Film Review - Paterno


In 2010, Barry Levinson and Al Pacino teamed up for “You Don’t Know Jack,” which explored the saga of Dr. Jack Kevorkian and his controversial “death machines.” The picture was not only a riveting drama about a taboo subject, but it managed to make Pacino an interesting actor again, briefly snapping the screen legend out of his paycheck haze. Eight years later, they’ve reteamed for “Paterno,” once again detailing an unsavory topic with confidence, this time dramatizing the whirlwind around Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and his ties to retired coach Jerry Sandusky, a pedophile who viciously abused his trust with children. “Paterno” is already commencing a tightrope walk with this subject matter, but Levinson manages to dissect the case with care, exploring the murky waters that separate willful ignorance and permission. And Pacino does wonders again with a true crime part, generating a sense of downward momentum to a man who once stood with the football gods, only to see everything he worked for disappear over a hellacious weekend.  Read the rest at

Film Review - 10x10

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While it attempts to be a nail-chewing thriller, “10x10” doesn’t have much of a hook to reel the audience in. The screenplay by Noel Clarke (“Storage 24”) has the idea of a small-scale confrontation between two angry people, and he toys with perceptions of guilt and wild accusations, but it takes a very long time to get anywhere interesting. It’s a short film (80 minutes), so screen time is precious, but Clarke offers a lot of filler, which drags the viewing experience to a halt. Suspense is rarely summoned in “10x10,” but when it actually gets around to staging something more than silent reflection and everyday routine, it becomes the movie it’s ultimately endeavoring to be. But the payoff is not worth the time invested. Read the rest at

Film Review - Submergence


Wim Wenders is an artist, and he’s made some incredibly powerful films over the years, retaining his singular appreciation for longing across great physical and psychological divides. But when the director goes wrong, he really wipes out. Straining to retain some level of cinematic grace, Wenders flounders mightily with “Submergence,” unable to fully decode what appears to be a romantic tragedy of sorts, but really comes off as a study of insanity in various forms, crossed with touches of social and political commentary. Since Wenders doesn’t have the time or access to sit with each ticket-buyer and explain exactly what he’s going for here, much of “Submergence” remains frustratingly inert and vague, as though the helmer never wanted to commit to a single idea, instead offering several half-baked concepts with hopes something might stick.  Read the rest at

Film Review - An Ordinary Man


“An Ordinary Man” is the latest picture from Brad Silberling, who once enjoyed a major Hollywood career, helming titles such as “Casper,” “Moonlight Mile,” “City of Angels,” and “Land of the Lost.” Perhaps trying to shake off the mainstream movie blues, Silberling focuses on “An Ordinary Man,” which isn’t anything more than a filmed play, essentially handing star Ben Kingsley 80 minutes of screen time to chew scenery with extended monologues. There’s sophistication in the study of guilt and emotional isolation, but the feature is alarmingly simple and repetitive, with Silberling laboring to fill his effort with anything that could inflate the material into something substantial. Unfortunately, his instincts only conjure tedium, and while Kingsley rages until he’s red in the face, the rest of the endeavor struggles for oxygen. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Platoon Leader


While cinematic inspections of the Vietnam War were already in place by the time "Platoon Leader" was released in 1988, it's the awards-sweeping success of 1986's "Platoon" that's truly the reason why the movie came to be. Hungry for their own take on wartime misery and the death of innocence, Cannon Films brings an adaptation of James R. McDonough's memoir to the screen, but they go about it in a distinctly Cannon Films fashion. Instead of hiring a thoughtful person for the job, they bring in Aaron Norris, a man who's already had his way with Vietnam, helming "Missing in Action III," which starred his brother, Chuck. Instead of bringing on a capable star, they hire "American Ninja" hero, Michael Dudikoff, who seems like a nice guy, but can't quite reach imagined dramatic heights with this deathly dull actioner.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Whales of August


Some will watch "The Whales of August" for its dramatic content, but most coming to the 1987 production are most likely spending time with the picture for a chance to see stars Lillian Gish, Bette Davis, Ann Sothern, and Vincent Price in action near their end of their respective careers. It's premiere time with acting legends, and director Lindsay Anderson understands just what he has here, permitting the ensemble to make the most of the feature, which is an adaptation of a David Berry play. "The Whales of August" isn't particularly thunderous went it comes to creating tension, and the story is practically nonexistent, but it does offer an opportunity to watch icons in motion, generating unusual chemistry with a tale that plays to their advanced ages, addressing the pain of the golden years, especially when true communication between loved ones is blocked. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Etoile


There's something about Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" that beguiles filmmakers, and long before Darren Aronofsky nailed the biggest hit of his career with 2010's "Black Swan," co-writer/director Peter Del Monte used the world-famous ballet to inspired creepy events in 1989's "Etoile." The duality found at the heart of "Swan Lake" permits an easy transition to genre moviemaking, and Del Monte, while not heading in an overt horror direction, sparks to the potential of a ghost story of sorts, merging dance with otherworldly experiences, generating a chiller that toys with reality, identity, and the blinding power of young love. "Etoile" has its issues, but its strangeness is appealing, with Del Monte finding stillness in the growing nightmare, taking cues from stage performances to introduce a sort of artfulness to a production that's poorly cast, and features a ridiculous ending that needs to be seen to be believed.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Pick-Up


1975's "Pick-Up" gives off the impression that it's going to follow the sexploitation rulebook, opening with a flirty standoff between a motor home driver and two young women who would do anything for a free ride. And, for a few moments, the picture maintains the B-movie allure, offering teasing glimpses of nudity and bad behavior, lubricated by marijuana and the liberation of the open road, shadowed somewhat by reminders of mysticism and strangeness to come. And holy moly, does "Pick-Up" ever get weird.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Isle of Dogs


It’s hard to believe it’s been four years since the last release from writer/director Wes Anderson, but the extended time between productions has returned the helmer to the world of stop-motion animation. Anderson has been here before, with 2009’s exquisite “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” but he’s not content to churn out a precise duplicate, going deeper into culture and oddity with “Isle of Dogs,” a highly bizarre achievement that showcases Anderson’s visual interests and methodical design work, darkened some by a semi-grim subject matter and fondness for pregnant pauses. “Isle of Dogs” seems directly made for true Anderson-Heads, but those in the mood for something completely different that offers extraordinary creativity and a sly sense of humor, this is a complex and deeply impressive moviemaking achievement. Read the rest at 

Film Review - A Quiet Place


While forging his directorial career, actor John Krasinski has stayed with odd dramas that focused on complicated behaviors and family issues. He’s remained down to earth with efforts like “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men” and “The Hollars,” hoping to create challenging work in the realm of the real. For “A Quiet Place,” Krasinski turns to horror to make an impact, helming a chiller that’s executed largely without dialogue, relying entirely on sound design and silent cinema-style performances to summon an unusual viewing experience -- at least in a day and age when excess and loquacious characters are common in the genre. “A Quiet Place” is easily the best film Krasinski has made, and it features the finest performance he’s ever given, constructing a classy B-movie that explores the foundation of familial relationships, but also delivers sizable chills from total silence, showcasing a previously unseen ability to induce panic with minimal directorial flourishes. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Blockers


There’s a lot to fear about “Blockers.” It’s yet another improvisation-based comedy that traffics in vulgarity to come off edgy, joining a seemingly unending list of productions that view the screenplay as merely a starting point for random make-em-ups. And it marks the directorial debut of Kay Cannon, who wrote not one, but three “Pitch Perfect” movies. That “Blockers” is actually amusing, downright hilarious at times, is a multiplex miracle, finding Cannon better commanding a set than dreaming up punchlines. It’s a madcap endeavor with a few dismal detours into gross-out situations, but Cannon is backed by a charismatic cast and some universal truths on the state of teen maturation and parental control, overseeing appealing chaos as she joins the R-rated comedy gold rush.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Happy Anniversary


Writer/director Jared Stern doesn’t have a fresh idea with “Happy Anniversary,” becoming the latest in a long line of helmers trying to communicate the ups and down of a relationship with a brew of comedy and neuroses. There’s limited originality to the feature, but it does have personality, mining the perils of a longtime union with a fine sense of humor and steady level of concern. “Happy Anniversary” isn’t a Bergman film, but it does take bruising of the heart seriously, even while it’s making light of the situation, navigating hidden truths and stunted communication to find some fragment of authenticity in the midst of formula. Stern isn’t bringing out the big guns for his directorial debut, but he does achieve a lived-in sense of coupledom, which adds a little weight to the general lightness of the material.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Titan


“The Titan” aspires to be thought-provoking sci-fi entertainment, but it has some difficulty generating the right amount of seriousness to support any messages it hopes to impart. Director Lennart Ruff and screenwriter Max Hurwitz try to stay on course with this tale of genetic evolution, but it’s not an easy task, finding the project missing a certain level of inspiration that raises it above a “Twilight Zone” knock-off. The first half of “The Titan” handles with confidence and mystery, but Ruff and Hurwitz don’t push hard enough to secure a satisfying conclusion. As monster movies go, this feature isn’t frightening or corrupt enough, but it does have a premise capable of producing remarkable weird science, making the viewing experience more frustrating than haunting.  Read the rest at

Film Review - 6 Balloons


I think it’s safe to suggest that Dave Franco hasn’t been challenged much as an actor. He’s done work as the dim-wit in many comedies, but the first inkling that there may be something more to Franco than stunned, slack-jawed reactions was found in last year’s “The Disaster Artist,” and now, with “6 Balloons,” there’s hope for a capable dramatic career to come. He’s joined by co-star Abbi Jacobson and writer/director Marja-Lewis Ryan, with the trio creating a film with immense emotional weight and surprising intimacy, achieving an artful and eventful tale of obligation as it transforms into something more profound between siblings reaching their darkest hour. “6 Balloons” is wrenching stuff, but it offers points of behavioral illumination to enhance the viewing experience, and there’s Franco doing his best work to date. Read the rest at

Film Review - Spinning Man


The truth, or at least the perception of it, drives most of “Spinning Man.” It’s something of a whodunit and not much of a thriller, instead sticking with intellectual debates on the nature of language while psychological unrest bubbles underneath the surface. It’s an adaptation of a book by author George Harrar, giving the feature a literary pace and attention to character, but director Simon Kaijser manages to bring some cinematic qualities to the talky picture, developing a mild amount of suspense with police procedural activity and domestic suspicion. “Spinning Man” isn’t a pulse-pounder, but it remains an intriguing study of denial, offering atypical attention to the concept of guilt, making a game out of questioning and memories, which provides a satisfying sit.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Humanity Bureau


For his third film release of 2018, Nicolas Cage takes a trip to dystopia in “The Humanity Bureau.” Screenwriter Dave Schultz seems ready to give the actor a sizable role of dramatic expression and action physicality, but in the hands of director Rob W. King, Cage is often left to carry entire scenes with his highly rehearsed, paycheck-stroking enthusiasm. “The Humanity Bureau” has ideas it wants to share on the state of the planet and its futureworld slide into government-controlled barbarity, believing itself to be a commentary on modern woes. However, the movie has trouble selling the misery visually, finding severe budgetary issues pinning the effort to the ground, making it difficult to invest in whatever suspense manages to materialize during the run time.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Where is Kyra?


“Where is Kyra?” is not a film for everyone. Of course, such a warning could be applied to every feature, but this endeavor is truly something that’s not meant for a casual viewing. It’s the new work from Andrew Dosunmu, director of “Mother of George,” who teams with screenwriter Darci Picoult to inspect the desperation of poverty, tracking one woman’s terrible luck as she’s forced to go to extremes to protect herself from being swallowed entirely by debt. “Where is Kyra?” is a fantastically grim picture, but it has to be with this subject matter, as easy answers aren’t available for such a test of survival. But Dosunmu doesn’t take it easy on the audience, bathing the effort in shadows, distances, and long takes, hoping to find art in misery, coming up with a movie that’s meant to be challenging, but teeters on the edge of becoming unendurable.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - China Moon


After handling documentary duties with Lily Tomlin's "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe," director John Bailey elected to spice up his helming career with a red-hot noir. A respected cinematographer, favored by Lawrence Kasdan ("The Big Chill," "Silverado," "The Accidental Tourist"), Bailey constructs "China Moon," a lusty, twisty mystery that offers a little more visual heft than a Tomlin performance, taking the action to Florida, where characters engage in sex, lies, and murder. Bailey isn't redefining the beloved genre with "China Moon," but he does make a pretty picture, keeping the effort visually interesting while the screenplay by Roy Carlson struggles to keep things compelling, slogging through some tedious plotting. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Hangover Square


In his final film role, Laird Cregar, the star of "The Lodger," finds himself back in period London trouble in "Hangover Square," though it's a very different type of serial killer story. More of an obsession chiller than a tale of murder, "Hangover Square" strives to give viewers a stranger viewing experience while hoping to keep up momentum from "The Lodger," with returning helmer John Brahm working to spin the picture in a slightly different direction, going for more operatic conflicts than atmospherics ones.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Since You Went Away


While it's fascinating to watch World War II movies produced after the global event, the ones made during the conflict carry a special atmosphere, with productions trying to manage the jingoistic needs of the war effort with the more sobering reality of military duty. 1944's "Since You Went Away" is not a gritty offering of wartime observation, but the David O. Selznick-produced picture has its moments of honesty and concern, blending bits of reality in the overall melodrama, which gives itself a whopping three hours of screen time to take shape.  Read the rest at