Film Review - The Commuter


Director Jaume Collet-Serra and star Liam Neeson enjoying working together. They’ve collaborated on three previous occasions, showcasing a professional comfort and a shared interest in B-moviemaking with A-list credentials. However, this partnership hasn’t delivered significant thrills, with 2011’s “Unknown,” 2014’s “Non-Stop,” and 2015’s “Run All Night” providing lackluster viewing experiences with little suspense, generally tripping over promising premises for slick, efficient entertainment. The latest addition to this dispiriting tradition is “The Commuter,” which aims to be a Hitchcockian nail-biter featuring an average man caught up in extraordinary circumstances, but Collet-Serra and the screenwriters (three in total) don’t push beyond the visual of Neeson in paranoia mode, delivering a contrived, slapdash, and ultimately useless thriller that has no perceptible interest in pace or surprise.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Humor Me


Writer/director Sam Hoffman plays it safe with the plot of “Humor Me,” his directorial debut, making a movie about the arrested development of a man facing substantial responsibilities, moving in with his father for a free room and to find some clarity. However, formula is thinned out by personality, with Hoffman generating appealing characterizations, putting the players through amusing challenges as he hunts for significance in the dramedy. As the title suggests, there’s plenty of levity and passive-aggressive behavior to enjoy, and Hoffman secures success with the pairing of leads Jemaine Clement and Elliot Gould, who pull off an itchy family dynamic with terrific timing, bringing heart and laughs to “Humor Me,” which benefits greatly from their unique talents.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Inside


It’s difficult to understand any reason for remaking pictures that were part of the French new wave of extreme horror, which was all the rage with genre enthusiasts about decade ago. They were features created during a specific time and in a specific region, making translations difficult, especially for material that perhaps should remain attached to a single interpretation. After dealing with the deflation of 2015’s “Martyrs,” now comes “Inside,” which hopes to rework the 2007 Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo (who recently helmed the crummy “Leatherface”) endeavor for mainstream audiences, under the impression that a wide assortment of moviegoers might be interested in 80 minutes of a pregnant woman being threatened with sharp objects. That a new take on “Inside” is unnecessary is a given, but director Miguel Angel Vivas fumbles whatever debatable tension was there the first time around, delivering a routine chiller that’s largely free of suspense.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Day of the Dead: Bloodline


George Romero’s original “Dead” trilogy has already experienced multiple remakes and reworkings, with “Night of the Living Dead” and “Dawn of the Dead” producing passably regarded do-overs. It’s 1985’s “Day of the Dead” that perpetually confounds the reheating process, with “Day of the Dead 2: Contagium” and 2008’s “Day of the Dead” (with Nick Cannon and Mena Suvari) failing to do anything with Romero’s original vision. Now there’s “Day of the Dead: Bloodline,” which is being promoted as a more respectful version of the 1985 endeavor, juiced up with modern visual effects and additional movie science. It’s not like there isn’t room for improvement with “Day of the Dead,” but “Bloodline” is a complete waste of time, taking part in what’s now become a bad movie tradition: watching dismal filmmakers botch Romero’s relatively simple zombie outbreak.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Abe & Phil's Last Poker Game


“Abe & Phil’s Last Poker Game” marks the final acting effort for star Martin Landau, who passed away last summer, leaving behind a varied career with consistent work. The picture provides unusual punctuation for the thespian, who’s asked to not only communicate the ravages of medical and marital strife, but also, at the age of 88, he simulates masturbation and the digital manipulation of a loved one. While it initially appears to be a kissing cousin to Michael Haneke’s “Amour,” “Abe & Phil’s Last Poker Game” eventually strives to be something of an “American Pie” sequel, with writer/director Howard L. Weiner unafraid to depict nursing home shenanigans and senior sexuality, adding a tremendous sense of surprise to what’s typically a funeral dirge for the lead characters. The horrors of life soon visit the players, but the game is mostly about bedroom interests. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Custer of the West


1967's "Custer of the West" is built for size, not accuracy. It's a weird mix of Western mythology and revisionism, trying to compete in the race of Hollywood spectacles, but unsure if it wants to commit to the legend of George Armstrong Custer in full. It has its heart in the right place, exposing the darker side of the pioneer spirit, but a few steps in the enlightened direction throw the whole cinematic dance off, threatening to confuse viewers confronted with a committed military man known for slaughtering Native Americans, but spent most of his career trying to protect them from harm. At least the movie looks beautiful. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Cyborg 2087


In the future, old men will be robots, and they will all wear ascots. That's the promise made by "Cyborg 2087," a 1966 time travel adventure directed by Franklin Adreon, who attempts to stretch roughly 30 minutes of story into an 86-minute-long film. He's not exactly a miraculous architect of suspense, with the feature enduring incredible padding just to make it to a release-worthy length, but there's a certain tone of super-serious no- budget sci-fi that keeps the effort entertaining, even when it isn't doing anything onscreen. "Cyborg 2087" isn't a genre classic, that's for sure, but it retains some appeal due to committed performances and Adreon's B-movie hustle, often doing anything he can to keep the picture on the move.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band


On the Mount Rushmore of glitter-thwacked, cocaine-dusted cinematic camp from the late 1970s and early '80s, there's "Xanadu," "Can't Stop the Music," "The Apple," and 1978's "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." I'm sure the production marched into battle with a sincerity, striving to redefine an iconic album from The Beatles for a new generation, offering a loose narrative and legendary tunes to The Bee Gees, Peter Frampton, Aerosmith, Billy Preston, Alice Cooper, Steve Martin, and a host of additional musicians and comedians. Assuming the jukebox musical form, "Sgt. Pepper" means to be a good time with familiar music, but producer Robert Stigwood can't help himself, with the feature bizarre and excessive; it's an iffy idea that's out of control, endeavoring to define classics, but ending up a garish curiosity. However, it's no trainwreck, boasting many fine production achievements during its presumptuous run time. It's an easy film to dismiss, and perhaps it should be, but director Michael Schultz is after something memorable, doing his best to marry classic Hollywood spectacle to the soft rock sounds of the 1970s.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Vietnam War


Hubris. If there's a single word that defines The Vietnam War, it's hubris. It's a conflict that's been covered from a thousand different angles, depicted in all forms of media over the last 50 years, with film being a particularly evocative meditation on an era of political folly, innocence lost, and a various nations thrown into chaos. Think "Coming Home," "Platoon," and "Born on the Fourth of July" -- vivid tales of psychological erosion, but personal ones as well, using the particulars of combat and self-destruction to inspire riveting drama. Directors Ken Burns and Lynn Novick elect to forgo corners of the conflict to wrap their arms around the whole event, creating "The Vietnam War," a ten-part documentary that endeavors to make sense of almost everything connected to the shocking experience, from origin to aftermath. Coming from a creative team that's already dissected The Civil War, World War I, and World War II, there's expected greatness with "The Vietnam War," an assurance of quality. And yet, Burns and Novick manage to surprise with their balance between detail and expanse, capturing finer points of mental illness and shame as they track the progress of global horror, born from sheer political arrogance.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Baby Bump


There's no way to accurately describe "Baby Bump," which takes an experimental art look at the pains of puberty from the perspective of a particularly confused boy. It's a scattergun effort from writer/director Kuba Czekaj, who gives the endeavor his all on a visual level, playing with editing, split-screen, animation, and abstraction to make his comedy(?) aggressively playful. Whatever this is, it handles itself with remarkable attention to detail, giving underground cinema cowboys a true bucking bronco viewing experience.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Insidious: The Last Key


Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the “Insidious” series is watching how writer Leigh Whannell manages to squeeze out new directions for the saga to take after exhausting all his ideas in the 2010 original film. After going the prequel route for “Insidious: Chapter 3,” Whannell makes a sequel to the prequel with “Insidious: The Last Key,” which is meant to lay track up to the first movie, creating a crooked circle of character connection for a franchise that never had a decent road map to bring it through various installments. “The Last Key” promises finality for the brand name, but endeavors to squeeze out a few more scares using the proven fright formula that turned the three previous pictures into low-budget hits. Whannell is out of ideas, but he goes soft for the new journey into the Further, giving a fan-favorite character the spotlight she deserves. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Before I Wake


In recent years, writer/director Mike Flanagan has made a name for himself in the world of horror. He pulled off the impossible, making a compelling sequel to a complete turkey with “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” and last year he successfully loaded up nightmares with the tense, profoundly macabre “Gerald’s Game,” managing a successful Stephen King adaptation. And there was “Hush,” a little-seen but celebrated chiller executed with limited dialogue. Now finally seeing release after experiencing several delays due to a bankrupt distributor, “Before I Wake” (shot in 2013) joins the growing list of Flanagan achievements. While it’s not a true genre exercise, the feature has its scary stuff, but it’s after something more heartfelt between moments of shock and terror, with Flanagan and co-writer Jeff Howard digging a little deeper with the material, trying to keep “Before I Wake” as human as possible while still delivering requisite unease.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Crooked House


After years becoming part of the television routine, author Agatha Christie is suddenly big business these days, experiencing a cinematic resurrection as talented filmmakers try their hand at adapting the famed mystery writer’s puzzles for grander budgets and bigger stars. Last November, there was “Murder on the Orient Express,” which became a major box office hit, securing the return of Hercule Poirot for Kenneth Branagh in 2020. And now there’s “Crooked House,” which doesn’t have the financial means to generate a grand whodunit, but it does have the better story, launching a sinister mystery that, much like “Orient Express,” is largely contained to a single location, simmering with a collection of restless, possibly murderous characters. “Crooked House” lacks scale, but of the two recent Christie efforts, it’s the tighter, more compelling endeavor, providing a jolt of evil to go along with all the psychological gamesmanship.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Permanent


Writer/director Colette Burson has a lot of nervous energy she wants to release with “Permanent,” wielding this coming-of-age comedy like machine gun that’s a little too heavy to handle. There’s quirk galore in the film, which details the pains of adolescence and adulthood from a possibly biographical standpoint, attempting to make a funny movie about characters who are trapped in self-imposed prisons of vanity and frustration. “Permanent” isn’t particularly funny, and Burson’s furiously idiosyncratic approach registers as borderline obnoxious at times, but the “Hung” creator does have a way with providing dimension for all characters, with interesting neuroses to periodically explore when the production steps away from cartoon behavior. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Strange Ones


To experience “The Strange Ones,” one must summon all patience humanly possible, as directors Lauren Wolkstein and Christopher Radcliff (who also scripts) aren’t going to make the cinematic journey easy on anyone. It’s cryptic work from the indie film-minded duo, and paced deliberately, offering a slow leak of symbolism, heavy breathing, and enigmatic behaviors that often make the 76 minute run time feel like 76 years. Perhaps for some viewers, the artfulness of Radcliff and Wolkstein’s efforts might be appealing, with the picture refusing the comfort of appealing characters and easy answers. However, “The Strange Ones” isn’t much of a puzzle, often too laborious to inspire deep consideration, missing a fundamental screen energy that could help with all the layer-peeling going on.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Stratton


To create a big screen spy series takes a lot more than sticking to the basics these days. “Stratton” is the latest attempt to explore government heroism, taking inspiration from author Duncan Falconer’s series of novels, exploring the life and death struggles of the titular character, who’s part of the Special Boat Service. Such affiliation is rarely celebrated, giving the material something unique to help separate itself from the competition. Unfortunately, it’s the last defining trait in “Stratton,” which is quickly weighed down by clichés, most executed without an ounce of concern from director Simon West. He’s sticking to the basics with this globetrotting thriller, and while it’s far from a bad movie, it’s not an inspired one, testing patience as the production tries to pretend it’s an original vision.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Blame


A former child actress, Quinn Shephard has decided to take command of her career by making her directorial debut with “Blame,” which revives the sexual hysteria of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” moving the madness over to a high school setting, where such reckless behavior is daily routine. The script (written Quinn and Laurie Shephard) isn’t subtle with its scheming characters, with Shephard making a movie about a play, but can’t quite shake the theatricality of the production, leaving a “Mean Girls”-style approach to hallway antagonism, periodically interrupted by a compassionate understanding of the adolescent experience for teen girls. “Blame” has its heart in the right place, but Shephard isn’t seasoned enough to infuse the picture with necessary tension, often caught struggling just to fill 95 minutes of screen time.  Read the rest at