Film Review - The Square


Writer/director Ruben Ostlund made an art-house splash with 2014’s “Force Majeure.” A sharp look at relationship woes and the readjustment of patriarchal roles, the picture was emotionally authentic and dark, leaving any follow-up with the challenge of matching an original vision from a burgeoning filmmaker. “The Square” isn’t nearly as precise as “Force Majeure,” but Ostlund doesn’t make it easy for himself with this dissection of behavior, modern art, and the limits of patience. More episodic than focused, “The Square” emphasizes the helmer’s fascination with human response to troubling situations of misconduct and mistakes, attacking uncomfortable moments with a dark sense of humor and an indulgent run time (140 minutes). It’s certainly not a picture for everyone, but when Ostlund finds his footing, he creates periodic hilarity and a frighteningly accurate inspection of selfishness and poor decision-making skills.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Mayhem


A few years ago, director Joe Lynch crafted “Everly,” a low-budget actioner (starring Salma Hayek) that cut costs by staging chaos inside a single apartment location, requiring helming ingenuity to help shake up the inherent stasis of the setting. It didn’t work, but Lynch apparently loved the challenge, returning to basically the same idea for “Mayhem,” which is a low-budget actioner set inside an office building, with hellacious combat claiming one area of the building at a time. It’s a battle royal with business people, and Lynch loves to generate a big screen massacre, keeping things wet with blood and high in panic for “Mayhem,” a fatiguing effort that’s saved by a bright lead performance from Steven Yeun, an underutilized movie actor (best known for this work on “The Walking Dead”) who really should be a leading man in more pictures, confidently carrying a sense of humanity to help balance Lynch’s one-note hellraising.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hack-o-Lantern


Horror is synonymous with Halloween, but a few productions tend to take the connection literally. 1988's "Hack-O-Lantern" (a.k.a. "Halloween Night") is one of many slasher experiences set during the famous night of evildoing, and it makes an honest attempt to embrace the atmosphere of the evening with occult interests and the piling of dead bodies, looking to give fans a pleasing ride of creepy, campy encounters and some bloodshed. "Hack-O-Lantern" isn't always the most professionally crafted picture, but director Jag Mundhra (who passed away in 2011) has his heart in the right place, building a chiller that's full of diseased characters, Satanic panic (all the rage in the 1980s), and a climatic Halloween party, setting up a rudimentary but appropriately distracting genre offering. I don't think anyone will walk away from a viewing with a feeling of awe, but the movie is charmingly goofy and eventful.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - No Man's Land


The Charlie Sheen that existed before "Platoon" was a very different Charlie Sheen than what we have today. Once a hungry actor trying to make something of himself while stuck in the shadow of his thespian father, Martin, Charlie jumped from role to role, trying his hand at comedy ("Ferris Bueller's Day Off"), action ("Red Dawn"), and…whatever ("The Wraith"). 1987's "No Man's Land" was in production when "Platoon" dominated pop culture after its late 1986 release, and it showcases a growing confidence within the actor, who floated along for another year ("Three for the Road") before ascending to larger industry opportunities, such as "Wall Street," "Eight Men Out," and "Major League." Sheen's magnetism is undeniable in "No Man's Land," and he's a good reason to remain with the feature, which offers a routine but stylish take on an undercover cop saga, with director Peter Werner doing what he can to jazz up the effort with smash-em-up car chases, shootouts, and assorted criminal activity. It's not the freshest endeavor, but it does provide a look at the birth of Prime Sheen, smoking and wisecracking his way through a fairly unchallenging part.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Night People


It takes someone as commanding as Gregory Peck to keep 1954's "Night People" as compelling as it can be. It's a story of political and military maneuvering, but doesn't inspire a level of suspense normally associated with post-war troubles, with writer/director Nunnally Johnson electing a more theatrical approach for his directorial debut. "Night People" isn't gripping, but it holds attention thanks to Peck and co-star Broderick Crawford, who deliver pained, agitated work to keep a weirdly knotted tale moving along. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Variete


The story of "Variete" offers broad swings of drama and disaster, and it's only fitting that the filmmaking follows suit. The 1925 silent picture is directed by Ewald Andre Dupont, and he puts in an energetic effort to help articulate the moods of the feature, with his camera playing a key role in the tale. However, there's more than cinematographic tricks in play here, with "Variete" also making room for star Emil Jannings, who delivers powerful work as a haunted man sabotaged by his own impulses.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Shalako


1968 was a very special year for Sean Connery. After the release of "You Only Live Twice," he quit the James Bond franchise, freeing himself from the role that was already defining his career. And what better way to shed the 007 skin than to star in "Shalako," an adaptation of a Louis L'Amour novel, allowing Connery to trade suits and gadgets for a horse and the open range, continuing work on the construction of a varied career that would allow him the chance to play different types of roles. The feature explains his European flair (opening with a crawl that lists global influences on the American west), but classic Connery remains, giving a hearty performance in an engaging western, and one that feasts on a meat and potatoes genre experience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Thor: Ragnarok


Thor sat out 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War,” which basically acted as an “Avengers” sequel, but without the full roster of superheroes. Thor (and the Hulk) were off on their own adventure, and finally audiences are allowed to catch up with the God of Thunder in “Thor: Ragnarok,” which is also the third official Thor movie, picking up where 2014’s “Thor: The Dark World” left off. Admittedly, there wasn’t much of a wait for the return of the hammer-launching hero, but he was missed, as “Thor: Ragnarok” is a thrilling, unexpectedly hilarious sequel that changes the tone and direction of the character. It’s not a radical departure from the usual comic book mayhem, but director Taika Waititi makes inspired choices with the material, leaning into the fantasy of it all, creating worlds, monsters, and towering action to go with the feature’s generous sense of humor. Read the rest at 

Film Review - A Bad Moms Christmas


Last year, “Bad Moms” satisfied a certain appetite for raunchy entertainment from a female perspective, offering summertime audiences a joy ride through bad behavior and motherhood lament. It found a sizable audience, becoming a sleeper hit despite not being much of a movie, with writer/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore simply throwing as much juvenile behavior and uninspired raunch at the screen to see what sticks. Rewarded with a financial success, Moore and Lucas have coughed up a quickie sequel to capitalize on the moment, moving the R-rated party to the holidays for “A Bad Moms Christmas,” which is very similar to “Bad Moms” but somehow worse. Laziness chains the follow-up to the ground, with the helmers not taking a moment to think about the feature they’re making, only motivated to reheat bawdy humor for a fast buck, giving fans the same viewing experience, only this time there’s snow on the ground.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Killing of Sacred Deer


Polarizing is a nice way to describe the work of writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos, who creates profoundly upsetting movies by cutting into seemingly stable lives, exposing all the illness that’s been festering for quite some time. Efforts like “Dogtooth” and “The Lobster” aren’t easy pictures to digest, but for more adventurous viewers, Lanthimos tends to reward patience with an incredible command of strangeness, utilizing a static style of direction that favors observation over manipulation, forcing the audience to pick up on feral behaviors and subtle turns of fantasy. “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” rivals “Dogtooth” in terms of sheer unease, and it reinforces just how skilled Lanthimos is with this style of storytelling, summoning a range of horror that’s hypnotic to watch.  Read the rest at

Film Review - 1922

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Joining the gold rush of Stephen King adaptations is “1922,” with writer/director Zak Hilditch taking inspiration from 2010 novella from the famous horror author. It’s been a big autumn for King, who dominated multiplexes with “It,” and raised anxiety levels with “Gerald’s Game,” and “1922” is another striking creative success, respecting the source material’s macabre interests and Edgar Allan Poe tribute, while offering a sharply visual endeavor that communicates terror superbly. Hilditch has some difficulty turning a 131-page story into a 100-minute movie, but he’s mostly successful when it comes to locating gruesome highlights and maintaining a haunting viewing experience, managing a dark tale of murder and expanding guilt with style and care for King’s wicked interests in the corrosion of soul and the blurring of reality.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Florida Project


While making movies for quite some time, Sean Baker made an impression with 2015’s “Tangerine,” which offered unique atmosphere and vivid characters, and also carried the gimmick of being shot entirely on iPhones, giving it a boost in publicity. Baker’s returned to professional equipment with “The Florida Project,” but he continues on his verite path with the effort, which swaps coasts, moving from Hollywood streets to the sunbaked hotels of Kissimmee, Florida, examining positions of poverty located next door to Walt Disney World. “The Florida Project” is alive, on a perpetual sugar rush of behavior, most of it toxic, but Baker retains a feel for humanity at its most feral and overworked, capturing the sheer fatigue of daily survival in a tourist-laden sweatbox. There are storytelling issues that aren’t resolved, but Baker largely gets by on atmosphere and periodic screen poetry, finding an original location to sort through troubled people.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Blade of the Immortal


The celebratory aspect of the “Blade of the Immortal” release is the picture’s status as the 100th film from director Takeshi Miike, which is no small feat when considering the man began his career ascent in 1991. He’s an extremely prolific creator of violent entertainment, hitting some potent cult movie highs over the years (“Ichi the Killer,” “13 Assassins”), but he’s always swinging at the first pitch, keeping himself busy behind the camera dreaming up new ways to brutalize human beings. “Blade of the Immortal” is not a significant creative departure for Miike, but it does utilize his gifts for blunt aggression and screen style well, adding touches of the unreal to a samurai extravaganza adapted from a popular manga, which permits the story to generally disregard Japanese history and charge ahead as a lengthy, funky bloodbath.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Silkwood


Fear of all things nuclear dominated the late 1970s and early 1980s, inspired by global hostilities and the success of 1979's "The China Syndrome," with its theatrical release eerily occurring mere weeks before the Three Mile Island meltdown, inspiring greater skepticism over the benefits of nuclear power. Many productions jumped at the chance to cash-in on the movie's unexpected success, but few productions could reach the same raw nerve of suspense and horror. 1983's "Silkwood" isn't interested in winding viewers up, but it traffics in the same big business vs. the world mentality, this time bringing fears and suspicions down to a more human scale, recounting a short amount of time in the life of Karen Silkwood, who died in the midst of exposing suspicious business and safety practices at the Kerr-McGee Cimarron Fuel Fabrication Site in Oklahoma. While it's based on a true story, writers Nora Ephron and Alice Arden, and director Mike Nichols, are tasked with finding the drama and heart underneath the headlines, giving the endeavor the tension of a proper nuclear intimidation chiller while keeping the caution of a newly-awakened life spinning out of control.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - My Chauffeur


Following up her starring role in 1983's "Valley Girl," actress Deborah Foreman makes more of a lateral move with 1986's "My Chauffeur." Keeping the Southern California quirkiness, Foreman ups her bubbly personality for the romantic comedy, remaining alert and attentive to the needs of the screenplay, which attempts to summon a screwball mood with broad antics and finger-snap timing. Writer/director David Beaird has a vision for "My Chauffeur," just not the clearest idea on narrative progression, often stopping the feature to highlight shenanigans that have little to do with the plot. However, he does have Foreman and co-star Sam J. Jones, who create passable chemistry and play off each other well, giving the movie a nice boost of brightness when it comes to character interactions, supporting the endeavor whenever Beaird has an idea that pulls his attention away from the rest of the picture.   Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Star Crystal


Released in 1986, "Star Crystal" is caught between two worlds. Perhaps conceived as an "Alien" rip-off, the production makes familiar genre moves, building up a mysterious threat from another world, and the film is set on a spaceship, highlighting crew panic with a strange invader. But there's also an "E.T." aspect to the picture, moving from mean and nasty to cute and cuddly, taking a strange tonal turn that suggests writer/director Lance Lindsay's original plan for terror was drastically reworked when moviegoing trends changed after the release of the Steven Spielberg masterpiece. Caught in the middle of confusing creative choices, it doesn't help that "Star Crystal" is also one of the most crushingly boring features I've viewed in recent memory. If Lindsay had a vision for the effort, it doesn't come through here, throttled by an extremely limited budget and lust for padding that simply kills what passes for pace.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Matinee Idol


Directed by Henri Pachard, 1984's "Matinee Idol" imagines a Hollywood where the adult film industry possesses enough regality to own studio space in town, along with an active backlot. Perhaps it's not such a fantasy when one considers the popularity of the industry and the recognition factor of its stars, but "Matinee Idol" attempts to sweeten the world with classic Hollywood glamour and humor, offering a light-ish comedy about thespian relationships and traditional sinful fantasies. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jigsaw


“Saw: The Final Chapter” was released seven years ago. It was intended to be the last stop on the Jigsaw tour of trap-based pain, but as it goes with horror movies, there’s never truly a final bow when there’s money left on the table. By this point, the franchise (which began in 2004) was a carnival dark ride, offering Halloween audiences a dependable multiplex partner for the holiday, with more care going into the extremity of murder sequences than into the ongoing plot, which by this sequel, resembled a stale pretzel left out in the rain. While dealing with a wildly profitable brand name, studio Twisted Pictures ultimately decided to take a break from the yearly grind. The machine cranks back to life with “Jigsaw,” which offers a new title for the same old games of misdirection and suffering, offering not a reboot or a remake, but yet another sequel…er, kinda. “Jigsaw” has promise in filmmakers Michael and Peter Spierig, but seems determined to provide the least amount of effort with this out-of-the-blue endeavor, giving devoted fans basically a television pilot with periodic geysers of gore. In an ugly, insipid series, the latest chapter has the distinction of being the least surprising and the most boring. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Suburbicon


Joel and Ethan Coen don’t usually allow their scripts to be manhandled by others, making “Suburbicon,” which they wrote in the 1980s, a rare event. Of course, with George Clooney directing the picture, they might as well be credited as helmers. A longtime associate of the Coens and a man with tremendous awareness of their specialized sense of humor and horror, Clooney (who teamed with the siblings for “Intolerable Cruelty,” “Burn After Reading,” “Hail, Caesar,” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”) is an ideal choice to guide “Suburbicon” through its labyrinth of tonal changes, mysterious characters, and hidden motivations. The Coens (along with Clooney and Grant Heslov) have attacked the poisoned suburbia story with attention to criminal endeavors and trust issues, while Clooney fights to find stable ground, unsure if he wants to play some of this jokingly or all of it sinisterly. There are no hospital corners here, but Clooney finds ways to keep the material rolling along, even when humor and suspense take a periodic break. Read the rest at

Film Review - Novitiate


There aren’t many pro-nun movies made anymore. Most endeavors tend to view the calling as a simplistic journey of sacrifice and comfort. Other pictures view the experience as a horror show of submission or, according the 2018 “Conjuring” spin-off, “The Nun,” an actual horror show. The miracle of “Novitiate” is how intimate it becomes, taking the Catholic journey seriously as it explores the fogged, searching minds of those who’ve elected to surrender their hearts to God and devote their lives to service, with most of the women electing to experience this mission already overwhelmed teenagers. “Novitiate” isn’t a to-do list of abuse, but writer/director Margaret Betts doesn’t flinch when punishment arrives, ultimately playing closer attention to the voice within as it searches for heavenly comfort in the unknown. Read the rest at