Film Review - Catfight


There are days when one desires thoughtful, refined cinema, and there are days when one craves a movie where star Anne Heche and Sandra Oh beat the stuffing out of each other for 90 minutes. “Catfight” is the latest from ultra-indie director Onur Tukel, who’s inching his way into the mainstream sunlight, but doing so with his sense of humor fully intact. While the feature does present the visual of the two actresses locked in brutal combat, working each other over with fists, hammers, and wrenches, “Catfight” is also a reasonably sharp satire of motherhood, politics, and the art world, with Tukel putting in an effort to beef up his picture with satisfying, sly characterization. The film is also frequently hilarious, delivering bellylaughs to go with broken faces, keeping the bizarre endeavor wonderfully entertaining.  Read the rest at

Film Review - I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore


Actor Macon Blair made quite a favorable impression in 2014’s “Blue Ruin,” embodying a weary level of rage in Jeremy Saulnier’s outstanding revenge thriller. Blair returned to Saulnier country in last year’s stunner, “Green Room,” making something out of a supporting role. Now taking charge of his own filmmaking destiny, Blair graduates to the director’s chair for “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore,” which shares DNA with Saulnier’s work, but follows its own direction of quirk and violence. The feature is amusing, but also astute in its understanding of depression and loneliness, with Blair (who also scripts) trying to turn everyday malaise into a foundation for thriller-style developments with a collection of oddballs and vicious criminals. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Last Laugh


As most professionals involved in comedy like to remind civilians outside the industry: there are no taboos when it comes to funny business. A comedian should have the right to roam wherever their instincts lead them, touching on the worst elements of life in a way that brightens assured darkness. “The Last Laugh” is a documentary that explores the nature of envelope-pushing and how there actually is a topic that causes most comedians to pause: The Holocaust. From Mel Brooks to “Life is Beautiful,” director Ferne Pearlstein delves into the limits of joke construction, interviewing bright stars and educated people, working to understand how anyone could make The Holocaust funny, along with other world events that trigger immediate heartache. Read the rest at

Film Review - Land of Mine


It’s impressive that filmmakers continue to find fresh areas of World War II to explore, moving beyond simple Allied heroism to discover harrowing trials of moral code and survival from unexpected sources. “Land of Mine” offers viewers a piece of history from Denmark, picking up the story right as the world was picking up the pieces after years of senseless destruction masterminded by German forces. It’s a tale of punishment and understanding, but “Land of Mine” provides plenty of suspense as well, albeit the gut-punch kind that typically shadows a specific challenge of macabre endurance. Writer/director Martin Zandvliet isn’t above a few unnecessarily manipulative moments, but he handles intense drama with confidence, delivering a WWII saga that’s engrossing and harrowing, adding another piece to the puzzle of wartime anguish and rehabilitation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Kedi


Director Ceyda Torun set out to make a documentary on cats, but ended up with something slightly more soulful after time with the knee-high stars of the movie. “Kedi” is a study of the feline population in Istanbul, where the creatures largely roam free, carrying on with their lives with and without help from the local human population. Perhaps trying to avoid a dry viewing experience dependent on wily cat behavior to fill 75 minutes, Torun looks at the bigger picture of interaction, with the animals acting as therapy for the community, offering unique terms of companionship that bring joy and purpose to those in need of something to care for or simply pet on occasion. “Kedi” is simple, but it finds a tone of kindness that’s special and endearing while still offering all the feline behaviors a “Cat Fancy” subscriber could love. Read the rest at

Film Review - Wolves


It hasn’t been an easy ride for director Bart Freundlich. After making a splash with his debut feature, 1997’s “The Myth of Fingerprints,” the helmer failed to build on his buzz, instead painting himself into a career corner with mainstream flops such as 2004’s “Catch That Kid” and 2009’s “The Rebound,” losing indie cred and professional opportunity over the last two decades. With “Wolves,” Freundlich attempts to merge his love of crowd-pleasing storytelling with art house emotion, making a team sports picture about individuality, digging below surface antics of a dysfunctional family struggling with a monetary nightmare to preserve character, taking his time massaging anxieties and betrayals out of the gifted cast. “Wolves” handles itself like a distant cousin to 1979’s “Breaking Away,” with Freundlich aware of moviegoer needs, yet he offers engrossing dramatic depth to make sure the effort is more than a series of coming-of-age clichés. Read the rest at

Film Review - Lavender


In 2013, director Ed Gass-Donnelly faced an unwinnable situation when he was hired to helm “The Last Exorcism: Part II,” a sequel nobody asked for to a movie that wasn’t beloved. Attacking the material from a slightly different direction, Gass-Donnelly did as good a job as possible, laboring to revive depleted creative batteries while testing the limitations of studio work. Box office wasn’t kind, but Gass-Donnelly is back to scary stuff with “Lavender,” a semi-ghost story that permits him more room to show off his abilities, taking on creepy houses and fractured memories with stabs at style and thick genre mood. “Lavender” is familiar in many ways, which serves the production well for the most part, but it’s not always a tasteful film, eventually making positive accomplishments difficult to track by the third act. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Stryker


While "Mad Max" and "The Road Warrior" weren't dominating blockbusters, their influence was felt throughout the 1980s, inspiring producers to assemble knockoffs that required very little production effort. The formula is easy to master, only requiring a desert location, shredded costuming, and vehicles. 1983's "Stryker" doesn't even try to pretend that it's not a "Road Warrior" reheat, taking familiar plot, design, and character elements to help support an actioner that's big on explosions and gunfire, but limited when it comes to dramatic pursuits. It's the end of the world, once again, but for director Cirio H. Santiago, "Stryker" provides a chance to raise a little hell in the wild, always keeping the silly picture explosive to help distract from its severe storytelling deficiencies. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Undertaker


Joe Spinell is a character actor with, as they say in the business, a "face for radio." During his career, he's managed to play all kinds of tough guys, mob guys, and cops (appearing in classics like "Rocky" and "The Godfather: Part II"), but he's best remembered for his work portraying psychopaths, vividly conjuring screen insanity in pictures like "Maniac" and "The Last Horror Film." He's a passionate performer despite some thespian limitations, always trying to make an impression with roles of any size. He passed away in 1989, leaving 1988's "The Undertaker" his final lead role, tasked with embodying a seemingly mild-mannered mortician who happens to embrace the romance of necrophilia, collecting victims to create a basement family for himself. It's not exactly a stretch for Spinell and his impressive creep factor, but he's the best thing about "The Undertaker," which is clumsy and periodically goofy, but always makes time for Spinell to shape his interpretation of insanity, which is incredibly entertaining to watch. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Park is Mine


1982's "First Blood" was influential for a variety of reasons, though it's mostly remembered as the least exaggerated of the Rambo series, launching the franchise on a mournful note of military veteran issues before indulging all the outdoorsy adventure the brand name is known for. 1985's "The Park is Mine" is clearly angled to take part in the Rambo tradition, with star Tommy Lee Jones carrying the weight of this dim-witted take on vet affairs and public submission. It's not a graceful picture despite a potentially heavy subject matter, and while it's based on a novel (by Stephen Peters), the feature doesn't convey any literary depth. Director Steven Hillard Stern is much more interested in fireballs and shootouts to keep the effort on the move, caught making an action film when the story seems more concerned with profound psychological issues. While it strains to be popcorn entertainment, "The Park is Mine" ends up a pile of clichés, sawed off subplots, and violence without meaning, robbing the movie of the significance it seldom tries to convey. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Man Facing Southeast


Questions of insanity are analyzed throughout 1986's "Man Facing Southeast," which takes a borderline sci-fi concept and gives it a decidedly human perspective. It's thoughtful work from writer/director Eliseo Subiela, who examines difficult psychological spaces and personalities, building rich characterization along the way, which defines the viewing experience. "Man Facing Southeast" is an odd picture at first, but Subiela enjoys bits of misdirection to help introduce philosophical and emotional ideas, focusing on a burgeoning relationship that battles with issues of stability.

Film Review - Collide


Director Eran Creevy is looking to achieve a big screen rush. He attempted something aggressive a few years back with “Welcome to the Punch,” which brought in respectable actors (James McAvoy and pre-“Brothers Grimsby” Mark Strong) to make a genre film. It didn’t quite connect as intended, so Creevy is trying again. With “Collide,” the helmer returns to interesting, perhaps unexpected casting and picks up a co-producer in Joel Silver, the former king of 1980s action pictures. Striving to replicate an adrenaline rush with this mix of a heist feature and “The Fast and the Furious,” Creevy puts his faith in speeding cars and loose logic, hoping to deliver passable escapism with “Collide,” which, if you squint hard enough and hop on one foot, is actually an entertaining B-movie, delivering some agreeably frantic moments in a European setting, coming up with the basics in chases and intimidation to please paying audiences. Read the rest at

Film Review - Get Out


Jordan Peele is primarily known for funny business. After last year’s “Keanu,” perhaps there’s no recent evidence of it, but Peele is best known as half of “Key & Peele,” which became a popular sketch show for Comedy Central after debuting in 2012. While former partner Keegan-Michael Key is out there taking every role that comes his way, Peele has remained choosy, focusing on building a directorial career. Like many first-time helmers, Peele has selected the horror genre to introduce himself to audiences, but “Get Out” isn’t your typical shocker. It’s a far more sinister and slapstick, combining a real love of chillers with racial commentary and broad jesting. Peele is laboring to make an audience-pleasing nightmare with “Get Out,” and it’s a successful endeavor, but not overwhelmingly so, with iffy taste and timing of humor disturbing the hypnotic spell it’s itching to cast. Read the rest at

Film Review - XX

XX 2

The mission powering “XX” is the opportunity to celebrate female empowerment in an industry that doesn’t welcome many women. And what better way to examine this point of view than through grisly, darkly comedic horror shorts collected in an off-beat anthology film. The production isn’t about consistency, it’s about demonstration, offering directors Roxanne Benjamin, Annie Clark, Jovanka Vuckovic, and Karyn Kusama an opportunity to share their love for the macabre and the grisly, constructing four stories from women about women starring women. The idea is provocative and the genre fertile, but “XX” only gets halfway there in terms of overall satisfaction, maintaining traditional unevenness with omnibus storytelling, never quite reaching greatness despite its potential to do something different and daring. Read the rest at

Film Review - Drifter


Co-writer/director Chris von Hoffmann attempts to replicate the Rob Zombie experience with “Drifter,” though it’s a futile quest, as Zombie is a singular weirdo with specific tastes in exploitation entertainment, backwoods horror, and gritty style. To try and mimic a formula that not even its creator understands seems foolish, but von Hoffmann doesn’t seems to mind, launching a moody chiller about travelers accidentally entering dangerous terrain, coming face to face with displays of highly theatrical madness. “Drifter” has style and attention to composition, but it never inspires a reaction to any of the horrors the production submits. It’s a dry bite of cannibalistic terror in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and a film that feels like it lasts for three years, despite kinetic plot elements. The helmer tries to disturb his audience, but he’s better at putting them to sleep. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bitter Harvest


The timing of the “Bitter Harvest” production and now theatrical release isn’t accidental. The picture was shot at during the early stages of 2014 Ukrainian Revolution and the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, giving the producers a boost in importance for this historical drama. Although the movie concerns the misery of The Holodomor, where millions of Ukrainians died via Soviet-ordered starvation during the early 1930s, “Bitter Harvest” also strives to be a reminder of cultural perseverance under Russian rule, submitting a tale of survival and resistance that hopes to inspire others into action. Passion is mighty in the movie, but it’s also a painfully melodramatic take on world events, working to welcome audiences into bleak territory through a romantic tale of lost lovers, and the fantasy doesn’t mesh with reality. Read the rest at

Film Review - Lost Cat Corona


New York City attitude provides the backdrop to “Lost Cat Corona,” which visits various levels of hardness as one man embarks on an odyssey to find a missing feline. Writer/director Anthony Tarsitano brings in a plethora of familiar faces to help populate this dramedy, wisely trusting the value of character actors to give the picture a deeper feeling, while these seasoned performers also know what to do with mildly comedic moments. There’s nothing particularly urgent about “Lost Cat Corona,” and its aimlessness isn’t always appealing. However, Tarsitano aims to explore certain areas of masculinity in his screenplay, giving the effort unexpected meaning, which helps to balance out the movie’s less than thrilling stretches of NYC irritability. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Dressmaker


While westerns were surprisingly active during the 2016 film year, welcoming the releases of "The Magnificent Seven" and "In a Valley of Violence," "The Dressmaker" proves itself to be a superior genre effort without even encountering a single cowboy. It's a clever picture (an adaptation of a Rosalie Ham novel) that imagines small town hostilities as western entanglements, with Kate Winslet starring as most unusual gunslinger, wielding thread and fabric instead of cold steel. While "The Dressmaker" contains a restless, borderline crazed Australian energy, director Jocelyn Moorhouse manages the insanity with skill, conjuring a beguiling mystery with rich characterization, dark humor, and a cheeky love for Leone-esque theatrics while sorting through domestic problems. It's a strange film, but memorably so. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Lodger


1944's "The Lodger" is often regarded as one of the greatest takes on the Jack the Ripper case, exploring the wrath of a famous serial killer with a semi-compassionate look at mental illness. Granted, the competition isn't all that impressive (including 2001's "From Hell"), but "The Lodger" taps into a psychological stream that's often riveting to watch, backed beautifully by director John Brahm's atmospheric take on 19th century London and its tight-jawed slide into chaos. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Dracula vs. Frankenstein


It's a horror showdown that should've snapped fandom to complete attention, but 1971's "Dracula vs. Frankenstein" isn't anything to get excited for. It's schlock, directed by Al Adamson ("The Naughty Stewardesses," "Blazing Stewardesses"), and it wasn't even originally intended to be an epic genre beat down, beginning life in 1969 as a creature feature and biker movie before someone had the bright idea to pit public domain icons against each other while disparate subplots wander aimlessly around. The title sounds tempting, and poster art promises a violent throwdown between dark forces, but this is not a production that values the rare opportunity to see monsters brawl. Instead, Adamson barely commands a confusing mix of sleuthing, countercultural commentary, and B-movie grotesqueries, only interrupting the action periodically to allow the titular threats to go about their evil business. LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS. Read the rest at