Blu-ray Review - I Wake Up Screaming


Film noir gets a routine workout in 1941's "I Wake Up Screaming," which pours all the energy it has into the construction of style. It's a striking picture, and one that's always more interesting to watch than decode, finding its tale of murder and false accusations a little mundane compared to the feature's visual depth, orchestrated by director H. Bruce Humberstone and cinematographer Edward Cronjager. "I Wake Up Screaming" doesn't rattle the senses with its presentation of paranoia, but it seizes the highlights of the subgenre, giving fans a comfortable return to dynamic lighting, panicked characterizations, and police intimidation. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Majorettes


Usually slasher entertainment enjoys being slasher entertainment. It wears its blood, guts, and misogyny like a badge, proudly entering the world as a violent diversion for fans who appreciate the art of the scare and the visual power of masked madmen. 1987's "The Majorettes" almost seems embarrassed to be following slasher formula, eventually giving up the quest in the feature's third act to become a different style of B-movie mayhem. Perhaps this is an attempt to experiment with genre expectation, finding "Night of the Living Dead" collaborators Bill Hinzman (who directs) and John A. Russo (who scripts, adapting his own novel) ready to disturb expectations after fulfilling them for a solid hour of stalking and stabbing. "The Majorettes" isn't a trainwreck, but it's a highly flawed chiller with confusing structure, which helps to apply the brakes on a picture that rarely appears interested in creating a snowballing sense of terror. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Nightmare Sisters


Feeling the urge to bang out another feature after working on a series of B-movies such as "Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama," director David DeCoteau decided to challenge himself with a Corman-esque task. Instead of developing a film from the ground up, DeCoteau simply raided the materials he had access too, partnering with writer Kenneth J. Hall to create 1988's "Nightmare Sisters," which was shot over four days, working with a screenplay that was crafted in a week. Armed with short ends, a cheap 35mm camera, leftover props, and a working relationship with lead actresses Michelle Bauer, Linnea Quigley, and Brinke Stevens, DeCoteau set out to make a cheapie horror romp with broad comedy and ample nudity. Keep those standards in mind, and "Nightmare Sisters" is a triumphant achievement of limited creative goals, watching the cast and crew pull off an amazingly accomplished effort in next to no time, while still managing to include some laughs and pleasing oddity in what's essentially a rush job to feed the once ravenous home video market beast. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend


The penultimate feature for the master filmmaker Preston Sturges ("Sullivan's Travels," "Hail the Conquering Hero"), 1949's "The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend" is a curious trifle from the helmer. Toying with western traditions and musical enhancements, Sturges (who also scripts) tries to make a farce out of gunslinger antics and concealed identities, embracing longstanding career interests. However, size tends to get in the production's way, with Sturges juggling a wild tonality that moves the picture from broad slapstick to more intimate concerns. "Bashful Bend" has the saving grace of being short (76 minutes in length), which helps to digest its intermittent oddity and lack of focus. Read the rest at

Film Review - Incarnate


Filling in an empty slot during a release weekend that’s generally regarded at the worst of the film year, it’s up to “Incarnate” to thrill audiences with its take on demonic possession and the spiritual heroes sent in to challenge evil. Shot three years ago, it’s little surprise that the movie is a dud, but it’s not an aggressive disaster, just a poorly assembled effort that looks like it was re-edited dozens of times, with the final cut less about being functional genre entertainment and more about being done. A low-budget chiller that doesn’t really have any detectable scares, “Incarnate” is a Thanksgiving turkey put out for display a week late, trying to suck up as much single-weekend cash as it can before word spreads that it’s completely forgettable. Read the rest at

Film Review - SiREN


The “V/H/S” franchise wore out its welcome after the first film, but “Siren” (stylized “SiREN” for some reason) is determined to keep it going. It’s a feature-length adaptation of “Amateur Night,” a segment from the original “V/H/S,” though writer/director David Bruckner doesn’t return, with helming duties passed over to Gregg Bishop, the “Dance of the Dead” moviemaker who also contributed a short to “V/H/S: Viral.” It’s a small world with horror directors, but as transitions of power go, Bishop does an adequate job with “Siren,” joining screenwriters Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski to expand a thin concept of monstrous seduction, keeping levels of sex and violence high enough to forgive stretches of padding needed to beef up material that originated as a 15 minute blast of shaky cam and screaming.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Nerdland


“Nerdland” doesn’t add anything new to the study of Hollywood as an empty shell of humanity, where aspiring entertainment business professionals race to the bottom, believing that degradation might invite the bright light of fame into their lives. However, the production does have a screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker, who two decades ago stunned the world with “Seven,” and now boasts a sporadic enough filmography to suggest he knows a thing or two about industry disappointment. It’s an animated feature from director Chris Prynoski, who doesn’t have much of a budget, but he offers a bizarre visual design for “Nerdland,” working to support Walker’s tale of desperation with cartoon magnification, trying to turn a universal idea on the hunger to be noticed into a funhouse journey of strange characters and macabre events. Read the rest at

Film Review - Man Down


A decade ago, writer/director Dito Montiel arrived on the scene with “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints,” a personal indie creation that managed to attract enough attention to gift the filmmaker a career. His subsequent endeavors have attempted to replicate his first feature’s raw energy, with most failing to be engrossing or enlightening, often tripped up by poor helming decisions and Montiel’s addiction to melodrama. He hasn’t been the most inspiring architect of blood-on-the-lens dramas, with his work generally more about passion than quality. “Man Down” joins Montiel’s growing list of disappointments, taking a cheap, borderline reckless look at the state of PTSD in military veterans, using such pained alienation and madness to inspire an aimless story of self-sacrifice, with Montiel hoping to educate and horrify. Read the rest at

Film Review - Run the Tide


Ever since he completed work on the “Twilight” franchise, actor Taylor Lautner has encountered difficulty finding a career direction that allows him to break away from his enduring legacy as a lonesome werewolf. He’s tried comedy (“Grown Ups 2,” “The Ridiculous Six”) and actioners (“Tracers,” “Abduction”), but nothing has stuck. With “Run the Tide,” Lautner elects to go inward, toplining a domestic disturbance drama that allows him plenty of room to emote, taking an opportunity to showcase other sides of his screen presence. Perhaps a leading man career is not meant to be for Lautner, but “Run the Tide” is easily the best work he’s done to date, handling himself adequately as screenwriter Rajiv Shah checks off every cliché in the book, making it nearly impossible for the movie to find a place of authentic ache. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Eyes of My Mother


“The Eyes of My Mother” is the debut feature for writer/director Nicolas Pesce, and it’s quite the introduction. It’s a spare chiller that treats perversion and murder almost casually, managing to unnerve through distance, showcasing the young filmmaker’s interest in slow-burn storytelling and mystery, with the feature taking its sweet time to play out in full. Visually, it’s stunning, using black and white cinematography to unsettle as it depicts grotesque body horrors and the daily routine of demented individuals, with Pesce attentive to scenes where the unthinkable becomes mundane to the characters. “The Eyes of My Mother” is gruesome and macabre, but it’s also powerful work, following through on a vision for psychosis with welcome brevity and a weirdly compelling, periodically loathsome fondness for the unpleasant. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Infiltrator


"The Infiltrator" has all the elements of a classic undercover cop story, including a conflicted protagonist, a Floridian setting, and a secretive world of drug dealing. It presents a true-life tale that offers fascinating characters and heated showdowns, yet director Brad Furman doesn't quite know if he wants the picture to be a sincere study of a lawman's loss of self or a ridiculously overcooked crime tale with a few operatic extremes. "The Infiltrator" is unsatisfying and weirdly absurd at times, but it's not a complete blunder, blessed with a cast that's capable of finding nuances in the moment, bringing friendships and antagonisms to life in a way that Furman is incapable of doing on his own. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hobgoblins


The blockbuster success of 1984's "Gremlins" inspired an enormous amount of imitators, especially in the world of no-budget filmmaking. Titles like "Critters," "Ghoulies," and "Munchies" come to mind, each with a special interest in raising creature feature hell without spending the money necessary to do it in style. 1988's "Hobgoblins" is arguably the worst of the bunch, with writer/director Rick Sloane barely trying to make something special out of the titular menace. Instead of establishing a little monster mayhem, Sloane tries to make a camp classic featuring occasional appearances from furry demons, mostly relying on his cast to conjure up wackiness to pad the picture's run time. "Hobgoblins" isn't funny, but it does provide a slightly different take on the "Gremlins" formula, and Sloane's periodic production recklessness is something to behold. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Cabo Blanco


When one considers the possibilities of a "Casablanca" knockoff, especially one from 1980, a list of potential actors comes to mind for the Humphrey Bogart role. Men like Paul Newman and Robert Redford, maybe even Harrison Ford, who was fresh to fortune and glory at the time. But "Cabo Blanco" (the full title is apparently "Cabo Blanco…Where Legends are Born") doesn't go that route, electing to hire Charles Bronson for the role of a roguish charmer trying to manage the pains of love with the dangers of his community. It's an oddball casting choice, but "Cabo Blanco" doesn't meet many expectations, preferring to mix a "Casablanca" homage with a treasure hunt adventure, surrounding the star with an eclectic mix of prime talent and those relatively new to the English language. Expectedly, the movie fails to inspire anything approaching romance or excitement, but director J. Lee Thompson doesn't tank the effort on purpose, earnestly trying to craft a thrilling tale of mystery in an exotic locale, trusting the natural beauty of the land will be enough to cover for the feature's substantial deficiencies. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Wolf Lake


1980's "Wolf Lake" hopes to be incendiary work, pitting the World War II generation against the realities of the Vietnam War. It's a grandpas-gone-mad movie that tends to think it's more profound than it actually is, denying the reality of its exploitation elements. Director Burt Kennedy ("Suburban Commando") does a fine job taking the action to the middle of nowhere, and for those who enjoy the ability to view a film performance from space, there's Rod Steiger in the lead role, working himself up into a frenzy as he portrays a member of the greatest generation ready to gun down an example of America's failure. "Wolf Lake" is more odd than suspenseful, but it's certainly something that might appeal to those who value a straightforward summary of hostilities. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bad Santa 2


2003’s “Bad Santa” had better timing than creative instincts, released during a period when moviegoers were hungry from something off-beat and decidedly R-rated, going after the sacred holiday of Christmas with nothing but simple characterization and pure vulgarity. It managed to make some money, while its video release secured a cult following. However, a sequel wasn’t necessary, and the producers certainly took their time to create one, battling legal issues and screenwriting blues to bang out another criminal adventure for Willie Soke and his pronounced misanthropy. “Bad Santa 2” isn’t the follow-up fans have earned, but it’s one they probably deserve, watching the production misjudge what made the first picture so popular, putting all emphasis on crude dialogue and antics, almost forgetting there should be an actual film underneath its scummy top layer. Read the rest at

Film Review - Moana


In a year where Walt Disney Animation already launched one of its top grossing movies of all time (last spring’s “Zootopia”), “Moana” is the icing on the corporate cake. Settling back into a musical groove that hasn’t been explored since 2013’s “Frozen,” the company tries to restore a little of their old big screen magic with this tale of high adventure in the South Pacific. There are so many treats to unwrap in “Moana,” it feels like a packed effort, with “Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin” helmers Ron Clements and John Musker creating a wonderful bigness to the picture, while also tending to its heart. Traditional dramatic arcs remain to secure audience comfort, but it feels like a fresh, alive film, giving the studio another lasting creative success. Read the rest at

Film Review - Rules Don't Apply


Warren Beatty was never one to consistently work, compelled to grindout pictures to feed his fame and please the studios. However, it’s been 15 years since he was last seen onscreen, trying to make the best of a bad situation in 2001’s “Town & Country.” Finally ready to return to his professional life, Beatty takes command of “Rules Don’t Apply,” which takes a fictionalized look at the instability of Howard Hughes through the perspective of two young characters trying to make sense of life and love. Writing and directing the feature, Beatty goes all-in with this oddball endeavor, which does a successful job summarizing the star’s screen interests in controlled chaos and dark humor. “Rules Don’t Apply” is messy work, but it’s also distinctive, carrying the unmistakable Beatty energy that once beguiled audiences everywhere.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Allied


After taking cinema to literal heights with last year’s 3D experience, “The Walk,” director Robert Zemeckis returns to Earth with “Allied,” an unexpectedly moderate espionage thriller from a helmer known for his love of big screen mischief. Technical wizardry remains in the picture, but Zemeckis is respectful of Steven Knight’s screenplay, which takes a chilling look at the vows of marriage and the mercilessness of war. “Allied” has its thrills and spills, and its command of WWII visuals is superb, keeping period mood a supporting character. It’s not the most thrilling feature, going slow-burn to maintain as many secrets as it can. The reward for such patience is an effective mystery with a very strong sense of sexuality and romance, working to redefine wartime warmth with a hearty dose of paranoia. Read the rest at