Blu-ray Review - A Farewell to Arms


Ernest Hemingway's novel, "A Farewell to Arms," is a tough nut to crack. It carries tremendous solemnity and personal experience, giving it an open wound atmosphere that makes it an intimate read with a gut-punch ending. Producer David O. Selznick attempts to turn Hemingway's horror into a new version of "Gone with the Wind," inflating love and war to a point where the original meaning of the book is lost. Melodramatic and in need of another editorial pass, 1957's "A Farewell to Arms" certainly provides beguiling bigness, but the enormity of the production manages to smother literary intent.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Double Exposure


1983's "Double Exposure" attempts to cash in on the rise of sexually-minded thrillers, following the lead of Brian De Palma's work from the era, though writer/director William Byron Hillman doesn't share the same flair for screen style and gonzo plotting. While the feature is far from tasteful, there's a certain stability to the effort that doesn't boost its desire to be a chiller that toys with psychological fracture and ghoulish murder sequences, with Hillman holding most of his attention on tepid characterization, which doesn't unleash frights. "Double Exposure" is best appreciated in select scenes where insanity takes over, watching Hillman attempt to visualize oddball plans for homicide, and there's a defined exploitation atmosphere to the picture that keeps it salacious enough to pass. However, when considering what Hillman is trying to accomplish here, it's bizarre to watch the endeavor slow down to smell the roses when there's significant B-movie work to be done.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Scar


From 1948, "The Scar" (originally titled "Hollow Triumph") takes its plotting very seriously. It's no romp with crooks and cops, but a strange, vaguely "Twilight Zone"-ish journey of a stolen identity that winds through complications that touch on romance and paranoia. Star Paul Henreid (who also produces) assumes command of the feature's uneasy tone, working well with director Steve Sekely, who constructs a noir playground of shadows and danger while sustaining a screenplay (written by Daniel Fuchs, who adapts a novel by Murray Forbes) that's restless, continually redefining the stakes to maintain surprise. Read the rest at

Film Review - Paris Can Wait


Considering how everyone with the last name Coppola is already in the movie industry, it’s amazing that it took Eleanor Coppola so long to make her first feature-length film, graduating from documentaries and shorts at the age of 80. Her choice of subject is love, but not in the traditional sense, with “Paris Can Wait” a valentine to food, art, and travel, with interpersonal communication eventually working its way to the surface of the effort. It’s a mild endeavor, never challenging its audience with a deeper inspection of sadness, but it’s not a picture that’s easily dismissed, with Coppola finding a heartbeat here that holds attention, turning what’s essentially a travelogue into an engaging tale of exposure to new things and ideas, finding Diane Lane a practiced star of this kind of story. Read the rest at

Film Review - 2:22

222 2

The magnetized pull of fate is explored in “2:22,” an attempt from screenwriters Todd Stein and Nathan Parker to create a brain-bleeding viewing experience big enough to compete with similar titles. It all boils down to a question of patience, with the best of the genre inviting viewer participation and decoding, stimulating a burning need to keep with the big screen puzzling. “2:22” doesn’t encourage that type of response, trying a bit too hard to achieve a sense of confusion that eventually clears into profundity by the end credits. The movie doesn’t have the creative drive to be anything more than a tepid mystery, and even with a few ridiculous twists and turns, director Paul Currie can’t connect the dots in a fascinating way, with the entire effort resembling more of a screenwriting exercise than a hypnotic overview of celestial guidance.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Gremlin


When one hears the title “Gremlin,” thoughts of the 1984 Joe Dante-directed classic, “Gremlins,” come immediately to mind, recalling how masterfully the blockbuster balanced dark comedy with PG-bending terror, emerging as one of the top films of its release year. But this is “Gremlin.” Singular. And we’re about as far away from Dante territory as possible. Co-writer/director Ryan Bellgardt has a vision for horror featuring a tiny creature that lives inside a box, but it’s not a strong one, manufacturing a chiller that takes itself seriously, but not in a way that strengthens viewer involvement. Instead of a high-flying creature feature with distinct gore zone visits, Bellgardt gives birth to a bummer, more content to numb his audience than thrill them. Perhaps it’s best to get lost in memories of Gizmo and Stripe while watching this dismal endeavor.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Inconceivable


“Inconceivable” doesn’t aspire to be anything more than a Lifetime Original, but even with those lowered standards in place, the feature doesn’t carry a level of insanity required to make it interesting. It’s an updated take on “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle” from “Poison Ivy II” screenwriter Chloe King, who heads in the wrong direction by taking the story seriously, trying to find the reality of these damaged characters and how they deal with strange conflict. “Inconceivable” isn’t campy, it’s bland, and the more helmer Jonathan Baker trusts in the dramatic limitations of the effort, the harder it is to sit through the movie. Those expecting a soap opera will be tremendously disappointed by the endeavor, which tries to establish itself as a proper psychological thriller, only to abandon all the amusing extremes of the subgenre.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Spider-Man: Homecoming


Of course, the title “Spider-Man: Homecoming” has dual meaning. The story is set during the countdown period to a school dance, but it’s also the big return for the superhero brand name, which finally joins up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe after an extended tease in last year’s “Captain America: Civil War.” Spider-Man has endured a few lumps on the big screen in recent years, and lord knows the world doesn’t need another reboot, but for his third incarnation in 15 years, the wall-crawler reclaims multiplex dominance with “Homecoming,” which truly understand the cravings of its teenaged character, backing up frothy but meaningful characterization with some of the finest comic book-inspired entertainment in recent years. Sure, wedging Spider-Man into an already crowded community of costumed avengers is perhaps anticlimactic at this point, but director Jon Watts and his army of screenwriters (six in total) reclaim the swinging ambiance and sheer joy of the character, fashioning a superb refreshing that hopefully will carry on for a long time.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Psycho Cop Returns


Full disclosure: I've never seen 1989's "Psycho Cop." I've never even heard of it, making the prospect of reviewing its 1993 sequel, "Psycho Cop Returns," daunting. Genre fans are a passionate bunch, and they want their film writers prepared and informed, but here's a unique situation where the follow-up doesn't really need an initial chapter to make sense, as the tone it's pursuing is so broad, so cartoonish, that there's only one thing to know before a viewing: There's a cop, and he's a psycho. My apologies to those looking for a direct comparison between the pictures, but I'm guessing most who come to "Psycho Cop Returns" are probably new to the brand name as well, playing an easy game of catch-up with an endeavor that's not about adding to the ongoing saga of a vicious, Satan-worshiping police imposter, but offering a smorgasbord of wild comedy, squealing characters, gore, nudity, and mayhem throughout a single setting. It's not franchise algebra, but a funky, cartwheeling B-movie from director Adam Rifkin (billed here as "Rif Coogan"), who's obsessed with creating as much chaos a low budget endeavor can support.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Microcosmos


Before there were entire cable networks devoted to every corner of the natural world, there was 1996's "Microcosmos." What a kid could do now with a cell phone camera and some decent lighting took three years of production for directors Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennou, who worked carefully to follow the lives of insects on their home turf, using special cinematography to detail every fluttering wing, crooked antennae, and wiggly body they could find. Using the footage to shape a highly artistic vision of, ahem, a bug's life, the helmers achieve a cinematic miracle with "Microcosmos," assembling a riveting, hypnotic valentine to the misunderstood members of Earth. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Crucible


"The Crucible" is one of the most important plays in American theatrical history, and Arthur Miller's 1953's work has justly earned a wealth of accolades and deep analysis over the decades, with particular emphasis on the material's Red Scare inspiration. Constructed during a time of McCarthyism, where paranoia and fear ruled the land, Miller elected to have history comment on the destructive situation at hand, reviving the Salem Witch Trials for audiences craving a dissection of condemnation, building a bridge between unthinkable madness from a feral time and similar recklessness in a modern age. It's brilliant work, and yet, multiple attempts to adapt Miller's play for the screen have been hit or miss, often losing something in the translation. 1996's "The Crucible" appears to have everything it needs to successfully launch a new take on the material, including top-tier actor Daniel Day-Lewis in a starring role, a screenplay by Miller himself, and direction by Nicolas Hytner, fresh off his international success with 1994's "The Madness of King George." And yet, the feature weirdly flatlines right off the bat, failing to stir up a level of frenzy and horror that should organically flow though a movie that explores the pure psychological and physical destruction of a village enslaved by religious fervor and legal lunacy.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Sunset in the West


1950's "Sunset in the West" isn't out to reinvent the western for an oversaturated marketplace. It's content to serve up yet another round of black hats and white hats doing battle in a growing America, filling the brief run time (67 minutes) with enough gunfights, chases, songs, comedy, and horses to satisfy audiences. Thankfully, director William Witney isn't troubled by sameness, giving "Sunset in the West" a rollicking sprit to stave away the stasis of formula, urging star Roy Rogers to play to his strengths of everyman charms, combating the western filmmaking machine with engaging stunt work and comfort food conflicts, always putting entertainment needs first.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The House


Within the first five minutes of “The House,” the movie makes light of date rape, and it’s all downhill from there. This should be a home run, pairing Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler in a comedy about an underground suburban casino, encouraging major mischief from two actors perfectly capable of onscreen play until something strikes gold. And yet, “The House” is nearly a complete dud, watching co-writer/director Andrew Jay Cohen tank every moment, unable to get a rhythm going as the picture stumbles from scene to scene. It’s thinly connected series of sketches in need of a script, finding Ferrell and Poehler oddly powerless here, struggling to come up with one decent, considered, expertly timed joke. Cohen would rather scattergun the humor, which creates an unfocused, unhelpful mess starring talented people. Read the rest at

Film Review - Despicable Me 3


Animation studio Illumination Entertainment has built a cash machine with the “Despicable Me” franchise, maintaining a rhythm to releases since the first film’s 2010 debut. Although it’s been four years since the release of “Despicable Me 2,” Illumination didn’t let the brand name wither, unleashing spin-off “Minions” in 2015, which racked up over a billion dollars in worldwide box office. Now it’s time for “Despicable Me” to prove itself once again, with the second sequel returning to the neuroses of ex-supervillain Gru, keeping the Minions to a supporting position for this successful continuation -- the finest installment yet in the series, valuing ridiculousness, pace, and wisely bringing in Trey Parker to energize the picture as Gru’s latest nemesis. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Bad Batch


Ana Lily Amirpour made her directorial debut with 2014’s “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” described as “the first Iranian vampire western.” Some found it to be revelatory work, blending cultural investigation with genre mechanics, coming up with a moody original that signaled the arrival of a major creative talent. Others found the picture dull and indulgent, working a bit too hard to be offbeat, preferring style over substance. “The Bad Batch” is Amirpour’s second at-bat, and she largely retains the same genre interests, constructing another dialogue-light foray into graphic novel-inspired menace, this time using a different type of bloodsucker: cannibals. “The Bad Batch” enjoys a larger budget and an ensemble of familiar faces, but Amirpour shows no improvement when it comes to focus, laboring through another tedious exercise in nothingness, working extra hard to end up nowhere.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Big Sick


Producer Judd Apatow has a formula he likes to recycle. Embracing realism to inform character and comedy, Apatow frequently encourages writers to dig deep within, challenging them to use private humiliations and fears, with hopes that a personal touch will result in a more intimate movie or show. Think Pete Homes in “Crashing,” Amy Schumer in “Trainwreck,” Lena Dunham in “Girls,” and even Apatow himself in “This Is 40.” The latest member of the introspection club is Kumail Nanjiani, a Pakistani comedian using his borderline disastrous courtship with Emily Gordon to help shape “The Big Sick.” Scripting with Gordon, Nanjiani makes the leap to leading man status with the effort, following Apatow’s to-do list of mishaps and neuroses to conjure the expected awkwardness and warmth these pictures tend to generate, only the predictability of it all is more pronounced.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Beguiled


Writer/director Sofia Coppola was once a filmmaker of immense power, delivering subtle emotion and overwhelming atmosphere with early works such as “The Virgin Suicides” and “Lost in Translation.” Her subsequent endeavors have been beautiful, but cold to the touch, adrift in style not storytelling with “Marie Antoinette,” “Somewhere,” and “The Bling Ring.” There’s immediate disappointment with “The Beguiled,” as it’s not a return to form for Coppola, but it remains a fascinating feature. While the R-word (“remake”) is forbidden around these parts, “The Beguiled” is the second adaptation of Thomas Cullinan’s 1966 novel, which was first brought to the screen via a 1971 Clint Eastwood vehicle, helmed by Don Siegel. Coppola’s effort isn’t quite as direct with its tension, but she does manage to dilute the insistent masculinity of the previous production, constructing a measured, feminine take on what’s essentially an exploitation picture tastefully displayed behind glass.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Little Hours


Writer/director Jeff Baena has made a positive impression during his emerging career, pulling off a horror comedy with “Life After Beth,” and achieving a cinematic miracle with “Joshy,” a movie about male bonding that wasn’t basted in ugliness. “The Little Hours” proves to be his greatest tonal challenge yet, mounting a comedy that’s not always pursuing laughs, and its target is repression found in organized religion. It’s a gamble from Baena, likely alienating a great number of potential viewers right out of the gate, but he mostly sticks the landing, finding ways to scrape out the blasphemy by playing it all so broadly, making a film that certainly has the potential to reach farcical highs, but pulls back a bit too often, perhaps afraid to really dive into the weirdness of the material.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Okja


Director Bong Joon-ho has maintained an impressive streak of dramatically satisfying films, displaying wonderful creativity with efforts such as “The Host,” “Mother,” and especially 2014’s “Snowpiercer,” which astounded with its tonal confidence, dark comedy, and vivid performances. The helmer returns to duty with “Okja,” another strange event from a man who has considerable experience in the realm of oddity. What begins as a tender tale of friendship between a little girl and her gigantic pig becomes something incredibly wild and grim, while still retaining engaging action and offerings of social commentary the keep the viewing experience lively, even when it already involves the antics of a massive CG-animated creature.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Baby Driver


It’s been four years since Edgar Wright last directed a movie (2013’s “The World’s End), and “Baby Driver” plays like a picture made by a man who desperately wants to release some wiggles. It’s a semi-furious concoction of music and widescreen movement, continuing Wright’s addiction to cinematic speed, this time taking his fetishes to the streets of Atlanta to mastermind a crime film that’s driven by the mystery of an iPod playlist. “Baby Driver” is an idiosyncratic endeavor, perhaps a bit too in love with itself, but it’s entirely, 100% Wright, who rubs his fingers over every edit and lubricates the viewing experience with full soundtrack of hits and misses. The effort is noticeable and carries on longer than it should, but Wright has something here that’s volatile and distinct, keeping himself busy with another visit to Planet Edgar, where feats of strength are superhuman, attitudes are plentiful, and direction is nearly unstoppable.  Read the rest at