February 29, 2016


Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogan, Anthony Mackie, Lizzy Caplan, Jillian Bell, Mindy Kaling, Michael Shannon. Directed by Jonathan Levine. (2015, 101 min).

The Night Before is more or less what you’d expect from Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg. The two have previously collaborated on such scatological stoner comedies as Superbad, Pineapple Express and This is the End. If you hold those films in high regard, now you have one to ring in the holidays.

Rogan, Anthony Mackie and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are Isaac, Chris and Ethan, three life-long friends who’ve made partying ’till they puke a Christmas Eve tradition, which started years before when Isaac and Chris were consoling Ethan after the sudden death of his parents. Now they’re getting older; Isaac’s first child is on the way, Chris is a pro athlete and Ethan is a struggling musician whose girlfriend, Diana (Lizzy Caplan), left him because of his fear of commitment. The three get together for one last Christmas Eve blow-out before moving on with their lives.

One thing that’s always eluded them each year was the legendary “Nutcracker Ball,” a Christmas party so big and wild that its location is only available to those with tickets. When Ethan happens upon three tickets (he steals them), they are off, but not before scoring weed (several times) from local dealer Mr. Green (Michael Shannon, who’s not only hilarious, but also a philosophical moral compass). The usual wild-night-gone-bad hijinks ensue, sometimes quite funny, other times not (Rogan’s ‘I-can’t-handle-my-high’ routine gets tiresome pretty quick).

"Man, that weird, numerical birthmark on my chest is really starting to itch."

As with previous Rogan/Goldberg collaborations, The Night Before is rambling, episodic and gratuitously raunchy (dick-pics, anyone?). I suspect it’s director Joseph Levine (50/50, Warm Bodies) who's responsible for giving the film some actual heart with surprisingly sentimental moments that makes us genuinely like these characters.

What this means is The Night Before is a mixed bag. It isn’t particularly original or clever, but it’s amusing enough to please those who consider Pineapple Express to be the Gone with the Wind of stoner movies. If you aren’t already onboard with this type of humor, The Night Before isn’t likely to change your mind


  • Featurettes: “Making One Epic Party - 20 Minutes of Shenanigans” (title tells all); “The Spirit of Christmas”; “Midnight Mass with Nana”; “Drunkest Santas on the Block”; “Mr. Green Line-O-Rama”; “Christmas in the Summer”
  • Deleted/Extended Scenes
  • Gag Reel
  • Digital Copy


February 28, 2016


Starring Naomi Klein. Directed by Avi Lewis. (2015, 89 min).

Like a lot of folks, climate change worries me. Personally, I think the evidence is overwhelming and fear we're leaving our children & grandchildren a world they won't be able to fix. There's an equal number who believe climate change is a myth or hoax perpetuated by a batch of scientific Chicken Littles looking for attention. While I hope and pray all the deniers are right, it shocks me how many are willing to roll the dice and do nothing about it. One would think some kind of action would be prudent in case of the off-chance they're wrong.

Yet I don't really do anything about it either. Sure, I recycle, but only because the city forces me to. I drive a gas-guzzling SUV and continue to buy products that I know are bad for the environment simply because they're cheaper or more convenient. While I verbally support those calling attention to humanity's short-sightedness regarding our planet, I've never felt compelled to join the crusade, unlike those featured in This Changes Everything.

This is a documentary based on Naomi Klein's bestselling book, featuring groups of people from various parts of the world taking on powerful governments and corporations in an effort to instigate change in regions where the land and water are being adversely affected by progress & commerce. As narrated by Klein herself, these are noble causes, to be sure, and the film does an admirable job focusing more on the awareness they're creating than dishing out dire apocalyptic warnings. In other words, this is not a rehash of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth.


But regardless of your position in the climate change debate, you have to admit An Inconvenient Truth was a captivating film. Whether it shocked you, reinforced your beliefs or had you screaming bullshit, its sheer audacity rendered it a memorable experience. While This Changes Everything is an obvious labor of love by everyone involved (including a list of well known celebrities serving as producers), as viewers, we aren't as emotionally invested in what's at stake (and we should be!). We admire these activists for what they're trying to accomplish, yet even though we see numerous scenes of them rallying against the system, we're ultimately never shown whether or not their efforts actually did any good. For a film which tries to be a call-to-arms regarding our impact on the environment, it simply isn't incendiary enough to resonate with the average viewer.

Ultimately, This Changes Everything has its heart in the right place and the subject matter couldn’t be more timely. It’s easy to admire the filmmakers’ intentions by calling attention to the struggles of activist groups squaring off against the system. However, as a viewing experience, it’s the kind of movie where you walk away feeling better about yourself for giving it your attention, but won’t likely linger too much afterwards. It should have been angrier, more inflammatory and debatable.

  • Interview with Naomi Klein, Director Avi Lewis & Executive Producer Alfonso Cuaron
  • Deleted Scenes

February 27, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: FARGO - YEAR TWO

Starring Kirsten Dunst, Patrick Wilson, Jesse Plemons, Jean Smart, Ted Danson, Cristin Milioti, Jeffrey Donovan, Bokeem Woodbine, Brad Garrett, Nick Offerman, Michael Hogan, Zahn McClarnon, Kieran Culkin, Angus Sampson, Adam Arkin, Bruce Campbell. Various directors. (2015, 532 min).

Who would have thought such a quirky classic like Fargo would ever inspire, not just a TV series, but an actual good one? And who would have thought any such show, no matter how creative, would have enough mainstream appeal to warrant a second season?

But here we are, Year Two, with a brand new 10 episode tale and another stellar cast led by Patrick Wilson, Kirsten Dunst, Jean Smart and Ted Danson. This time, it's 1979. The notorious Gerhardt family, led by matriarch Floyd (Smart) & her three idiotic sons, is being threatened by a take-over from a Kansas City crime syndicate. Youngest son Rye commits a triple homicide at a diner before being hit by a car driven by beautician Peggy Blumquist (Dunst). Panicked, she flees the scene with Rye still on the hood and, with the help of her dim-but-good-natured husband, Ed (Jesse Plemons), disposes of the body, hoping life will go on as usual. State Trooper Lou Solverson (Wilson) and father-in-law/sheriff Hank Larsson (Danson) are trying to solve both crimes. In the meantime, the Gerhardts prepare for a war with the Kansas City mob while trying to find out what ever became of Rye. Things becomes increasingly complicated (in a good way) as events & circumstances - not-to-mention random chance - escalate into bloodshed and betrayal.

Not having seen Year One, I can't tell you how well that season retains the overall tone of the original film. But Year Two, which tells a completely different story, certainly does, with quirky characters, deliciously black humor and well-timed moments of jarring violence. The whole thing looks and feels like the original Fargo, right down to the production design and ingenious use of obscure music from the era in which it takes place. The script is clever and funny, with plenty of asides for various vignettes that allow minor characters to shine. I do, however, question the WTF subplot of infrequent UFO sightings throughout the show. These scenes pop up almost randomly two or three times and have no baring on the story whatsoever, yet during a climactic shoot-out, a massive flying saucer drops down to make its presence known.

"Cheerios without sugar? I don't think so."

Still, like the original film, it's the characters and performances which ultimately carry the show. Standouts include Plemons, Zahn McClarnon as an icy psychotic who's loyal (?) to the Gerhardts, Jeffrey Donovan as the oldest, most-hateful Gerhardt brother and Bokeem Woodbine as an ambitious mob enforcer. While I’ve never been a particularly big fan of Danson or Dunst, both deliver career performances. All these characters would be amusing to watch even without the labyrinthine plot.

Best of all, Fargo: Year Two is addictive and binge-worthy. The story builds a momentum that is best appreciated and enjoyed in a marathon sitting. It takes its time getting going, then winds itself down with a satisfying resolution that doesn’t quite answer every question raised during its 10 episodes (such as the aforementioned UFO sightings or an out-of-the-blue killing spree by one of the major characters). But while we’re in the moment, this is terrific entertainment worthy of the Fargo brand name.


  • Featurettes: "Waffles and Bullet Holes: A Return to Sioux Falls" (making-of); "Lou on Lou: A conversation with Noah Hawley, Keith Carradine (who played Lou in Season 1) and Patrick Wilson"; "The History of True Crime in the Mid-West"
  • Slap Sprang TV Commercial
  • "The Films of Ronald Reagan" (audio commentary by Bruce Campbell)


February 26, 2016


Starring Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Alon Moni Aboutboul, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Melissa Leo, Radha Mitchell, Charlotte Riley, Jackie Earle Haley, Sean O'Brien. Directed by Babak Najafi. (2016, 99 min).

Sometimes you just gotta have McDonald's.

It's obviously not the finest cuisine, but one thing is certain: wherever life takes you, down the road or across the sea, a Quarter Pounder will always taste like a Quarter Pounder, no matter what McDonald's you walk into. Your local five-star bistro may have a better reputation, but can sometimes be a crapshoot, depending on how adventurous you are when ordering (or the mood of the chef that day). If you’re simply looking to have your hunger sated, there are times when unwavering consistency trumps food quality.

London Has Fallen, the sequel to 2013's surprisingly successful Olympus Has Fallen, is sort of like going to the drive-thru and ordering that Quarter Pounder, a comparison actually intended as a supreme compliment. Like any sequel nobody was asking for, it won't earn any Oscar nominations, light-up the box office or stick with us for too long after consuming it. But if you enjoyed the first film (you have to admit Olympus Has Fallen was what A Good Day to Die Hard should have been but wasn't), London Has Fallen will not disappoint.

The president steps on Legos.

Most of the cast who survived the original returns for this one, which once-again has Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) trying to protect President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) from another crew of disgruntled terrorists, who've this-time laid siege on London. Once again, famous landmarks are obliterated with the best CGI possible with the budget. Once again, Morgan Freeman is on-hand (now the vice president) to offer ominous exposition while watching the events unfold from the safety of a control room. Once again, Banning is a one-man wrecking crew with an endless supply of ammo who shrugs-off combat wounds with a hiss and a grimace. Once again, a willing suspension of disbelief is required from the viewer to get any enjoyment out of the film.

If you're still reading this, you are likely one of those viewers. London Has Fallen serves-up a heaping-helping of explosive fun in its single-minded attempt to provide the same bang-for-the-buck as the original. Butler may not be quite as charismatic as Bruce Willis on a good day, but we like him enough to care whether or not he succeeds (though that’s never in question). In fact, the banter between his character and Eckhart’s actually lightens things up quite a bit. While seldom particularly clever, their dialogue in-between gunfights and explosions renders this sequel more amusing than the overall serious tone of the first film.

And kudos to everyone involved for keeping London Has Fallen as hardcore, visceral and bloody as the original. In this age when a Die Hard sequel can be defanged to earn a PG-13 rating to drag in the mallrat crowd, it’s nice to see at-least some folks in Hollywood still appear to understand what fans of this type of action are looking for.

London Has Fallen doesn’t offer a single surprise or make any attempt to challenge the intellect. Right from the get-go, it aspires to be no-more than cinematic junk food, just like those times when we aren’t feeling particularly adventurous and head to McDonald’s because we know exactly what we’re getting for our money. It simply feels good and agreeable going down. While we may not walk out of the theater feeling stimulated, we're at-least satisfied.


February 20, 2016


Starring Finn Wittrock, Aaron Eckhart, Sarah Bolger, Juston Street, Robin Tunney, Michael Reilly Burke. Directed by Angelo Pizzo. (2015, 119 min).

Ever pour yourself a bowl of Cheerios without dumping in a few teaspoons of sugar? Yeah, it’s edible - even good for you - but breakfast isn’t quite as enjoyable, is it? That’s what My All-American is like.

Since this is the directorial debut of Angelo Pizzo (screenwriter of Rudy & Hoosiers), one understandably expects yet-another inspirational triumph-of-the-underdog story. Hey, deal me in! I’ve always been a sucker for these things, and Pizzo has certainly proven in the past he knows how to push all the right buttons when it comes to sports-related true stories.

My All-American is based on the true story of Freddie Steinmark, an undersized Colorado football player who gets a scholarship to play under the tutelage of Coach Darrell Royal at the University of Texas. His brief but brilliant football is threatened when a malignant tumor is discovered in one of his legs.

"Well, somebody's happy to see me."

But while the film is certainly earnest and watchable, it’s also curiously uninvolving. The performances are decent all around, yet none of the characters resonate much. We don’t really get to know any of them, including Steinmark, well enough to become emotionally invested. Not only that, despite a few early suggestions that his size was an issue, we’re never presented with a moment where Steinmark has to overcome any kind of physical obstacles. Until he’s diagnosed late in the film, he’s kicking ass on the gridiron from the get-go.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. As a period piece and sports film, My All-American is just fine. The numerous game scenes & montages are exciting, and Pizzo once-again demonstrates ample knowledge and respect for his subject. But it’s also intended to be a tear-jerker along the lines of Brian’s Song. In that respect, there simply isn’t enough sugar on the Cheerios to have us reaching for a tissue.

2 Featurettes: "The Spirit of Freddie Steinmark"; "A Look Inside My All-American" (both are very similar and only a couple of minutes long)


February 18, 2016


Starring Tobey Maguire, Kristen Wiig, Tim Robbins, Jessica Alba, Haley Joel Osment, Michael Sheen, Val Kilmer, Will Ferrell, Steve Tom. Directed by Matt Piedmont. (2014, 138 min).

It helps if you are at-all familiar with what The Spoils of Babylon is spoofing, namely all the epic miniseries which proliferated network television in the 70s and 80s. Most were based on literary junk food written by the likes of Irwin Shaw, Harold Robbins and Colleen McCullough, and just as forgettable.

It also helps if you have an appreciation for Funny Or Die’s off-kilter brand of humor, especially since this IFC miniseries isn’t simply a direct parody either. While it’s definitely silly, the gags range from extraordinarily subtle to heavy-handed slapstick. You really have to be in the right frame of mind for this.

That said, The Spoils of Babylon is a mixed bag, often chuckle-worthy, seldom laugh-out-loud hilarious. Will Ferrell plays Eric Jonrosh, the pretentious author of the original novel who introduces each episode with all the pomposity and self-importance he can muster. Regarding the actual story, it’s a six episode tale of the decades-long rise and fall of the Morehouse family’s oil empire, as told by adopted son Devon (Tobey Maguire). Many of the usual mini-series tropes are skewered. Some scenes are quite clever, while others play more like those Saturday Night Live sketches that go on far too long.

Guess who's really constipated.

The cast seems to be having a good time, though. Kristen Wiig is terrific as Cynthia, Devon’s sister/love interest. She over-emotes tremendously, on purpose, like a bad TV actress taking her role too seriously. On the other hand, Haley Joel Osment overacts in the worst way, as in,“Look at me chew the scenery! Isn't it funny?” As for Ferrell’s opening and closing segments for each episode...well, it’s typical Will Ferrell, meaning he's initially funny and spot-on, then takes just one step too far into shtick. The show’s budget-minded production values (and intentionally bad editing) are also amusing, though not really reflective of any miniseries made back then. The obvious tiny models seem to exist for their own sake, but are admittedly fun.

Despite its spottiness, The Spoils of Babylon never quite wears out its welcome. While seldom totally hilarious, it's a congenially goofy good time and arguably more effective when seen all in one sitting (a little over two hours) than in weekly installments on IFC (when a single episode would compel few to return the following week).


Corman's DEATH RACE 2050 Begins Production

Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050
Universal City, California, February 18, 2016 – An outrageous action-packed film and reboot of the original Death Race 2000, Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050 began filming February 8 in Peru. Filled with the full-throttle mayhem and black-hearted humor, this all-new film drops the flag on a phalanx of automotive gladiators who earn points for killing pedestrians — and their fellow drivers. Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050 is an original release from Universal 1440 Entertainment, a production entity of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. The film will be available exclusively on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD in 2016.

In the decades since well-known independent film pioneer and Academy Award® winner Roger Corman first put the iconic anti-hero Frankenstein into the driver’s seat in Death Race 2000, this over-the-top cult classic has hurtled headlong toward cinematic immortality. Among the most enduring of the prolific producer’s legion of memorable films, Death Race 2000 has inspired a growing fan base that continues to propel the popular franchise as it marks the 40th anniversary of its original release.

“This is an amazing opportunity for me and millions of Death Race 2000 fans to experience the intensity, thrills and dark humor of the original, fueled by a terrific young cast, spectacular vehicles and side-splitting action, literally” said Corman, the trailblazing writer, director and producer. “Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050 puts the pedal to the metal to bring this enduring franchise to a whole new level.”

Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050 stars Manu Bennett (The Hobbit franchise) as Frankenstein, as well as Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange) as the Chairman, Burt Grinstead (“NCIS”), Marci Miller (Viper), Folake Olowofoyeku (The Beaver), Anessa Ramsey (Footloose), Yancy Butler (Hard Target) and Charlie Farrell (Cantar).

The film is directed by G.J. Echternkamp (Hard Candy) directs from a script by Matt Yamashita (Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda) and G.J. Echternkamp, and produced by Roger Corman (Death Race 2000) and Luis Llosa (Anaconda).
In the not-too-distant future, America is controlled by an all-powerful corporate government that keeps the masses placated with violent virtual-reality entertainment. The event of the year is the Death Race, where a motley assortment of drivers compete in a cross-country road race, scoring points for running down pedestrians and killing each other. The reigning champion and popular favorite is half-man, half-machine Frankenstein — but little does he know he’s taken on a rebel spy as his co-pilot.


LONDON HAS FALLEN: Portland Advance Screening

Portland area advance screening of the action thriller,  

When & Where:
Thursday, February 25th
Regal Bridgeport Village
Tigard, Oregon
7:00 PM

February 16, 2016


Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, Dean Norris, Michael Kelly, Joe Cole, Alfred Molina. Directed by Billy Ray. (2015, 112 min).

A remake of the Oscar-winning 2009 Argentine film, Secret in Their Eyes features a great cast, all who bring their A-game to the proceedings. Billy Ray, primarily a screenwriter known for such films as Flightplan, The Hunger Games and Captain Phillips, returns to the director's chair for the first time since 2007's Breach, which was an outstanding (and overlooked) political thriller. In my humble estimation, this one couldn't miss.

Yet somehow, it does miss. Secret in Their Eyes isn't a bad film. The basic story structure of the original sort-of remains, that of a man obsessed with catching a rapist/murderer who got away with his crime years before, with the same surprising revelation at the end. And you couldn't ask for a better cast, where you'll see Julia Roberts at her least-glamorous. The dialogue is smart and the music score by Frederico Jusid & Emilio Kauderer is suitably haunting (though occasionally derivative of the "Prophecy Theme" from Dune).

Julia learns there's no Easter Bunny.

But in updating everything for American audiences, including a wholly unnecessary romantic subplot between two main characters, a lot gets lost in the translation. It's obvious Billy Ray has tremendous respect for the original film. At the same time, this feels more like a checklist of key plot points than a truly creative reinterpretation, almost as though it exists entirely for the big reveal at the end.

Secret in Their Eyes is mildly interesting and you probably won't regret checking it out. But in the end, the original story has been simply rendered into just another standard thriller, something I did not expect considering the talent on both sides of the camera. Sure, the final denouement still works on a visceral level, but we have to sit through a lot of familiar claptrap to get to it.


  • Featurettes: "Adapting the Story to Today's World"; "Julia Roberts Discusses Here Most Challenging Role"
  • Commentary by Writer/Director Billy Ray and Producer Mark Johnson
  • DVD & Digital Copies


February 15, 2016


Starring the voices of Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Sam Elliott, Anna Paquin, A.J. Buckley, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Steve Zahn. Directed by Peter Sohn. (2015, 94 min).

The Good Dinosaur will likely be remembered as Pixar's 'other' film released in 2015. The first, Inside Out, was such a triumphant return-to-form for the studio that this one was kind-of overshadowed and, to be honest, pales in comparison. While it isn't one of Pixar's homeruns, The Good Dinosaur hits a solid RBI double.

The initial what-if premise - an asteroid believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs actually missed - is mostly a gimmick to allow reptiles and humans to co-exist. Arlo is the fearful runt in a family of Apatosauruses, who maintain a corn field. Tragic circumstances (of the usual Disney variety) result in Argo being lost and on his own to find his way back home. He eventually befriends Spot, a feral caveboy who's also without a family. Enemies at first, these two learn to depend on each other for survival from one encounter to the next, which includes briefly falling-in with a family of cattle-herding T-Rexes.

There aren't a lot of surprises here, but the journey is entertaining enough and, as usual, the film is brilliantly animated. The Good Dinosaur might also be the only Pixar film made exclusively with kids in-mind, nearly devoid of gags or references only their parents would appreciate (save for Sam Elliott's casting as the head T-Rex). While that isn't necessarily a bad thing, it does automatically render the film one of the studio's lesser efforts.

Who farted?

Part of me also has to question the use of dialogue. The best scenes are those where no words are spoken, particular one near the end which is the most emotionally poignant in the entire film. Think of the heart-breaking intro to Up or the entire first half of WALL-E. They are dialogue free, yet still run us through an emotional wringer. The dialogue and voices in The Good Dinosaur aren't terrible or anything, but is it really necessary for these dinosaurs to speak? Couldn't the creative geniuses at Pixar found a way to tell the same story without words? If so, they might have had another masterpiece on their hands.

But I digress, because even with the missed creative opportunities, The Good Dinosaur is engaging, funny, suspenseful and better than a majority of the other 2015 films passing themselves off as family fare. Besides, if Pixar was to take my advice and get rid of all the dialogue, that would mean we couldn't enjoy Elliott's alligator campfire tale (the funniest scene in the entire film).


  • Featurettes: "The Filmmakers' Journey" (arguably the most comprehensive of the bonus features); "Hide and Seek"; "True Lies About Dinosaurs"; "Recyclosaurus"; "Every Part of the Dinsaur"; "Following the T-Rex Trail" (a real life family of Oregon Ranchers who inspired the T-Rex family in the film)
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Short Film: "Sanjay's Super Team" (which is cute, but not one of Pixar's best shorts)
  • DVD & Digital Copies


February 12, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: 99 HOMES

Starring Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, Laura Dern, Tim Guinee, Noah Lomax, Clancy Brown. Directed by Ramin Bahrani. (2014, 112 min).

Michael Shannon has always looked like an evil bastard...his hardened face, those leering eyes and snake-oil smirk that simply screams "don’t trust me." While I'm sure he's probably a great guy in reality, I'm equally sure I'd root against him even if he were playing Atticus Finch. Shannon just has one of those faces you feel like punching.

Meaning he's perfectly cast in 99 Homes as Rick Carver, an amoral, unscrupulous real estate operator who specializes in being the first to pounce on properties in foreclosure and mercilessly kicking out the occupants. Carver makes Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko look like the poster boy for empathy, showing zero remorse for his actions (legal or otherwise). In other words, it's a role Shannon was born to play, and he succeeds magnificently, sucking all our attention away from anybody else onscreen at the time.

If Carver is this film’s Gordon Gekko, then Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) is its Bud Fox. Nash is a struggling construction worker trying to support his son and mother (Laura Dern) when the bank forecloses on their home. The next day, Carver and the police arrive with eviction papers. Forced to move to a seedy hotel, Nash is unable to find steady work until, ironically, Carver himself offers some quick cash for a clean-up job of another property he just foreclosed on. Nash’s skills and smarts quickly prove to be an asset, so Carver takes him under his wing and starts paying Nash handsomely to do a lot of the dirty work (which eventually includes evicting others the same way he was).

It’s a classic deal with the devil. Despite being lured by sudden wealth and a lavish lifestyle, guilt begins to weigh Nash down. His initial goal was to simply get back the house he grew up in, but instead, he finds himself turning into the very man he hated the most, alienating his mother and son in the process.

"This is my DC contract. A lot more zeroes than your Marvel one, huh?"

Unlike Wall Street, which reveled in glorious 80’s era excess, 99 Homes hits far closer to the bone. I don’t claim to know the ins-and-outs of the real estate business, nor the legalities involved in evicting financially-helpless people from their homes, but the film totally convinces us this shit occurs every day by assholes just as soulless as Carver. Victims left in his wake are rendered suddenly homeless, driven to desperation and no one seems to care. So even though we understand Nash’s decision to fall in-league with Carver in order to buy-back his old house and provide for his family, we get no joy out of his victories because he doesn’t either.

Hence, 99 Homes is by-no-means a fun film. But it’s truly compelling and darkly intense, buoyed by outstanding performances by both Shannon and Garfield (who proves he’s capable of a lot more than donning a Spidey suit). I don’t know how often anyone would ever want to revisit this story, but in the moment, one can’t help but be morbidly fascinated.

And yes, you'll want to repeatedly punch Shannon in the face.

Audio Commentary by Writer/director Ramin Bahrani (includes a Deleted Scene)

(though sometimes cats don't appreciate TOO MUCH scratching)

February 11, 2016


Starring Sidney Poitier, Bobby Darin, Peter Falk, Barry Gordon, Howard Caine, Anne Barton, James Anderson. Directed by Hubert Cornfield. (1962, 89 min).

Watching 1962's Pressure Point for the first time, I was often reminded of 1998's American History X. Both films tell a similar tale (how a young man evolves into a hateful neo-Nazi) and share the same narrative structure (the bulk of the story to told in flashback). But while American History X is already considered a classic, Pressure Point has largely been forgotten. Too bad, really, because it's dark and fairly disturbing in its own right, with social commentary on racial tensions as relevant today as they were five decades ago.

Sidney Poitier is a prison psychiatrist assigned to treat a troubled inmate (Bobby Darin) suffering from sleeplessness and hallucinations. The prisoner also happens to hate blacks & Jews, and is reluctant to open up at first. However, he does relent and, through flashbacks, we learn of his terrible childhood (an abusing, drunken father and sickly mother), troubles in school and inability to maintain any steady relationships or hold down a job. Eventually, he falls in with an American neo-Nazi group and becomes a prominent member before being incarcerated. While there are times when we, as viewers, are tempted to empathize with what he's had to endure, we're snapped back to reality whenever he attempts to bait the psychiatrist with racist rhetoric. Unlike Derek Vinyard in American History X, this man ultimately feels no remorse for the things he's done.

"Be honest, Doc...do these pants make me look fat?"

For a film that is essentially a series of sessionss between two people (with highly artistic and bleak flashback sequences detailing past events), this is a tension-filled, cynical look at race relations of the time. The brilliant decision to shoot it in stark black and white could be perceived as symbolic. But even if that wasn't the intention, from a narrative standpoint, it's hard to imagine Pressure Point being nearly as effective if shot in color.

Of course, any film of this nature depends largely of the performances. Poitier is always a pleasure to watch, and he's once-again terrific here, torn between being the consummate professional and giving in to the rage he feels when listening to the unrepentant hate spewed by his patient. But the real star here is Bobby Darin, who turns in a remarkably complex performance...hateful yet charismatic, like most real-life psychotics who somehow get others to follow them. The tic-tac-toe scene alone makes this distressingly apparent.

Being a product of its time, Pressure Point doesn’t have quite the visceral impact of a film like American History X, but is still an emotionally intense treasure waiting to be rediscovered. And, in a small way, its resolution might be even more unnervingly pessimistic.

Original Trailer

February 10, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: CODE 46

Starring Tim Robbins, Samantha Morton, Togo Isawa, Natalie Mendoza, Nabil Elouahabi, Om Puri. Directed by Michael Winterbottom. (2003, 93 min).

Another oddity rescued from obscurity by Olive Films, Code 46 is a stylish-but-slow piece of sci-fi noir which is more successful in creating a mood than an intriguing story.

In this dystopian future, genetic compatibility is mandatory for a man and woman to have a physical relationship (violation of this law is called a Code 46...you know, the number of chromosomes in our DNA). The borders of cities such as Shanghai are also designed to keep the undesirables out, who are forced to live in the surrounding deserts. Papers are required for travel and entry in to the city. William Geld (Tim Robbins) is a government investigator trying to find who’s forging such papers. Since he’s ‘infected’ with something called the Empathy Virus, he’s quickly able to discover a young woman, Maria (Samantha Morton), is behind it all. However, William ends up falling in love with her and doesn’t turn her in. Later, her mind is erased, but he’s able to rekindle their relationship soon afterwards, even after he learns the somewhat shocking reason why they are genetically incompatible.

Despite roaming the hotel for hours, William still can't find his damn room.

On the surface, Code 46 appears to have something important to say about genetic manipulation and its societal ramifications. But ultimately, it’s essentially a doomed love story which will either suck you in right away or bore you to death, depending on your expectations. The film is visually arresting, using some exotic locales rather than special effects to depict this world. Overall, the performances are good (especially Morton), even though few of these characters are particularly interesting. Code 46 might also be a bit too deliberately-paced for its own good, leaving less patient viewers with the impression the same story could have been more effectively told in half the time.

The film doesn’t really dive too deep into the provocative ideas suggested by its premise. But strictly as a mood piece, Code 46 sort of works. It’s pleasant to look at and the music, while not your typical sci-fi score, somehow fits perfectly. This may or may not be considered praise, but it’s the perfect movie to unwind and fall asleep to.

NOT BAD...LIKE CAT CHOW (or catnip)

February 8, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: ESTRANGED

Starring Amy Mason, James Cosmo, Craig Conway, Nora-Jane Noone, Eileen Nicholas, Ben King. Simon Quarterman. Directed by Adam Levins. (2015, 92 min).

Though I personally didn't enjoy Estranged, I was compelled enough to see it through to the end, which I suppose can be seen as a positive.

January (Amy Mason) is a young woman recovering from a terrible accident which has left her a wheel-chair bound amnesiac, remembering nothing about her life before the crash. Her boyfriend, Callum, takes her to her family's home, a run-down old mansion in the woods, none of whom she's seen since acrimoniously taking-off six years ago. The reasons why are never made clear, but this family, led by malevolent patriarch Albert (James Cosmo), is a strange clan who appear happy she's home one minute, verbally & physically abusive her the next. After Callum disappears, she's trapped and forced to uncover her family's secrets (they aren't quite who they seem...duh) while simultaneously trying to escape from them.

Estranged is not quite the horror film we're led to assume from the Blu-Ray box art and summary, though it is plenty dark. In fact...the overall tone is really oppressive. While that isn't necessarily a bad thing, for a film which paces itself so deliberately, we're made almost immediately aware this family is a few cans short of a six-pack, and now just waiting for them to snap. When they finally do, all the efforts to create tension during the atmospheric first half is negated when the film descends into mild torture-porn, with January as the sole object of torment. We're simply marking the time after that, slogging through scene after scene of physical & psychological abuse.

No way is that intimidating.

The problem is most of the plot turns (not matter how lurid), aren't enough to counter the fact that Estranged is an unpleasant chore to endure. Even a film like Hostel, which is far more graphic, twisted and disturbing, manages to create a certain level of rousing fun for the audience. By the time Estranged reaches its final act, we're sick of its arty pretensions, scenes which go nowhere and ambiguity for its own sake. At this point, all we want is some kind of satisfying payback by January as a reward for the previous 85 minutes we've endured.

Still, Estranged was just manipulative enough that I just had to see how things turned out. While I personally found the film - and its ultimate denouement - to be an unsatisfying waste of 90 minutes I’d never get back, it’s just as easy to imagine other viewers extolling these very same shortcomings as virtues. As such, I’d advise one to proceed at their own risk.

  • Making-of Featurette
  • Trailer

February 7, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: MI-5 (aka SPOOKS: THE GREATER GOOD)

Starring Peter Firth, Kit Harington, Jennifer Ehle, Elyes Gabel, Lara Pulver, Tim McInnerny, Hugh Simon. Directed by Bharat Nalluri. (2015, 104 min).

Spooks was a television series about a British counter-terrorist organization (MI-5) which ran for about ten years on BBC, so despite the derivative box cover art, this is not a Mission: Impossible rip-off. I’ve never seen the series, but if this theatrical film is any indication, the concept and execution is more like 24, only without any characters as intensely compelling as Jack Bauer.

At the start of the film, the MI-5 is headed by Harry Pearce (Peter Firth, reprising his role from the series), but when apprehended terrorist Adem Qasim (Elyes Gabel) manages to escape custody, Pearce is disgraced and turns renegade in order to, not only catch Qasim before he carries out a terror attack on London, but uncover a traitor inside MI-5 who made the escape possible. Meanwhile, recently discharged agent Will Holloway (Kit Harington) is recruited to find Pearce and bring him back. Though Holloway respects Pearce, he doesn’t particularly like or trust him, especially since Pearce was responsible for his discharge.

MI-5 is reasonably entertaining, with an intricate plot (though not difficult to follow), some interesting characters and a few well-executed action sequences (the airport chase in particular). Storywise, prior knowledge of Spooks isn’t a prerequisite, though I think Pearce’s actions (both good and bad) would mean more to those already familiar with the character. Harington is biggest name of those new To the cast and does a serviceable job in his role. One also gets the impression his inclusion is an attempt to establish MI-5 as a theatrical franchise with Halloway as its own Jack Bauer.

"Okay! Okay! Take the remote!"

That said, MI-5 works fairly well as a stand-alone story, though nothing especially memorable (the film never quite escapes its TV origins). There’s also a nifty, vengeful twist in the final scene which provides a healthy dramatic punch. The scene also suggests, if MI-5 does indeed become a born-again franchise, it’ll be business as usual.


  • Featurette: “The Making of MI-5”
  • Deleted Scenes


February 6, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: CRIMSON PEAK

Starring Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver, Burn Gorman, Leslie Hope. Directed by Guillermo Del Toro. (2015, 119 min).

Though the story is often perfunctory, Crimson Peak is dripping with atmosphere, as one would expect from director Guillermo Del Toro. It's also a welcome return to the type of gothic horror which first made him famous. As such, this is the kind of film where you turn out all the lights, nestle-in and let it slowly envelope you, logic be damned.

Mia Wasikowska plays Edith, an aspiring 19th Century novelist haunted by the ghost of her mother with a dire warning: "Beware of Crimson Peak". When she's courted by English aristocrat & inventor Thomas Sharpe, Edith's father, Carter (Jim Beaver), tries to prevent this, suspecting Thomas and his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain), aren't quite who they seem and have ulterior motives. He turns out to be right, but is brutally murdered before he can really intervene. Edith marries Thomas and relocates to England with him and his sister. Crimson Peak, the nickname of their mansion, is architecturally-elaborate but rapidly decaying because, despite their aristocratic status, the Sharpes are actually broke. Meanwhile, other ghosts show up to warn Edith of the horrors ahead, while Thomas & Lucille’s motives (and icky relationship) soon become apperant. Still, Edith continues to stick around because Lucille’s been slowly poisoning her.

Yes...there's a spider on the ceiling.

Storywise, Crimson Peak travels a familiar path, and few of its plot-reveals are particularly surprising or original. Not only that, it heavily relies on Edith stupidly remaining at the house long after it becomes obvious everyone's out to get her (one would think numerous warnings from her dead mother would convince her to get the hell out of there). However, the film makes-up for lapses in logic with atmospheric dread, technical virtuosity (much like Dario Argento’s early classics) and great performances. Crimson Peak establishes a dark, foreboding tone from the very first scene and seldom lets-up. Despite its deliberate pace, we never escape the feeling that something awful will happen at any given moment. The film is also visually arresting. The mansion is a triumph of production design (practically a character itself) and the cinematography finds morbid beauty in even the bleakest imagery. Del Toro masterfully immerses the viewer in this world much like he did with Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone.

Along with terrific performances - especially Hiddleston & Chastain - and some well-timed moments of jarring violence, Crimson Peak is a superlative example of style over substance, helmed by a director who’s been away from the genre far too long. It didn’t really connect with audiences in theaters, which is too bad because that’s arguably where it would be best appreciated. Still, any longtime Del Toro fan will find a lot to love.

  • Featurettes: "I Remember Crimson Peak"; "A Primer on Gothic Romance"; "Hand Tailored Gothic" (costume design); "A Living Thing" & "Beware of Crimson Peak"
  • (both of them detail the impressive set design of the house); "Crimson Phantoms" (ghost design...mostly not CGI!); "The Light and Dark of Crimson Peak"
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Commentary by Guillermo Del Toro
  • DVD & Digital Copies

February 3, 2016

Movie Review: HAIL, CAESAR!

Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Emily Beecham, Alison Pill, Max Baker, Christopher Lambert (really!), Fisher Stevens, Fred Melamed, Clancy Brown, Dolph Lundgren (seriously!). Directed by Ethan & Joel Coen. (2016, 106 min).

I'll say this much...you'll know Hail, Caesar! is undoubtedly a Coen Brothers film within the first few minutes, which is a good thing. Their movies are a genre unto themselves, and those who appreciate the Coens' creative sensibilities know it's essentially pointless to compare one of their films to anything else but other Coen films. Even then, they've cut such a wide swatch through so many genres that you can't simply examine The Big Lebowski in the same light as No Country for Old Men.

For the sake of simplicity, there are the 'serious' Coen films (which get all the Oscar nominations) and the 'playful' Coen films (where everyone involved seems to be having a great time), and it never ceases to amaze me how adept they are at both. Hail, Caesar! is definitely one of the playful ones.

If comparisons must be made, I suppose Barton Fink, O Brother Where Art Thou? and the woefully underappreciated Hudsucker Proxy would immediately come-to-mind. Set in 1950's Hollywood, studio bigwig Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) oversees the actors in his stable, mostly making sure their questionable exploits don't hit the tabloids. Then the studio's biggest star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), is kidnapped from the set of their latest biblical epic (Hail, Caesar) by a group of disgruntled communist screenwriters and held for ransom. While trying to keep the production on schedule and the incident from leaking to the press, he also has to deal with an unwed pregnant starlet (Scarlett Johansson) and a disgruntled art-film director (Ralph Fiennes), angry from being forced to work with an imbecilic singing cowboy (Alden Ehrenreich). Meanwhile, Mannix is mulling over an enticing job offer from airplane manufacturer Lockheed, an escape from the constant madness of his profession.

After all these years, George Clooney finally sits down to watch Batman and Robin.
That's the story in a nutshell, but if you're at-all familiar with the Coen Brothers in 'playful' mode, you know the plot itself takes a backseat to eccentric characters and the various vignettes in which they appear. Hail, Caesar! sports such a huge cast that most of them are relegated to just a few scenes, yet none are gratuitous cameos where we say, "Hey look! It's Jonah Hill!" No matter how brief their screen time, everyone disappears into their roles. I was especially amused by Channing Tatum's performance in what begins as a high-falutin' 50's era musical number, only to lapse into hilarious homoeroticism (the best scene in the entire film).

Channing doesn't appreciate this extra's brand of method acting.
Most importantly, Hail, Caesar! is very funny, though it helps if you have an appreciation for the Coens' brand of playfulness. The laughs come more from the overall tone, situations & characters (Clooney's facial expressions alone are worth the price of admission) than clever one-liners and punchlines. While it may not go down as one of their stone cold classics, Hail, Caesar! is sharply-written, unpredictable and full of laugh-out-loud moments. It's the Coen Brothers' most consistently amusing film since O Brother, Where Art Thou?.


February 1, 2016


Starring Nicholas Braun, Mackenzie Davis, Josh Fadem, Joan Cusack, Bob Odenkirk, Keegan-Michael Key, Ed Westwick, Patton Oswalt, Vanessa Hudgens, Denis Leary. Directed by Robbie Pickering. (2015, 92 min).

Sometimes patience is a virtue...

Freaks of Nature is the kind of horror comedy we've been getting a lot of lately: an outrageous premise, self-aware humor, over-the-top performances, cartoon-level gore and, of course, zombies. But not just zombies...vampires, werewolves and aliens are also thrown into the mix for a movie mash-up where we're certain screenwriter Oren Uziel gave himself a big, congratulatory attaboy for his own cleverness.

Indeed, during the first act, Freaks of Nature seems extremely impressed with itself. The premise - a small town where humans, vampires & zombies have managed to peacefully co-exist before aliens suddenly show up - is introduced in the prologue before flashing back to earlier that day. This is where we meet all the characters, mostly high school kids you’ve seen before: the insecure nerd, the dumb jock, the hunky stud, the high school slut, etc. A majority of the adult roles are filled out by the likes of Denis Leary, Joan Cusack, Keegan-Michael Key and Bob Odenkirk, but are little more than glorified cameos.

The first 30 minutes are terrible, more like a series of unfunny sketches created to showcase the comedic ‘names’ in the cast. From the dialogue to the performances, everything simply smacks of ‘look how goofy & outrageous this is!’ All those involved on both sides of the camera appear to be trying way too hard to make this film an instant cult classic.

But believe it or not, it gets better.

Black Friday at Walmart.

Once it dispenses with all the heavy-handed schtick, focusing on the story and three main characters, Freaks of Nature’s whacked-out premise actually becomes interesting, even funny at times, with several clever ideas and plot developments (like the notion that zombies regain more humanity & intelligence when they refrain from eating brains). Despite our first impression, we even start to like some of these characters enough to care about their fates once the fight against the aliens begins. And though it occasionally threatens to descend into pure parody, Freaks of Nature never quite crosses that line, which is a good thing. We've got enough of those anyway.

Ultimately, Freaks of Nature is worth checking out for fans of this kind of stuff. All you gotta do is suck-it-up and endure the blatantly-pandering first act. If you’re able to do that, you might find some of its rewards are worth the effort.


  • Gag Reel
  • Alternate Opening (which is actually better)
  • Deleted Scenes