mean Dreams” has a compelling way with young hearts blurring critical decision making skills, with director Nathan Morlando maintaining a consistent mood of contemplation and confrontation, filling up the effort with enough feeling and tension to satisfy. Morlando does an excellent job tapping into the thought process of a juvenile in love, sustaining that behavioral authenticity as it snowballs out of control, allowing the story to feel energetic when it’s actually formulaic, finding the helmer skilled enough to reanimate clichés. Read the rest at

Film Review - Deidra and Laney Rob a Train


While it resembles a typical teen picture centered on community shenanigans and troubled times, it’s a relief to report that “Deidre and Laney Rob a Train” has some defined spunk to help it navigate a plot that plays tribute to heist movies and makes time to deal with broken hearts. It’s the latest from director Sydney Freeland, who’s enjoying her most high profile gig to date, coming through with a brightly performed and thoughtfully written (by Shelby Farrell) dramedy that takes time to celebrate individuality, the value of education, and confront the universal fear of change. “Deidre and Laney Rob a Train” can be a silly film, but its heart is always in the right place, supplying meaningful themes and characterization, which are always supported by fantastic performances. Read the rest at

Film Review - Burning Sands


The experience of fraternity pledging is usually depicted a certain way, putting heavy emphasis on the brutality of hazing rituals, which often push pledge minds and bodies to the breaking point, guaranteeing lasting loyalty. Rarely does a film showcase the initiation process as one of hearty exchanges and firm handshakes. “Burning Sands” is the latest in a long line of college disaster movies, but it manages to locate a few new avenues of humiliation to explore, taking in the choreographed barbarity of fraternity life at a black college, pitting the savagery of daily abuse against clearness of though provided by historical leaders who’ve truly gone through their own version of hell night. “Burning Sands” has a problem with formula and predictability, but it’s also distinct in its point of view, with co-writer/director Gerald McMurray creating terrific scenes of anxiety and confusion to help support a periodically disappointing feature. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Dark Below


Writer/director Douglas Schulze should be commended for at least trying to pull off something a little different. “The Dark Below” is thriller cinema, and a B-movie that’s searching for ways to unsettle its audience, also hunting for a gimmick that might help the feature to stand out from the genre pack. First and foremost, the film is partially set underwater, with the lead character struggling to survive under ice. Secondly, there’s no dialogue for the majority of the effort, with Schulze using silence as a way to shake up expectations. “The Dark Below” supplies an unusual viewing experience, but not a satisfying one, with Schulze coming up short in the chills department, exhausting the audience with iffy offerings of style that do next to nothing for the endeavor’s fear factor. Read the rest at

Film Review - Atomica


Like many B-movies, “Atomica” submits a vision for the end of the world. However, it’s a slow ride in planetary decay and filmmaking, with director Dagen Merrill struggling to make a picture that’s basically conversational in nature exciting. There’s some design effort at work in the feature, which gives it a visual presence despite a clear lack of funds to truly bring a dying Earth to life, but “Atomica,” which aims to increase tension through a story of questionable identities and industrial exploration, rarely has the emphasis an endeavor like this requires to rise above its limited means. Merrill wants to transform limited spaces and dark motivations into a Hitchcockian ride, but it rarely grips as tightly as the production would like. Read the rest at