Blu-ray Review - The Crimson Cult


1968's "The Crimson Cult" invests in a psychedelic atmosphere to help its rather routine story achieve a cinematic identity. Venturing into dreamscape encounters and kaleidoscopic visuals, the feature gets by on oddity and a striking use of color. "The Crimson Cult" also boasts a cast capable to attracting any horror fan's attention, with Christopher Lee sharing the screen with genre legend Boris Karloff, in one of the final screen appearances. While the overall effort doesn't exactly thrill, there's enough artistry and personality collected here to make it worth a look. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Report to the Commissioner


The hard, unforgiving streets of New York City receive frightening attention in 1975's "Report to the Commissioner," which plays like a hybrid of "Law & Order" and "Training Day." Procedural in tone, but prone to chaotic bursts of emotion and action, the feature manages dysfunction and paranoia satisfactorily, with director Milton Katselas ("Butterflies Are Free") developing an atmosphere of hostility that's pinched by police duty. Adapted from a novel, "Report to the Commissioner" plays like one, investigating unhinged people embarking on dangerous missions that push them to the limit and blur the lines of duty. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Cops and Robbers


Released 42 years ago, "Cops and Robbers" is just as relevant today as was back then. A tale of class envy wrapped up in a heist film, the feature has a hunger to explore the disparity between the haves and have-nots, setting out to address the drudgery of middle-class stasis with a mildly humorous script that emphasizes the thrill of robbery as it absorbs the sting of need. Leads Joseph Bologna and Cliff Gorman are pitch-perfect in their roles as exasperated cops looking for easy money on the wrong side of the law, but the true star of "Cops and Robbers" is director Aram Avakian, who displays a gift for timing and streetwise intensity that conjures a perfect motivation for the lead characters. It's funny work, but the movie is more persuasive as an examination of desperation tied to limited incomes, big dreams, and observation of an unfair world. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Harry in Your Pocket


In February, there was "Focus." Starring Will Smith and Margot Robbie, "Focus" endeavored to tell the story of a team of pickpockets coming up against the law, one another, and sexual temptation. Turns out, the picture was a little late to the party, with 1973's "Harry in Your Pocket" essentially covering the same dramatic terrain. Interestingly, both efforts are similarly flattened in the characterization department, trying to find sympathy with sincerely unpleasant people. "Harry in Your Pocket" is the stranger of the two features, attempting a melodramatic approach to the art of the steal, working to build a framework of personal tensions while still indulging a jaunty look at the methods of thievery, scored spiritedly by Lalo Schifrin. What should be lively fun is instead something of a drag, finding the screenplay cutting corners with personalities and the direction more invested in quick hands than lasting impressions. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Life on the Reef


Located off the coast of Australia, The Great Barrier Reef has been referred to as one of the natural wonders of the world, with its enormous size and fragility home to an array of creatures that help support a colossal tourism industry. The Reef is also a place to study man's impact on the Earth, with teams of scientists and nature workers laboring to discover inhabitants great and small, with hopes to understand migration and mating patterns. "Life on the Reef" is a three-part series that showcases daily activity around the Reef, and how such a place of beauty has changed over the years. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hard to Be a God


Co-writer/director Aleksey German passed away in 2013, just as he was putting the finishing touches on "Hard to Be a God." Illness shadowed his life in later years, with the filmmaker funneling what was left of his energy into an adaptation of a complex Russian novel, which took six years to shoot and another six to finish. A herculean effort has been put into the creation of "Hard to Be a God," and artful passion shines throughout this bewildering, intoxicating picture, which provides a unique test of viewer endurance for those interested in a challenge. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Vatican Tapes


Exorcism movies have been all the rage in recent years, with titles like “The Devil Inside,” “Deliver Us from Evil,” and “The Last Exorcism” scratching the itch some ticket-buyers have to see young women possessed by Satan, with clueless, powerless priests unable to draw evil out. “The Vatican Tapes” is yet another installment of embedded demon cinema, and it arrives without a gimmick, basically telling a blah exorcism story with some vague found-footage elements, laboring to summon the end of the world without anything memorable to work with. Dull and somewhat amateurish, “The Vatican Tapes” goes through the motions, working on vomiting and eeriness, but ends up nowhere in particular, with director Mark Neveldine unnervingly comfortable making something everyone has seen before. Read the rest at

Film Review - Pixels


“Pixels” began life as a 2010 short film from Patrick Jean, which detailed an alien invasion carried out by classic video game enemies, giving the director a chance to show off his skill with visual effects and love for arcade gaming. “Pixels” concludes its journey as a big-budget Adam Sandler comedy, which probably isn’t what Jean had in mind when he set out on this journey years ago. Sluggish comedy and tired Sandler-isms aside, the picture definitely has its moments of visual might, successfully translating Jean’s idea, just not his universe. Without Sandler, perhaps “Pixels” would’ve been spectacular. With the comedian slumped over in the starring role, the best the production can do is pay close attention to CGI nuances and gaming references, leaving the jokes to a guy who looks like he needs a nap these days. Read the rest at

Film Review - Southpaw


“Southpaw” is demanding to be experienced squarely in the gut. It’s not an intellectually stimulating picture, only an emotionally charged one, with everything the production has to offer poured into scenes where blood and tears flow, and dialogue pushed out of grinding teeth. Unfortunately, while such simplicity triggers visceral reactions, “Southpaw” can’t eye-bulge its way past a disappointing script that’s mostly about recycling moments from boxing cinema classics instead of inventing its own hero’s journey. The feature has a big heart and a tiny brain, and while I wouldn’t deny anyone the opportunity to lose themselves in juicy manipulation, it’s clear the production could’ve tried a little harder to make something significant instead helping itself to the towering pile of “Rocky” clichés. Read the rest at

Film Review - Unexpected


“Unexpected” initially presents itself as your average pregnancy dramedy, focusing on a 30-year-old woman confronted with the possibly of motherhood, refusing to let reality sink in. It doesn’t take long for co-writer/director Kris Swanberg to reveal her impatience with clichés, quickly moving past shock to mine the emotional depths of potential parenthood. “Unexpected” soon finds a plot, but it’s rather remarkable with silences, with Swanberg permitting the movie a chance to observe the lead character’s whirring mind without pausing for formula, depicting the enormity of the challenge ahead in a natural, honest manner, delivering encouraging depth and emotional nuance to the picture. Read the rest at

Film Review - Paper Towns


Last summer, “The Fault in Our Stars” managed to break out of the blockbuster stranglehold and become a sizable hit. Adapted from the novel by John Green, the feature had heart and youth on its side, with a largely teenage audience driving ticket sales. Hoping to continue this profitable union, Hollywood reaches back into Green’s career to find “Paper Towns,” a novel published in 2008. While not even remotely close to the emotional volatility of “Stars,” “Paper Towns” does proudly wear Green’s fingerprints, playing directly to a younger audience while maintaining the perspective of its thirtysomething author, emerging with a certain degree of honesty about the teen experience that’s largely cloaked in quirk and thematic indecision. Read the rest at

Film Review - Phoenix


Building a Scorsese/De Niro-style relationship of fruitful collaboration, director Christian Petzold and actress Nina Hoss continue their successful ways with “Phoenix,” a modest but highly charged drama set in post-WWII Berlin. Their fifth feature together (with credits that include “Yella” and “Barbara”), the team creates another squeeze of longing and loss, this time employing slight noir-ish qualities that develop the screenplay’s central theme of identity. However, “Phoenix” isn’t stylish escapism, but a psychological drama that touches on betrayal in the aftermath of incalculable tragedy, finding Petzold in command of mood and reveals, while Hoss delivers exemplary work in the lead role. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Bank Shot


While George C. Scott was already a respected actor who consistently worked in Hollywood, his post-"Patton" run of pictures reads like a to-do list of genres and career opportunities that couldn't be passed up. After famously refusing at accept the Academy Award for his turn as the iconic WWII general, Scott was transformed into a bankable star, filling the 1970s with oddball career choices, perhaps to keep himself (a notoriously humorless man) entertained. One of the silliest professional detours is 1974's "Bank Shot," which is actually an adaptation of a Donald E. Westlake novel, with the central character John Dortmunder transformed into Walter Upjohn Ballentine, set loose in a bank caper that's all about broad antics. "Bank Shot" is a strange update of classic comedies from the 1930s, with a sizable cast supporting Scott as he strives to play weird as quietly as possible, letting the rest of the feature lose itself to periodic chaos and exaggerated performances. The film doesn't always come together as a hilarious joyride of colliding personalities, but it does find occasional inspiration, especially when it explores its snappy timing in full. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Crimson Field


Produced by the BBC, "The Crimson Field" is a hospital drama set during World War I. It's a time period popular to costume dramas right now (both "Downton Abbey" and "Mr. Selfridge" have set seasons during these volatile years), giving the show a boost of confidence as it strives to create a riveting depiction of wartime strife, romance, and uneasy camaraderie. It's a surefire formula that somehow eludes the production, which spends six episodes with uninspired characters caught in the middle of tedious conflicts, barely using the potential of the premise. Instead of WWI intensity and passion, "The Crimson Field" sticks closely to melodrama to best comfort its audience, yet the writing doesn't dream up heated adversity, instead paging through familiar beats of longing and secretive behavior that never quite adds up to anything compelling. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Scooby-Doo! and KISS: Rock and Roll Mystery


The band KISS doesn't have a particularly encouraging history with theme park mysteries. In 1978, the group starred in "KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park," a fantastically ridiculous television movie that attempted to rebrand the creatures of the night as comic book heroes, with their shared superpower apparently being complete acting inability. Decades have passed, blockbuster tours have rocked the world, and KISS has finally found a place of professional stability. Returning to the hero realm, the unit has teamed up with cartoon legends for "Scooby-Doo! And KISS: Rock and Roll Mystery," which brings back the roller coasters, the themed property, and underground evildoing from an enigmatic villain. Wisely avoiding a live-action extravaganza, KISS makes a fine transition to animation, contributing songs, one-liners, and artful spectacle as the musicians befriend a talking dog and his sleuthing friends for an adventure that travels through space and devours churros, making theme parks safe again for highly decorated rock bands. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Sugar Hill


Paul Maslansky is perhaps best known for producing the "Police Academy" franchise, helping to guide the series through numerous film and television incarnations, keeping the slapstick alive even to this day, with threats of a remake popping up on a yearly basis. He only directed one movie during a lengthy career, the 1974 blacksploitation effort, "Sugar Hill," challenging his early years producing Euro horror pictures to help create one of few black-centric zombie features. As a novelty, "Sugar Hill" is acceptable, highlighting strange happenings with silver-eyed undead soldiers under the command of a woman seeking revenge for the death of her boyfriend. As an endeavor with dramatic purpose, the effort lacks gusto, with concentration on ghoulish murders pulling attention away from pace and excitement. Read the rest at

Film Review - Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser


It may be hard to believe, but the original “Joe Dirt” was released all the way back in 2001, a time when movie theaters were open to the idea of running a comedy starring David Spade. Now there’s “Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser,” which took its sweet time to arrive on the scene, though it’s trading a theatrical release for an internet streaming debut, giving away the sequel for free. Despite such an enticing price tag, the follow-up remains overpriced, with Spade and co-writer/director Fred Wolf hitting rock bottom with this cheap, unimaginative effort. Not that the first feature was an example of comic timing and good taste, but the depths of laziness reached in “Joe Dirt 2” are genuinely shocking at times. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened?


Long before Hollywood immersed itself completely in comic book movies and geek culture, such big screen extravaganzas were few and far between. In the mid-1990s, Batman was really the only game in town, recently flexing box office muscle with “Batman Forever,” which pushed Tim Burton’s franchise down a brighter path of audience engagement, refreshing monetary potential. In the moments before “Batman & Robin” popped the superhero bubble, Warner Brothers was ready to revive another caped crusader for mass consumption: Superman. After burning through its own series of blockbusters, Superman was ready for a facelift, finding producer Jon Peters and the powers that be ready to return to Burton for another radical reworking of known elements. The picture was “Superman Lives,” and it never made it into production. Read the rest at