Film Review - Crash Pad


The state of arrested development and young men isn’t exactly fresh ground to cover, but “Crash Pad” supplies a healthy sense of humor to ease the routine of it all. It’s a silly endeavor that rarely pauses to get real, enjoying a semi-farcical tone that’s greatly enhanced by star Domhnall Gleeson, who delivers a spirited performance that’s capable of transforming screenwriter Jeremy Catalino’s iffy ideas into gold. “Crash Pad” isn’t a revelation, but it maintains mischief and exaggeration, playing nicely with a potentially sitcom story and familiar assessments of lose self-esteem and martial panic. At the very least, it’s funny, and that goes a long way to help forgive some of Catalino’s bad ideas.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Meyerowitz Stories


As Woody Allen struggles to be consistent, losing his very Allen-ness as he ages, it’s encouraging to see others trying to provide a recreation of the director’s early work. After scoring critical hits with “Francis Ha,” “While We’re Young,” and “Mistress America,” writer/director Noah Baumbach sheds his fascination with youth and returns to neuroses in “The Meyerowitz Stories,” which reawakens his interest in splintered families, making a fine continuation of themes and idiosyncrasy he began in 2005’s “The Squid and the Whale.” “The Meyerowitz Stories” plays exactly like an Allen picture at times, which isn’t an unwelcome creative choice, as Baumbach tends to be at his best when capturing NYC bustle and interpersonal awkwardness, offering a loosely plotted character examination that’s periodically hilarious and charmingly restless.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Thank You for Your Service


War at Home movies are difficult to pull off. They arrive with the purest of intentions, trying to shine a light on the emotional and physical wreckage of war, striving to communicate an urgent need to take the welfare of those who fight for their country seriously. When it works, worlds are opened (“The Best Years of Our Lives,” “Born on the Fourth of July,” “Coming Home”), and when it fails, melodrama is often to blame, overpowering the urgency of the subject as filmmakers wrestle with ways to capture their message and not abuse the audience (“Stop-Loss,” “Home of the Brave”). “Thank You for Your Service” is an unremarkable study of PTSD and numerous domestic disturbance issues, covering familiar ground of shattered men trying to put themselves back together again after serving their country. It means well enough, and writer/director Jason Hall has something to work with in Dave Finkle’s 2013 book of the same name, which provides a study of behavioral authenticity the feature could use considerably more of.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Mansfield 66/67


Deconstructing a pop culture legend is always a difficult endeavor. There are facts to consider, along with theories and legends, and when dealing with the life and times of Jayne Mansfield, there are numerous experts who’ve spent decades trying to decode the tumultuous experience of a highly educated sex bomb who wowed millions and died horrifically. Directors P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes play their approach to “Mansfield 66/67” smartly, establishing the documentary as “A true story, based on rumor and hearsay,” thus freeing them to go anywhere with this inspection of Jayne Mansfield and her interest in Anton LaVey, the head of the Church of Satan. It’s quite a story and, thankfully, quite the movie as well, emerging as more of an elastic collection of media and interviews that study the wonders of Mansfield and mystery of LaVey, trying to capture the irresistible camp of the pairing and pick out whatever reality existed between them.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Jungle


Director Greg McLean has built his career on extremes of horror, delighting in the chance to frighten audiences with overt frights emerging from watery depths (“Rogue”), the Australian Outback (“Wolf Creek”), and an office environment (“The Belko Experiment”). Perhaps tiring of blood and guts, McLean goes the true story route with “Jungle,” which has a few potent images concerning bodily nightmares, but mostly remains a searching, hallucinatory inspection of one man’s journey of self, hunting for identity through exposure to new cultures and adventurer’s spirit. “Jungle” is an odd picture, never really achieving an identity as something scary or profound, often spinning its wheels with aimless scenes while star Daniel Radcliffe carries the film with a fantastically committed lead performance, doing whatever he can to make moments count.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Halloween Pussy Trap Kill Kill


Encounter a title such as “Halloween Pussy Trap Kill Kill,” and certain viewing expectations are set immediately. It’s a campy name for what could be an entirely silly endeavor for the spooky season, recalling Russ Meyer-style entertainment sold with a contemporary indie film edge. The actual “Halloween Pussy Trap Kill Kill” is nowhere near as fun as the title promises, emerging as more of a “Saw”-style horror feature that details 70 minutes of iffy actors trying to project agony at top volume. In terms of meeting unavoidable expectations, the picture is a colossal disappointment. On its own, it’s a chore to sit through, with writer/director Jared Cohn more content to be abusive than creative.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Freeway


In the summer of 1987, there was a series of freeway shootings in Los Angeles, rattling a city already accustomed to everyday violence. Co- writer/director Francis Delia doesn't dramatize the event and its aftermath, instead using the hysteria to inspire 1988's "Freeway," which details a madman prowling the streets on the hunt for new victims to blast away at close range. It's a B-movie take on real-world fears, but Delia makes it clear he's out for exploitation purposes, fashioning a detective tale of sorts to support sequences of roadway massacres. "Freeway" isn't a finely knitted offering of escapism, but Delia captures a certain sense of panic and frustration, teasing a graduation to broad car-fu antics. It's not consistent in its recklessness and features plenty of '80s-style leaps in characterization, but the core viewing experience is preserved, providing a reasonably compelling cat and mouse game at high speeds. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Star Slammer


A B-movie director who shows a bit more interest in genre potential than most, Fred Olen Ray returns with 1986's "Star Slammer," which is actually titled "The Adventures of Taura: Prison Ship Star Slammer" at the start of the film. This is Ray attempting to fashion a valentine to serial filmmaking of old, positioning his heroine, Taura, as a new force of futureworld justice, putting her through survival challenges half-naked and full of pluck. While the ambition of the production is interesting, the actual execution of "Star Slammer" leaves much to be desired, depicting an intergalactic battle between warriors and villains on maybe three sets, with space opera visuals recycled from other productions. Ray does what he can to preserve his vision, maintaining interest in the multi-chapter format to the end, but the majority of the feature feels unnecessarily claustrophobic and overwritten, trying to assume the position of a sci-fi blockbuster without earning it.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Hunting Party


Assembled in the shadow of "The Wild Bunch," 1971's "The Hunting Party" plays with industry trends, merging the strangeness of spaghetti westerns with more direct offerings of punishment. It's an unappetizing feature, but it certainly isn't lazy, watching director Don Medford work diligently to make characters suffer or torment one another during every frame of the picture, practically getting off on the agony "The Hunting Party" provides. Perhaps to some, all this aggression carries meaning or reflects genre study, but in the actual endeavor, it's pure excess without the narrative substance to support its obsession with the grotesque.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Lemon Drop Kid


Perhaps the most fascinating bit of trivia associated with 1951's "The Lemon Drop Kid" (adapted from the short story by Damon Runyon) is the debut of "Silver Bells," a Christmas song that started here and grew to become a holiday perennial, covered by a multitude of artists, most famously conquered by star Bob Hope's frequent screen partner, Bing Crosby. Of course, there's an entire movie here as well, with seasonal cheer put into hands of Hope, who tries on a thin layer of Capra for this con man tale of semi-redemption, with the production making the most of his special brand of comedy. "Silver Bells" is merely icing on the cake.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Boo 2: A Madea Halloween


Last year, “Boo! A Madea Halloween” managed to scare up some sizable box office for writer/director/producer/star Tyler Perry, giving him a hit film for the scary season. It was a cheap, unfunny offering of his typical air horn-style of comedy, but it managed to lure in a new, younger audience looking to “hate watch” the endeavor, laughing at the movie instead of with. Either way, Perry’s financial standing improved, which is why, one year later, there’s a sequel. “Boo 2: A Madea Halloween” isn’t about to deviate from the Perry formula of terrible improvisation and limited locations, charging full steam ahead with a revival of Madea and her special way of dealing with the frights of the holiday. “Boo 2” is terrible, but you know that already, though it does identify just how little Perry cares about the look and content of his features, as the sequel is padded with inane conversations taking place in painfully static locations. Read the rest at

Film Review - Geostorm


The second half of October’s “Whatever happened to that movie?” release event (following “Amityville: The Awakening”) is “Geostorm,” which was shot three years ago, extensively reshot one year ago, and has been waiting for its multiplex debut ever since. It’s hard to believe any studio would hesitate for a moment when it comes to the distribution of a visual effects-laden disaster film. After all, it’s a genre that’s largely appreciated for its campy qualities and melodrama, welcoming hoots and hollers from audiences as the productions detail extravagant nightmares. Take “Geostorm” as an offering of extreme silliness, and there’s some approachable absurdity, but only in small amounts. The majority of the effort is leaden, noisy, and generally tone-deaf when it comes to the delivery of a rock ‘em sock ‘em entertainment, gradually revealing why the studio was reluctant to release it.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Brawl in Cell Block 99


Writer/director S. Craig Zahler made a strong debut with 2015’s “Bone Tomahawk,” which arrived in the form of a traditional western and gradually transformed into a vivid horror show. Zahler showcased a commitment to patient reveals, meaty characterizations, and ferocious violence, while his command of escalation was chilling, making “Bone Tomahawk” unforgettable. He’s returned with “Brawl in Cell Block 99,” which arrives in the form of a grindhouse-y prison free-for-all, though, once again, the danger is portioned out deliberately, with each scene building toward something unsettling. And bless his heart, Zahler delivers with the feature, which is unbearably ugly at times, but in all the right ways, presenting an exploitation pummeling that’s moody, grim, and utterly mesmerizing. And it doesn’t hurt to have star Vince Vaughn provide one of the best performances of his career.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Only the Brave


Heroism is difficult to define on the big screen. These days, most offerings of selflessness belong to fantasy characters from comic books, providing a larger-than-life depiction of boldness to achieve a sense of escapism and wish-fulfillment. There’s nothing wrong with the movement, but every now and then, it’s vital to be reminded of the human side of courage. “Only the Brave” details the rise of Granite Mountain Hotshots, a wildfire fighting team that suffered a catastrophic loss of life in 2013, bringing national focus to what these men actually do when they stare down untamable infernos. There’s a certain way such a tale can be played, but screenwriters Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer don’t take the bait, working on the creation of living, breathing characters, choosing to celebrate complexity over extravaganza. “Only the Brave” is a powerful feature, partially due to the sacrifices depicted, but primarily because it remains so grounded, appreciating the firefighters on a relatable level, without slopping on layers of melodrama. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Snowman


This past week, director Tomas Alfredson went to the press to admit that his latest movie, “The Snowman,” doesn’t work. He’s not kidding. While it’s a rare move for a filmmaker to disparage his own picture before it’s fully released (shades of Josh Trank and “Fantastic Four”), Alfredson should be commended for his honesty, as the feature displays a shocking lack of coherence and suspense. Previously helming the sublime “Let the Right One In” and the complex “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” it’s very strange to watch “The Snowman” fall apart almost immediately after it begins. It’s meant to be a franchise-starter, pulling inspiration from author Jo Nesbo and his Harry Hole detective series, but this is no way to start a big screen relationship. Alfredson goes in with the best intentions, but he ends up checking out long before the story reaches its non-conclusion.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Leatherface


1974’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” is a horror classic, but the nightmare didn’t end there. There were sequels (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III”), a whatever (“Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation”), a remake (2003’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”), a prequel to the remake (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning”), and a sequel to the original that wasn’t very good at math (“Texas Chainsaw 3D”). It’s a franchise that’s carried on despite enduring a few bombs and general confusion, but the genre loves a defined brand name, leaving the producers of “Leatherface” to come up with another reason to detail human butchery in the wilds of Texas. It’s not exactly a sequel, not precisely a prequel, and possibly not remake. “Leatherface” is just 90 minutes of nothingness posing as a scary movie, with fans subjected to the same old buzzing, maniacal business, while newcomers might wonder how such a singular filmgoing event over 40 years ago has managed to survive in pop culture consciousness for so long.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Killing Gunther


“Killing Gunther” marks the directorial debut for actor Taran Killam, who’s perhaps best known as a former cast member on “Saturday Night Live,” also appearing on Broadway in “Hamilton.” A talented comedian and a fan of the absurd, Killam preserves all silliness for his first effort as a helmer, stoking laughs and weirdness as he attempts a faux documentary approach for an action film, working to twist the Christopher Guest formula in a more manic direction. “Killing Gunther” has some big laughs and a fair amount of chuckles, though tonally, it dips on a few occasions, suggesting that while Killam marched into the production with a concept, he never fully worked out all the scenes. Still, it’s confident work with some sharp, impish performances and a chance to see Arnold Schwarzenegger play as loose as he’s even been, keeping up with the practiced comedians in his own inimitable fashion.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Bachelors


Perhaps writer/director Kurt Voelker deserves kudos for not turning “The Bachelors” into a comedy, which it might appear to be from the outside, slapped with ill-fitting title and a premise that would feel comfortable on a CBS sitcom. However, the screenplay is serious about grief and familial relationships, with Voelker creating characters in dire need of human contact, hit with painful loss, which has knocked their instinct out of whack. It’s a relationship drama, but Voelker doesn’t pour on the syrup, creating an approachable but deeply felt picture that’s curious about behavior and therapy. The production presents a fine cast capable of matching Voelker’s sincerity, resulting in feature that’s as genuine as it can be, handling topics such as loss and adolescent love with genuine concern for the characters. Read the rest at

Film Review - Never Here


There are mysteries within mysteries in “Never Here,” a beguiling take on the madness of art and the dangers of impulse control issues. It’s a bewildering picture, but that’s exactly how writer/director Camille Thoman wants it, keeping characters enigmatic and the plot fluid, though she achieves select genre appreciation at times, identifying a true filmgoer spirit in the midst of all this interpretive fog. Thoman also casts smartly, unleashing Mireille Enos on a role that plays to her strengths of physical communication and psychological unraveling. “Never Here” isn’t the smoothest viewing experience around, but it’s full of haunting images and provocative ideas, blending art world immersion with detective noir, offering the curious plenty to sift through as reality bends and obsessions graduate into horror.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Tragedy Girls


There’s going to be a generational divide when it comes to the audience for “Tragedy Girls.” There will be those who understand, possibly even relate to the modern depiction of teenagedom, which is showcased here as a marathon of social media anxiety, bullying, and insincerity. Older audiences will likely spend the viewing experience being grateful they are no longer adolescents, forced to compete in a ferociously connected world. Thankfully, “Tragedy Girls” isn’t a documentary, but a horror comedy, offering satiric touches and exaggerated performances to help viewers ease into the challenges of juvenile life, which, for this endeavor, include murder. Co-writer/director Tyler MacIntyre pulls off a bit of a miracle here, finding ways to connect to unpleasant characters, while the rest of the movie speeds ahead with macabre twists and turns, and shares a love for bloody mischief.  Read the rest at