Blu-ray Review - Crypt of the Living Dead


1973's "Crypt of the Living Dead" (billed as "Hannah, Queen of the Vampires") isn't about coloring outside the lines when it comes to horror entertainment. It's a formulaic exercise in terror, focusing on bad ideas masterminded by curious characters, and the production isn't big on editing the picture into a sharply paced event. It's glacial, padded up the wazoo, but with lowered expectations, "Crypt of the Living Dead" isn't necessarily a waste of time. In fact, during select scenes, it works, managing to find enough atmosphere and weirdo interactions to keep the spirit of the effort awake, even when the rest of the film wants to lie down for a nap. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - House of the Living Dead


1974's "House of the Living Dead" (aka "Curse of the Dead") is a period piece about madness and murder, though it teases more visceral events early on, where the audience is treated to medical experimentation on a sedated baboon. What initially appears unsettling and possibly irresponsible soon transforms into a static genre picture that's more the silent treatment than blossoming into a roaring ghost story. "House of the Living Dead" has oddity, but there's not a suspenseful moment in the entire film, watching director Ray Austin feel around in the dark for a grim mystery that's never even remotely achieved. Read the rest at

Film Review - Elimination Game


1982’s “Turkey Shoot” (aka “Escape 2000”) isn’t a widely known Australian production, but in cult circles, it’s received its share of accolades. The Brian Trenchard-Smith picture is a violent reworking of “The Most Dangerous Game,” with heavy exploitation influences to stretch its modest budget. “Elimination Game” (aka “Turkey Shoot”) is the inevitable remake, yet co-writer/director Jon Hewitt doesn’t offer complete replication, instead pulling most of his ideas from “The Running Man.” What should be a rollicking bullet train of big screen excess is instead an amateurish, borderline incoherent actioner starring Dominic Purcell, whose dead eyes and stiff physicality is perhaps the most telling aspect of this bumbling reheat. Read the rest at

Film Review - Terminator Genisys


“Terminator Genisys” is the cinematic equivalent of untangling Christmas lights. Facing the need to restart the franchise after the last chapter, 2009’s “Terminator Salvation,” was deservedly met with low box office returns and audience derision, the new picture sets out to clear a different path for the moneymaking brand name. Returning Arnold Schwarzenegger to the series after a one film break, “Terminator Genisys” hopes to march forward by dealing with the past, returning to old big screen stomping grounds to give viewers a sense of familiarity before launching a fresh round of sequels with a slightly differently mission. It’s baffling work, but the “Terminator” sequels were never great about storytelling clarity. Instead, the production braids exhaustive amounts of exposition with slam-bang action sequences, trusting the sound and light show will soften brains looking to make sense of this cat’s cradle of timelines. Read the rest at

Film Review - Magic Mike XXL

MAGIC MIKE XXL Channing Tatum

Released in the summer of 2012, “Magic Mike” became a phenomenon. A movie about male strippers caught up in emotional turmoil and stunted creative expression, the picture was instead largely accepted as a celebration of beefcake, with director Steven Soderbergh’s indie film mope and melodrama mostly ignored by the feature’s target demographic. “Magic Mike XXL” is the sequel, arriving with full awareness of what audiences didn’t care for the first time around. Hindsight is strong with this one, losing unwelcome actors and, well, a story, to fashion a playground for the fit stars of the show. Fans of stripping routines and shirtlessness will surely feel sated by “Magic Mike XXL.” Those in the mood for substance and measured dialogue should hunt for more interesting exploitation elsewhere. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Overnight


“The Overnight” is executive produced by the Duplass Brothers, which is a concise way to describe the comedic atmosphere of the movie. Playing with a casual, hand-held, semi-improvised approach, the picture attacks a central question of marital bliss from odd angles. What could be a gauzy drag featuring busy performances is instead absolutely hilarious, winningly acted, and surprisingly wise about the needs of marital partners when locked in a long term relationship. Playing discomfort with grace, “The Overnight” is a sneaky but uproarious odyssey into neuroses and sexual gamesmanship, retaining a human perspective as it samples wily comedic situations. Read the rest at

Film Review - Infinitely Polar Bear


Although the picture is credited to Maya Forbes, co-screenwriter of lackluster fare like “The Rocker” and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days,” “Infinitely Polar Bear” proves to be a creative success for the debuting director. Drawing from her own experiences with a bipolar parent, Forbes finds a sense of authenticity to the work that does wonders to even out its sense of bruised whimsy. “Infinitely Polar Bear” is more of an understanding of mental health issues than a true dissection of unwieldy behavior, but Forbes keeps the feature together with a sense of humor, interest in darkness, and an understanding of adolescent emotion, packaging a light but sincere story of maturity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jimmy's Hall


While director Ken Loach is a respected filmmaker with decades of cinematic achievements, his efforts typically favor stories of the downtrodden facing extinction, maintaining a career that’s primarily focused on those without means gradually consumed by their lowly position. “Jimmy’s Hall” joins the cluster of pain without protest, though it remains a more heartfelt examination of adversity than Loach typically offers. An Irish tale of religious oppression and romantic longing, “Jimmy’s Hall” is an unexpectedly illuminated feature from Loach, who isolates a range of emotions and impulses that deepen characterization, making the battle of freedom presented here all the more meaningful. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jackie & Ryan


The healing power of music receives a revival in “Jackie & Ryan.” A low-key romance with deep-seated anxiety issues, the feature comes from writer/director Ami Canaan Mann, who made a splash a few years ago with the lauded but little seen “Texas Killing Fields.” Inching away from murder and paranoia to play softly with the troubles of average folk, Mann fashions a tender, understanding picture that attempts to evade formula through unexpected acts of kindness. “Jackie & Ryan” isn’t profound work, but it carries real heart and private moments of panic, emerging as a character study with a folk music core, matching the bond of stage performance with emotional unions found in everyday life. Read the rest at

Film Review - About Elly


Writer/director Asghar Farhadi received global recognition for his 2011 feature, “A Separation.” Following it up with 2013’s “The Past,” Farhadi solidified a reputation for searing character dramas infused with shocking turns of fate. While the world waits for his next effort, American distributor The Cinema Guild has elected to find work from his past to share with hungry audiences. “About Elly” was first released in 2009, but its themes of deception and desperation remain relevant today, submitting a story of secrets and lies that builds with harrowing tension, detailing Farhadi’s expert eye with casting and his ability to snowball harmless intentions into life-destroying events. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Li'l Quinquin


"Li'l Quinquin" is the latest release from writer/director Bruno Dumont, the helmer of "Humanite" and "Twentynine Palms." Digging deep into his reservoir of absurdity, the filmmaker offers an extended journey into weirdness and stasis with "Li'l Quinquin," which braids a serial killer saga with police procedural events and slapstick comedy, taking a whopping 206 minutes of screentime to figure out which end is up. It's a long adventure into the black heart of rural France, leaving the movie strictly for those who embrace the challenge of cinematic discovery and appreciate humor so subtle, it's practically indistinguishable. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Poldark


"Poldark" isn't simply emerging from out of nowhere. Adapted from the literary series by Winston Graham, which already inspired a 1975 television series, the brand name is well known for its depiction of tragedy and heroism, and for its critique of class divide. With "Downton Abbey" currently working on its final season, now is the time for "Poldark" to rise. While the two shows don't have much in common, the producers of the new series have made sure to provide some familiarity, delving into the period piece with a plan to celebrate far-off locations, forbidden love, financial horrors, and a dashing leading man in Aidan Turner. What should be a slam-dunk of churning emotions is instead quite tedious at times, with a strange concentration on repetition and padding that's meant to fill eight hours of entertainment. Truthfully, there isn't enough incident to keep the effort alert. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - An Eye for an Eye


The year is 1981, and at this point in the career of martial art superstar Chuck Norris, things were looking promising. Developing his big screen brand name with a string of actioners in the late 1970s, Norris graduated to more streetwise entertainment in the early 1980s, widening his appeal in the pre-beard days, when all heroism required were a pair of tight jeans and a Members Only jacket. "An Eye for an Eye" is Norris's move to Steve McQueen territory, put into the driver's seat for this revenge thriller, mixing broad kick-happy confrontations with dour investigative movements. Amusement remains with the picture's concentration on exaggerated performances and waves of dim-witted baddies, and while "An Eye for an Eye" isn't a shining example of the genre or even Norris, it remains perfectly approachable, with a satisfying level of violence and squinty acts of intimidation to make the run time fly by. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Boys in the Band


Making its big screen debut in 1970, years after its success on stage, "The Boys in the Band" carried a heavy responsibility. Largely credited as the first breakout hit of gay cinema, the picture is a crowded, argumentative ride of emotions, masterminded by playwright Mart Crowley. Setting out to create a gathering of men who defy and participate in stereotype, working to move past appearances and inspect pure behavior, Crowley creates a loving portrait of instability. "The Boys in the Band" is raw, catty, and sincere, shedding its theatrical origins thanks to smart direction from William Friedkin. Read the rest at

Film Review - Max


“Max” arrives with noble intentions, out to publicize the efforts of military working dogs, who sacrifice and suffer alongside their human handlers. There’s a riveting picture to be made about this subject, digging into canine psychology as it’s hit with the development of post-traumatic stress syndrome. Frustratingly, the screenplay for “Max” doesn’t go anywhere near such compassion, instead ordering up a glorified “Scooby-Doo” episode that takes violent turns and it shuffles away from its original intent. This is not a good film, with weak acting and worse direction, but what makes the feature a true spirit-crusher is how badly it botches an original perspective, trading valuable veteran insight for cliché. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ted 2

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“Ted” emerged from out of nowhere to become one of the top grossing pictures of 2012. Little was expected of a talking bear comedy co-starring Mark Wahlberg, but co-writer/director Seth MacFarlane delivered a brew of smut and sweetness that was big on laughs. “Ted 2” isn’t a radical change of direction for the new franchise, but the production seems intent on preserving a plot for the sequel, trying to give the feature dramatic heft as it also stages gags involving marijuana, tipped cups of semen, and a ceramic penis bong. MacFarlane hasn’t grown up, but “Ted 2” delivers on its limited ambition, finding something for the bear and his bro to do while the helmer adds more of his fetishes and obsessions to the overstuffed follow-up. Read the rest at

Film Review - Testament of Youth


Although “Testament of Youth” is based on Vera Brittain’s best-selling memoir about her time in World War I, it still feels utterly surprising. History and romance collide in this sensational drama, which manages to capture the wonders of attraction and the brutality of war without giving in to overt manipulation. Screenwriter Juliette Towhidi wisely shows restraint when necessary, but she also explores passions in an epic manner, confidently managing tragedy and fantasy as she depicts the maturation of a special young woman. Director James Kent also displays certainty, avoiding a PBS glaze of wartime events to cut straight to the needs of the heart and the expansion of the mind. Read the rest at

Film Review - Balls Out


The title “Balls Out” is a turn-off, promising a crude and crummy sports comedy that’s in a dispiriting pun-happy mood. It takes some work to get past it (there’s a wretched Seann William Scott tennis comedy from 2009 with the same title), but it’s worth the effort, as this “Balls Out” is a smarter, sharper take on self-aware sports cinema, finding a healthy balance between razzing the genre and celebrating its pleasures. It’s also a periodically hilarious picture with an amiable sense of humor, eased along by an enthusiastic cast who’ve come to play, giving the feature a special spin of silliness. Read the rest at

Film Review - Big Game


“Big Game” is a throwback to a time in the world film market when studios would happily put pictures featuring heroic kids into production. Examples remain today, but it’s not as pervasive a plot as it once was, with animated antics taking over for live-action offerings aimed at pre-teens. From the writer/director of the sneaky evil Santa Claus effort, “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale,” “Big Game” is a refreshingly short but enormously entertaining actioner that toys with cliché, but primarily gets by on explosive antics, trying to generate a Joel Silver mood in the middle of Finland. It’s far from original, but helmer Jalmari Helander successfully simulates the spirit of high-octane adventure for the PG-13 crowd. Read the rest at