Blu-ray Review - A Touch of Genie


Perhaps there are a few people out there who secretly would like to see Woody Allen in his prime make an adult movie. 1974's "A Touch of Genie" is as close to granting that wish as possible, finding director Joseph W. Sarno mounting a sex comedy that favors Jewish stereotypes and New York City anxiety, playing up nebbish behavior and domineering mothers, all the while slipping into hardcore entertainment now and again, to remind viewers they're not watching an Allen-style production.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - 8 Million Ways to Die


The 1970s were a creatively fertile period for writer/director Hal Ashby, who commanded such classics as "The Last Detail," "Harold and Maude," "Shampoo," and "Being There." The 1980s weren't as kind, finding Ashby unable to sustain past inspiration for films such as "The Slugger's Wife" and "Second-Hand Hearts." 1986's "8 Million Ways to Die" represents Ashby's final effort before his death two years later, and it's arguably his worst picture, though not for traditional reasons of bad choices and misplaced ambition, but for legal issues, with the helmer badgered during production and eventually removed from the project altogether after a dispute with the suits. Someone else cut "8 Million Ways to Die" together, and lord almighty, they did a terrible job.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Son of Joseph


The director of "La Sapienza," Eugene Green creates highly specific films for certain, more adventurous audiences. He's cheeky but dry, taking on the enormity of emotion through stillness, keeping his framing tight and symmetrical, while performances are deceptively robotic, retaining distance as a way to articulate urgency. Green is an eccentric, but he's capable of constructing motivations and escalations, with his latest, "The Son of Joseph," pulling inspiration from art and biblical studies to inspire a tale of paternity. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - A Midsummer Night's Dream


Julie Taymor is a highly respected director who gained a reputation for imaginative, challenging work with triumphs such as the stage version of "The Lion King," also rattling movie theaters with effort such as "Titus" and "Across the Universe." Joining this list of accomplishments is 2014's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," which finds Taymor returning to Shakespeare for inspiration, transforming a relatively small space on the stage into a dreamscape free fall starring known characters and host of artistic surprises.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Kingsman: The Golden Circle


2015’s “Kingsman: The Secret Service” was a surprise hit. It wasn’t a particularly strong effort from director Matthew Vaughn, but it found an audience willing to overlook pacing and scripting issues, along with iffy action sequences. With success comes a sequel, with “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” hoping to sustain the multiplex celebration that started just over two years ago. It’s a return to the world of 007 satire masterminded by enfant terrible Mark Millar (partnering with Dave Gibbons), and Vaughn certainly continues to be respectful of the formula and foul sense of humor that delighted audiences the last time around. However, “The Golden Circle,” while still stuffed with bad taste and dim comedy, is a more mature offering from the helmer, who periodically stops trying to be irreverent and allows himself to have fun with this admittedly derivative world of spies and near-misses. It’s definitely a better film, but most importantly, it shows growth and a cleaner appreciation for escapism.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The LEGO Ninjago Movie


When “The LEGO Movie” debuted in 2014, it was a genuine surprise, offering humor and heart where most audiences likely anticipated a simple animation cash-grab from the LEGO Corporation. It was a treat, sharp and wonderfully animated. Last Spring’s “The LEGO Batman Movie” wasn’t nearly as successful, showing more interest in mayhem, comedic and otherwise, than epic storytelling with a beloved superhero. It was a one-liner machine that grew tiresome quickly, though, once again, it looked gorgeous. And now there’s “The LEGO Ninjago Movie,” the second LEGO endeavor of 2017, with Warner Brothers Animation trying to make up for lost time by doubling down on the brand name. Once again, the studio doesn’t quite get why “The LEGO Movie” connected with audiences, and in their attempt to bring a popular toy line to the big screen, they overwhelm with franchise information and lean too heavily on mediocre voice work. There’s no doubt that “The LEGO Ninjago Movie” will delight eight year olds everywhere, but guardians, parents, and older siblings may find themselves mentally checking out of the picture before the first act is over.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Brad's Status


“Brad’s Status” offers a deep dive into the neuroses of a seemingly happy, healthy man. It’s sure to be a polarizing picture, tapping into “first-class problems” and the ever growing presence of entitlement in American culture, but in the hands of writer/director Mike White, the feature mostly avoids cliché. Instead of mockery, White offers sincerity, examining the titular character’s turbulent headspace during a time of celebration and concentration, embracing the dramatic possibilities of a man who’s being ridiculous and knows it, but carries on anyway. “Brad’s Status” isn’t as hilarious as it initially appears, with White searching for a contemplative vibe, landing a few jokes, but more interested in the itchiness of the journey, finding some painful truths and behaviors along the way. Read the rest at

Film Review - Shot


Making a movie about gun violence seems like career suicide. Putting such an effort into a world of ravenous website commentators and cable news contributors, all working from the same political script, takes guts, and “Shot” plays it relatively smart, at least for its first two acts. Instead of standing on a soapbox when it comes to the gun control, the feature lies flat on the ground, taking a procedural approach to the study of pain caused by an errant bullet fired from an illegal gun in the possession of a teenager. Co-writer/director Jeremy Kagan (“The Journey of Natty Gann”) tries to avoid preachiness to spotlight the horrors of a bullet wound, keeping “Shot” tense and terrifying as viewers are exposed to the aftermath of a deadly mistake, shaping the experience of a victim fighting for his life in a brutally vivid manner.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Happy Hunting


I’m sure this comparison will make the creators of “Happy Hunting” bristle, but what might be a loose take on “The Most Dangerous Game” actually has more of a “Purge” influence, following a hunt for human flesh that’s been transformed into a sinister contest, with targets and their hunters entering a vast Mexican region to deal with sicko gamesmanship. Writer/directors Joe Dietsch and Lucian Gibson certainly toy with class warfare and grim events, making it hard to wipe off the “Purge” fingerprints, but the duo is after something even darker than the murder night scenario, adding a unique pressure point in alcoholism to keep the feature in a heavy fog, creating a fascinating lead character who confidently marches around a mundane chiller. “Happy Hunting” is slow, painfully so at times, but there are moments of clarity in the writing to make it passably special and inventive, breaking up the routine of a humans-as-prey thriller.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Stronger


It’s hard to believe there are two films about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, and even stranger, they’ve both come out within the same calendar year. This type of dueling production situation is typically reserved for animated pictures, not R-rated dramas. Thankfully, “Stronger” is quite different than January’s “Patriots Day,” which took a procedural look at the terrorist attack, achieve an outstanding level of suspense as it turned a manhunt into a proper thriller, teeming with Boston attitude and blessed with editorial speed. “Stronger” doesn’t pay much attention to the facts of the bombing, preferring to focus on a victim whose life was turned upside down by the blast. It’s a more intimate, passionate effort from director David Gordon Green, who carefully avoids the television movie route to depict a brutal rehabilitation period for a man caught in a dire situation, brought back to life by community and various forms of love.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Last Rampage


As a true crime tale, “Last Rampage” doesn’t do very well with a modest budget. It’s a dramatization of the Tison Gang Crime Rampage of 1978, but director Dwight H. Little (“Anaconda: Hunt for the Blood Orchid,” “Marked for Death,” “Tekken”) doesn’t have a monetary advantage here, challenged to pull off a period tale that requires top-tier wigs, cinematography, and a sense of history. “Last Rampage” isn’t a time machine, but it does deliver necessary horror and pained reflection, permitting it more emotional elbow room to take in the enormity of the event, which shocked Arizona nearly 40 years ago. The Tison experience makes for compelling cinema, with its brutality vividly recreated in the picture, carrying enough shock value to patch visual and dramatic potholes.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Big Bear


“Big Bear” represents a career evolution for Joey Kern. A working actor who appeared in “Cabin Fever” and “Grind,” Kern attempts to take command of his professional fate with this ode to mental instability, assuming writing and directing duties for the first time. It’s a big step up for Kern, who scripts himself the juiciest part, surrounding himself with longtime pals and an appealing location, while the story promises to raise hell with outrageous characters and a plot that involves a botched kidnapping. Kern lines up the elements but doesn’t launch the picture with enough invention, offering a tired broheim movie that’s occasionally interrupted by strange behavior. “Big Bear” isn’t a dud helming debut for Kern, who shows promise with some visual authority, but it plays a little too casual at times, in need of a darker sense of humor. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Deadtime Stories


One can appreciate what co-writer/director Jeffrey Delman is trying to do in 1986's "Deadtime Stories," looking to fairy tales to inspire a horror anthology that hunts for the thin line between frights and silliness. The vision is there, but the execution leaves much to be desired, confronted with three tales of various tonalities and production polish, with the worst one oddly chosen to close out the picture. "Deadtime Stories" is meant to be a thrill ride of genre surprises, with plenty of gore, some nudity, and broad antics out to entertain its intended audience. However, Delman is hanging on by his fingernails with this endeavor, never establishing consistency between the segments, losing concentration on the essentials of storytelling to play as messy as possible with dismal ideas that fail to tickle or terrify. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - The Apple


The one-two punch of "Saturday Night Fever" and "Grease" gave birth to a host of productions aiming to achieve a similar level of box office success with the same moviemaking ingredients. It was a surge in the late 1970s that created the likes of "Xanadu," "Can't Stop the Music," and, of course, "The Apple," a particularly absurd attempt to mount a Hollywood-style rock musical, written and directed by Menahem Golan, also known as the co-founder of the infamous schlock studio, Cannon Films. "The Apple" was meant to be Golan's ticket to the big time, remaining on trend with disco-inspire production values and big musical ambition, but it didn't find an audience. Actually, it found an audience, but one that reacted violently to the feature's semi-camp/semi-sincere take on biblical temptation, requiring a period of obscurity for the effort before it was reassessed in the early 2000s, rechristened as a Midnight Movie experience and deservedly so, with its general lunacy and earnestness best appreciated fully fatigued and/or drunk.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - 1492: Conquest of Paradise


The thought of making a movie about Christopher Columbus in 2017 is absurd, with any possible production sure to be swiftly blasted by condemnation from various concerned parties. However, back in 1992, there was a race to put as many Christopher Columbus features on screen as possible, offered during a pre-social media era when those acutely aware of the famous explorer's true achievements had no place to protest. Four tales of Columbus's journey across the world were delivered for the 500th anniversary of his "discovery" of America, with one, "Christopher Columbus: The Discovery," a bloated, moronic bomb from Alexander and Ilya Salkind, while director Ridley Scott was gifted a premiere creative opportunity with "1492: Conquest of Paradise," endeavoring to craft a more realistic take on the story, but still paying tribute to the spirit of exploring and the savagery of man.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - A Fantastic Fear of Everything


"A Fantastic Fear of Everything" is an acquired taste, submitting such an itchy, darkly comic atmosphere that's utterly guaranteed to energize those in step with its madness, while others will find the enterprise an overly mannered grind to get through. It's polarizing work that carries immense creativity and sharp sense of humor, burrowing into the spinning mind of a destructively phobic man during an intense period of suspicion. Thankfully, star Simon Pegg is up for the challenge, bringing to the screen a truly scattered character who's hilariously bound by his fears, articulated with all the spasms and pauses the actor is particularly skilled at delivering.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Mother!


In 2010, writer/director Darren Aronofsky created “Black Swan,” which became the biggest hit of his career. It was a slow-burn psychological freak-out that found the right audience at the right time, and bountiful box office permitted the helmer to make any movie he wanted. He chose 2014’s “Noah,” a lumbering, CGI-laden study of faith and survival that represented a passion project for Aronofsky, finally permitted time to play with a major studio and a monster budget. It didn’t click with audiences, forcing the filmmaker to retreat to the wilds of his low-budget imagination. And now he’s come up with “Mother,” a companion piece of sorts to “Black Swan,” once again tempting the audience with a display of insanity, only here the results are far more esoteric and protracted, unable to escalate as a study of cracked minds, as Aronofsky is so busy polishing the grotesqueries of “Mother,” he neglects to actually tell a story worth paying attention to.  Read the rest at

Film Review - American Assassin


Director Michael Cuesta used to tell human stories. He was once interested in the pains of adolescence (“L.I.E.”), maturity (“Roadie”), and professionalism (“Kill the Messenger”), but that style of filmmaking doesn’t pay the bills. Cuesta now graduates to nondescript studio work with “American Assassin,” which intends to adapt a 2010 Vince Flynn novel for the big screen (the first Mitch Rapp adventure in a 16 book series), but doesn’t offer much literary substance, charging ahead as graphic revenge thriller that’s certainly visceral, but also brain dead. Cuesta discards nuance and tries to keep up with the B-movie technicians who normally helm this type of junk food entertainment, and the change doesn’t suit him. He doesn’t know what he’s doing with “American Assassin,” staging unappealing action and encouraging one-dimensional performances, tasked with establishing a new spy game franchise, only to come up short in almost every possible way.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Rebel in the Rye


Author, recluse, and legend J.D. Salinger has been mythologized to a point of no return. There’s no room for the real man anymore, with the “Catcher in the Rye” writer’s life subjected to countless literary offerings, news investigations, and simple fan adulation, with many hoping to achieve a glimpse of a man who, in 1951, created one of the most influential books of all time, and then, in 1959, stopped publishing for the rest of his life (he passed away in 2010). That nut is never going to be cracked, as evidenced in the supremely underwhelming 2013 documentary, “Salinger,” but such evidence isn’t about to stop writer/director Danny Strong, who makes his helming debut with “Rebel in the Rye,” endeavoring to explore Salinger’s life and times in a way that creates order to imagined chaos, finding guidance in clichéd bio-pic tonality, making the feature play like a constipated television movie.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Polina


Dance films are common, and they generally share a common goal of choreographed movement, trying to nail elaborate big screen routines with precise timing. “Polina” is the rare picture to challenge the boundaries of traditional dance, viewing the rigidity of the art form as a necessary for training, but hard on the heart. It’s not a radical rejection of established dance education requirements, but “Polina” has bigger ideas than simply becoming an overtired ballet effort, locking in on creative yearn and the sheer ecstasy of bodily release. It’s a terrific feature, but not for expected reasons, teasing cliché while achieving a deeper understanding of dancer headspace, which is dominated by a need to please and a searing frustration with any repression of artistic expression.   Read the rest at