Film Review - Vengeance


“Vengeance” is the latest B-movie endeavor for actor Nicolas Cage, who’s turned his career into a video store stocked with only bottom shelf titles, with gems once plentiful now few and far between. However, none of these latter-year bombs can claim inspiration from a Joyce Carol Oates novella, while Cage steps back into a producer role, giving the effort a shot at actual interest from the star. While a personality doesn’t emerge, Cage does the one-man-army routine rather well, turning himself into a statue while the rest of the cast is tasked with providing emotional performances. “Vengeance” is missing pieces of its puzzle, but accepted on its level of blunt hostility, and it works with one eye closed, becoming a vigilante thriller that’s straight to the point.   Read the rest at

Film Review - The Wilde Wedding


John Malkovich and Glenn Close famously teamed up almost 30 years ago, playing troubling games of seduction in “Dangerous Liaisons,” which presented two wonderful actors in their prime a chance to play challenging period roles, inhabiting unhealthy characters. The same idea applies to “The Wilde Wedding,” which reteams Close and Malkovich in a contemporary tale of seemingly pleasant people up to no good while in the midst of a celebration. Writer/director Damian Harris isn’t remaking “Dangerous Liaisons,” but he’s offering the ensemble a chance to play in wide open spaces, going for more of a mid-career Woody Allen vibe as personalities collide and predatory behaviors are exposed during the titular event, with a jazzy score keeping the pace as the helmer simply unleashes his cast on the script, making a casual disaster movie with exceedingly talented leads.   Read the rest at

Film Review - Wetlands


Following current crime story trends, “Wetlands” is a heavy viewing experience, offering a level of bleakness that’s difficult to endure, especially when it loses concentration on its most promising elements. Writer/director Emanuele Della Valle aims to achieve a sort of mediation on the scars of sin and the struggles of redemption, and he’s chosen an interesting location to summon the ghosts of the past, with the outskirts of Atlantic City setting the scene for an odyssey that turns the lead character inside out. However, while effective in certain areas, boosted by a fine cast and a knockout turn from Jennifer Ehle, “Wetlands” tends to revel in mood instead of using it to create grim momentum, with the tale’s shock value far too numbed to make its intended impact.   Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Ben


1971's "Willard" is a fairly gentle horror movie, only paying attention to genre demands on occasion, using its tale of killer rats and their human leader as a way to explore a damaged mind finally getting a taste of power. It was a curious revenge picture, but effective, preserving the inherent weirdness of the plot while staging a few murderous encounters between man and rodent. The feature was a hit, thrilling audiences looking for a squirmy good time, making the possibility of a sequel a no-brainer. However, 1972's "Ben" doesn't seem to understand what made "Willard" a smash, taking a far more sedate approach to detailing a pest infestation, almost transforming the concept of a homicidal rat into a family film, stripping away frights to make a modest tearjerker about a dying boy and his beloved pet. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Willard


Take a look at the marketing for 1971's "Willard," and one could come away with the impression that the releasing company was offering a snuff film for sale, reserved only for the most practiced moviegoer. Watch "Willard," and it's a relatively cheery PG-rated chiller about a man and his relationship with a colony of rats. So much for the "This is one movie you should not see alone" tagline. I can't image what director Daniel Mann had to do to maintain order on his set, but his efforts result in an entertaining horror picture, but one that plays rather peacefully between acts of rat-based savagery, leaning on star Bruce Davison to conjure some unnerving behavior and cuddle time with his tiny co-stars to help the feature sustain what little unease it provides.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Twisted Nightmare


To be fair to 1987's "Twisted Nightmare," slasher cinema rarely makes sense. It's a genre that often employs irrational characters acting as stupidly as possible, while filmmakers barely hang on with snoozy plots that only service the needs of the almighty Kills. "Twisted Nightmare" initially appears to have a narrative direction worth following, introducing a Native American curse established long ago that's revived for a fresh round of big screen slaughter. However, something went seriously wrong under the care of director Paul Hunt, who abandons plot, personality, and continuity as his movie struggles to make it to the 90 minute mark. People certainly die, and in horrible ways, but the rest of the endeavor is a bewildering assembly of editorial apathy and awful performances, sure to tax even the most forgiving slasher fan.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Three Sisters


Put celebrated actor Laurence Olivier in charge of directing an adaptation of Anton Chekhov's "Three Sisters," and there's a guarantee of quality seldom seen in the stage-to-screen tradition. Preserving his work on the material for the Royal National Theater, Olivier shows immense respect for Chekhov's writing and the needs of cinema with this endeavor, part of the American Film Theater's efforts during the 1970s to bring theater to the masses.  Read the rest at

Film Review - 9/11

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It took some time after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, for the movie industry to feel comfortable dramatizing the horrors that occurred on that dreadful, emotionally crippling day. Eventually, producers worked up the nerve to try and visualize something most Americans are loathe to remember, and intriguing cinema emerged, including Paul Greengrass’s “United 93,” Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center,” and a host of smaller pictures and television efforts. Most of these endeavors were trying to understand incredible behaviors of the day and mourn unimaginable sacrifices, hoping to make some sense out of a heinous, cowardly act. Now comes “9/11,” which is a little late to the party, but labors to live up to the “never forget” mantra surrounding the disaster, offering a micro-budget story of survival inside the crumbling North Tower of the World Trade Center. And when one considers the depth of sorrow, the pain of loss, and the boiling rage of frustration surrounding the 9/11 experience, it makes perfect sense for director Martin Guigui to hire Charlie Sheen to star -- a man who’s gone on record questioning the reality of the attacks. It’s the first of many cringe-inducing goofs “9/11” makes on its quick journey to obscurity. Read the rest at 

Film Review - It

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While adaptations of Stephen King novels are common, the big screen has enjoyed a recent revival of the author’s work, making it feel like the 1980s all over again. Unfortunately, August’s “The Dark Tower” was a mess and perhaps a poor choice for a cinematic experience to begin with, finding its labyrinthine story too complex for a 90 minute run time, leaving behind more questions than answers. Far more successful is “It,” which brings King’s 1986 book to life in extraordinary ways, with director Andy Muschietti capably handling the curves and history of King’s source material, doing an excellent job of focus when dealing with a massive book (over 1,000 pages). “It” is frightening, as to be expected with a demonic clown for an antagonist, but it’s also richly realized (supported by an epic sense of childhood fears and desires), evocative, and outstandingly acted. While it liberally cuts material from the original book, Muschietti still fashions a complete and irresistible experience of fear, easily topping “The Dark Tower” as the premiere King joint of the year, but it’s also one of his finest translations overall, with the production getting the author’s macabre imagination just right. Read the rest at

Film Review - Little Evil


“Little Evil” is a comedic version of “The Omen,” not to be confused with “The Omen” remake from 2006, which, let’s face it, had more laughs. It’s the long-awaited new film from writer/director Eli Craig, who’s last movie, 2010’s “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil,” was a genuine surprise, competently blending slapstick comedy and blood-spattered horror. It was a lively picture, and while Craig’s been away attacking television productions in the intervening years, his sense of humor hasn’t been diluted. “Little Evil” is highly amusing, but more importantly, it offers enjoyable speed and dips into wackiness, never losing its rhythm as the story gets weirder and more wicked. Craig is backed by a game cast of comedians and a love of the genre, which is evident through inside jokes and an overall push into demonic events, keeping the effort fun while it teases a taste for the frightening.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Home Again


When your parents are filmmakers Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer, I supposed getting into the family business is unavoidable. Making her directorial debut with “Home Again” is Hallie Meyers-Shyer, and instead of serving up a piping hot slice of offspring rebellion, the helmer basically makes the same movie her parents have been offering multiplexes for the last 30 years. Making a decidedly underwhelming first impression, Meyers-Shyer is barely trying with “Home Again,” which offers a slow-pitch softball game of love with weirdly emphatic and unlikable characters, and maintains the family formula of upper class opulence and first-world problems, which the production means to present as escapism. Instead, it’s deathly dull and haphazardly scripted, making for a long viewing experience as Meyers-Shyer slowly traces over previous screenplays.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Year by the Sea


I don’t think it’s controversial to suggest that “Year by the Sea” is made with a specific demographic in mind. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as it’s a demographic habitually ignored by Hollywood, forcing this indie production to reach out and find an audience that’s in step with its depiction of life as a woman of a certain age. “Year by the Sea” deserves some credit for committing entirely to the inner workings of a sixtysomething character, and there’s necessary texture in the unsettled life presented here. Writer/director Alexander Janko often goes out of his way to cater to an older audience, but his most important choice is the casting of Karen Allen, a wonderful actress who builds on her work in last year’s “Bad Hurt,” offering another layered view of domestic containment, albeit in a cheerier effort, but one that’s wise to the ways of aging, choices, and personal need.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Second Nature


30 years ago, Hollywood was beginning its obsession with body-swap comedies, with movies such as “Like Father, Like Son,” “Vice Versa,” “18 Again,” and “Big” offering variations on the “Freaky Friday” formula, finding mischief in the confusion of people stuck in different bodies. “Second Nature” escalates the concept, altering human history to fit its fantasy quota. What should be a zeitgeist-snapping effort of gender examination and appreciation is left a bit underwhelming, with co-writer/director Michael Cross unable to get the juices flowing when it comes to laughs or societal inspection, left with a middling endeavor that doesn’t stimulate enough smiles, but benefits from two engaged performances from leads Collette Wolfe and Sam Huntington, who often save the picture with their spirited work.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Clowntergeist


A film like “Clowntergeist” doesn’t just happen by accident. With Stephen King’s “It” poised to do significant business at the box office this month, there’s always room for interlopers -- knock-off productions looking to collect a few bucks from those hungry for more. In this case, it’s a question of killer clowns emerging from a demonic space, with writer/director Aaron Mirtes going the no-budget route when assembling his take on heavily painted horror. “Clowntergeist” doesn’t exactly live up to the promise of its title, but it hopes to jolt viewers with shock jumps on the soundtrack and clown-based imagery, giving the movie some hustle while it tries to machete through amateurish production efforts, including dismal acting. It’s hard to image a movie with this title could be disappointing, but the picture just doesn’t bring the clownpocalypse like it should.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Limehouse Golem


“The Limehouse Golem” establishes itself as a tale of serial murder without ever truly becoming one. Perhaps some will be comfortable with the picture’s subversion of expectations, using the lure of horror to explore one character’s history of abuse, but I can’t imagine the movie is going to satisfying many. Sold as a Jack the Ripper-style procedural thriller, and “The Limehouse Golem” emerges as a mix of the grisly and the mundane, with director Juan Carlos Medina trying to pretend this type of entertainment isn’t common on public television. The effort has its grungy style and a sturdy lead performance from Bill Nighy, but it can’t shake a sense of smallness and familiarity, forcing screenwriter Jane Goldman to use extreme violence as smelling salts for the audience, trying to keep them interested in a plot that’s been done before, often weekly for fans of BBC entertainment.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Fallen


Considering the last “Twilight” movie was released in 2012, it’s a little strange to see a film like “Fallen” produced, missing relevance by many years. Much like “Twilight” and its imitators, “Fallen” is an adaptation of a YA book series (four in total, from author Lauren Kate), offering audiences a dewy romance with troubled teenagers, while a strong supernatural element carries the franchise, giving it a chance to play into fantasy extremes, which always helps to lubricate forbidden love. It’s all so familiar and routine, with the primary difference being the source material’s religious interests, skipping the business of monsters to tinker with angels and demons. However, even with the potential of God’s army in motion, the feature still plays a banal game of teen angst and longing looks.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Nile Hilton Incident


“The Nile Hilton Incident” takes a common detective story and positions it into the middle of world-changing history. It’s a special way to squeeze suspense out of a lukewarm mystery, with the story taking place during the countdown period to the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, giving the production an end game of protest chaos (partially inspired by police brutality) that hangs in the air like a toxic cloud. Writer/director Tarik Saleh is smart to bring the picture to a boil in this special way, as the rest of the “The Nile Hotel Incident” is largely lacking in suspense and intrigue, with its cultural fingerprint doing most of the work as the journey winds through corruption, blackmail, and murder.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Julie Darling


Writer/director Paul Nicholas had quite a year in 1983. He's most famous as the helmer of "Chained Heat," the controversial women-in-prison picture that starred Linda Blair and Sybil Danning. Lesser known is his other contribution to the film year: "Julie Darling," which maintains the collaborative process with Danning. Ignoring good taste to run full steam ahead as an exploitation distraction, Nicholas cooks up a somewhat icky premise to play with for 90 minutes of suspicion, murder, and sex, toying with concepts of innocence and jealousy which, because this is a B-movie with little interest in morality, leads directly to incest, or at least the fantasy of it. "Julie Darling" isn't polished work, and it certainly isn't lovable, but for those with the ability to free themselves of expectation are likely to find a compelling offering of illness, and one that gleefully merges moves from "The Bad Seed" and softcore pornography to create a strange chiller that never bores. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - The Man in the Glass Booth


The American Film Theater was a production company dedicated to the creation of movies based on stage plays and musicals, using a subscription- based releasing strategy to bring theater to the masses, not unlike today's multiplexes, which host monthly opera offerings to packed houses. The idea was the preserve the source material, keeping the efforts spare and cheap, but also sustaining their artistic voice. Perhaps the most notable of the 13 endeavors was 1975's "The Man in the Glass Booth," which managed to secure a theatrical run that resulted in an Academy Award nomination for star Maximilian Schell, who pours his blood, sweat, and tears into his portrayal of an Adolf Eichmann-type put on trial in Israel for war crimes.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hoot Kloot


For "Hoot Kloot," the DePatie/Freleng animation machine turns their attention to the Wild West, creating shorts (which ran between 1973 and 1974) that poke fun at the genre's conventions and characters, doing so with aggressive cartoon sensibilities. Going full steam ahead with wordplay, "Hoot Kloot" manages to be a little more than a basic offering of cowboy slapstick, finding the writers having fun with the possibilities of the series, which grows wackier as it rolls along. There's always a primary visual of Hoot Kloot and his limping horse, Fester, but when the production really winds up, there are amusing supporting characters and engaging animated realms to explore. Read the rest at