Blu-ray Review - Back in Time


2015 is shaping up to be a big year for the "Back to the Future" franchise. Not only is the original film celebrating its 30th anniversary, but fans were recently treated to trilogy screenings around America theaters to help explore the wild future world of 2015, as created by 1989's "Back to the Future: Part II." Helping to goose excitement for the brand name is "Back in Time," a documentary directed by Jason Aron that sets out to understand the depth of love for the movie series, paying special attention to its influence on pop culture, collection, and engineering. It's an uneven ride, but Aron gets the basics right, diving into an abyssal corner of cinematic obsession to understand creative appeal and inspiration, managing major "gets" with an impressive roster of interviewees, most willing to share memories and impart wisdom concerning the construction and impact of the time-traveling comedies. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Heart of Midnight


1988's "Heart of Midnight" aspires to be a David Lynch-style journey into the abyss of madness, ornamented with abstract and symbolic visuals, while performances generally float on impulse, not interested in dramatic distance. Writer/director Matthew Chapman is ambitious with the feature, slathering it with strange sights and violent sexuality, attempting to tap into something primal and surreal. However, to secure such a hazy environment, Chapman requires a precise understanding of story, and that's the one thing missing from the effort. All the weirdness and hostility in the world can't pull "Heart of Midnight" out of its slumber, with Chapman more connected to the execution of select scenes than the construction of a larger behavioral puzzle, providing more questions than answers in this frustrating picture. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - A Bullet for Joey


Movie marketing is a tricky thing. Studios will often promise filmgoing experiences that sometimes do not exist, emphasizing exploitative elements that only factor into the feature for a few minutes at best. It's a game of deception that's common, with 1955's "A Bullet for Joey" a prime example of promotion that has little to do with the actual picture. Taglines scream "Loaded with Brute Force" and "Explodes with Violence," but no heated escalation is found in "A Bullet for Joey," which primarily concentrates on tightly suited men discussing crime with other tightly suited men. Shoot-outs and antagonisms merely make cameo appearances. Read the rest at

Film Review - Secret in Their Eyes


Writer/director Billy Ray (“Breach,” “Shattered Glass”) is asking for trouble with “Secret in Their Eyes.” A remake of a terrific 2009 Argentinean film, the update has the impossible task of domesticating material that was best served in its native country, which offered twists, turns, and memorable locations. The new “Secret in Their Eyes” is a flatter, blunter object, laboring to recreate the same Double Dutch routine of mixed timelines and pained lives, brightened considerably by periodic surges of suspense. Ray doesn’t completely wipe out, but inertia is the feature’s greatest enemy, somehow conjuring monotony when handling a fairly eventful story. Read the rest at

Film Review - Brooklyn


“Brooklyn” shares an old-fashioned story of love and personal awakening. It’s a simple tale with complex but relatable emotions, sold expertly by director John Crowley (“Intermission”) and screenwriter Nick Hornby (“High Fidelity,” “Wild”), who respect the classic cinema tempo of the material, laboring to realize a level of innocence that’s rarely attempted anymore. “Brooklyn” is lovely work, sensitive and evocative, always downplaying the potential for melodrama to find the truth of the moment. Moviegoers often caught complaining that “they don’t make ‘em like they used to” should make attendance a priority, as failure to support such endearing, achingly human filmmaking only hastens its obsolescence. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2


“The Hunger Games” pulled a “Harry Potter” last year when it decided to maximize profits and split the final book in the Suzanne Collins series, “Mockingjay,” into two pictures. When “Part 1” was released last year, there was a noticeable dip in screen enthusiasm, finding momentum that was established in 2013’s “Catching Fire” erased due to heavy amounts of exposition and a general throttling of urgency to help fill two sequels. “Part 1” was a disappointment, one-note and dull, but it did promise a war zone grand finale to send the franchise off on a high note. “Mockingjay – Part 2” is finally here, and, bizarrely, it’s nearly as inert as its predecessor, once again straining futilely to transform a wafer-thin story into a nearly five hour viewing experience when paired with “Part 1.” Read the rest at

Film Review - The Night Before


Coming down from their world-rattling attempt to make fun of North Korea with “The Interview,” co-writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg set their sights on the holiday season with “The Night Before.” Obviously, with this duo guiding the mischief (along with Ariel Shaffir and Jonathan Levine, who also directs), warm, cuddly feelings of Christmas cheer aren’t on the menu, but this rowdy, drug-laden comedy certainly tries to remain meaningful as it attempts to make a worthy big screen mess. Funny in fits and perhaps too obsessed with maintaining character, “The Night Before” isn’t quite the guns blazing comedy it could’ve been, but there are more hit than misses as Rogen and Goldberg return to their happy place of cursing, bodily fluids, and celebrity cameos. Read the rest at

Film Review - By the Sea


With “Unbroken” and “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” Angelina Jolie Pitt has shared a fascination with human endurance. Depicting wars, horrors, and cruelties, she’s never been one to detail the joy of life, only coming across such an epiphany by accident. With “By the Sea,” Jolie Pitt returns to direct herself and real-world husband Brad Pitt in a tale of complete and utter anguish, staying within her comfort zone with this throwback effort to intimate tales of self-destruction from the 1970s. “By the Sea” is a vanity film, but not completely without merit. When it isn’t permissive with performances and indulgent with its run time, the picture has a few insightful ideas to share about loss and marital strife, but it takes considerable work to find such wisdom. Read the rest at

Film Review - Criminal Activities


While Quentin Tarantino continues his exploration of the western in this holiday’s “The Hateful Eight,” director Jackie Earle Haley and screenwriter Robert Lowell keep the old Tarantino spirit alive in “Criminal Activities.” A mixture of violence, comedy, and loquaciousness, the picture is reminiscent of the many knockoffs that found release after “Pulp Fiction” became a phenomenon, handled with a buzzing energy by Haley, who makes his helming debut with the feature after managing an acting career for the last four decades. While it all plays very familiar, “Criminal Activities” has a few creative moves of its own, finding the production trying to nail down a special rhythm to all the conventional intimidation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Man Up


The last time actor Simon Pegg decided he wanted to warm up his image, it resulted in 2014’s particularly unpleasant “Hector and the Search for Happiness,” which actually made the jovial performer come across unappealing, suggesting that perhaps tales of love were not his forte. “Man Up” is a decent enough rebound for Pegg, who teams with Lake Bell for a lively adventure through misunderstanding and silliness. It’s definitely not Pegg’s finest professional hour, but as fizzy romantic comedies go, “Man Up” has its share of surprises and enthusiasm for the material, maintaining an effort to disrupt the subgenre routine with speed and a great deal of mischief. Read the rest at

Film Review - I Am Thor

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Following the footsteps of “Anvil: The Story of Anvil,” “I Am Thor” looks to locate another overlooked member of the heavy metal community who’s interested in a comeback. The documentary surveys the life and times of Jon Mikl Thor, a once mighty bodybuilder who rode his physique to the heavy metal middle in the 1980s, blending superhero theatricality and blazing riffs to wow audiences. He was also the star of junk drawer cinema classics such as “Zombie Nightmare” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare,” creating an image as a hulking master of ceremonies, out to conquer the entertainment industry with his unique, hammer-wielding presence. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Faust


Summoning the fury of Heaven and Hell to make a movie about the operatic nature of sin and salvation, F.W. Murnau's "Faust" is a stunning example of silent film technique and vision. The 1926 production, an expensive effort in its day, showcases remarkable helming precision, with Murnau leaving blood and sweat on the frame as he creates a specific vision of suffering that demands emotional extremes to help create a level of cinematic beauty. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Gueros


"Gueros" is a collection of little ideas rolled up into a road movie structure, emerging as an impish creation from co-writer/director Alonso Ruizpalacious, who's ultimately creating a feature about Mexico that's aware of Mexican cinema clichés. There's a lot to take in with the picture, which gleefully bounces around various tonalities to preserve surprise for viewers, but as scattershot as the effort is, it miraculously stays together thanks to a great deal of wit, timing, and audio/visual experimentation. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Class of Nuke 'Em High 3: The Good, the Bad and the Subhumanoid


Who knew there was such a demand for "Class of Nuke 'Em High" sequels? Troma Entertainment, never a film studio to let anything die a peaceful death, returns to the world of mutant madness with 1994's "Class of Nuke 'Em High 3: The Good, The Bad and the Subhumanoid." Making a final push to make this premise profitable, Troma waters down their traditional serving of pure excess, trying to find a narrative path that welcomes B-movie chaos and dramatic interests, going so far as to use a William Shakespeare play ("The Comedy of Errors") for inspiration. It's an ambitious move, and one that manages to find a sense of stability to the franchise, but nothing in the Troma universe remains still for long. "The Good, The Bad and the Subhumanoid" quickly degenerates into noisy bits of comedy and horror, while a host of storytelling choices render the picture tiring, especially with a run time that's a good 30 minutes longer than it needs to be. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Pro-Wrestlers vs. Zombies


There are unavoidable expectations in place when sitting down to watch a movie titled "Pro-Wrestlers vs. Zombies." Obviously, material like this isn't looking for respectability, but basic functionality is always welcome. Writer/director Cody Knotts looks to summon a mood of horror and sports entertainment with his picture, hiring some well-known wrestlers to appear in a no-budget genre film that's largely shot inside an abandoned prison and in the deep woods. The helmer depends on established personalities to lead the way, along with a healthy dose of gore, keeping the feature regular with bursts of violence and meaty, troubled acting. What "Pro-Wrestlers vs. Zombies" is missing is fun, with Knotts overseeing a depressing vibe of survival and vaguely defined evil, managing to fatigue the effort long before it has a chance to truly kick back and enjoy its ridiculousness. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Madhouse


A farce doesn't have to be friendly, but there should be some degree of likability to help encourage viewer engagement. Non-stop mean-spiritedness committed by selfish, bellowing characters isn't exactly a welcome mat for outsiders, with 1990's "Madhouse" a prime example of comic lunacy souring at the moment of impact. Imagined as a wily, mischievous journey with pushy houseguests, the feature marches right towards absurdity, with writer/director Tom Ropelewski mistaking noise for timing. The picture is certainly jam-packed with incident, and performances work up a sweat as they try to communicate the simplest of reactions with flailing body parts and wide eyes. However, laughs are missing from the movie, which is so caught up in maintaining a madcap tone, it doesn't make room for any considered punchlines. Read the rest at

Film Review - Heist


In the plainly titled “Heist,” the production labors to merge a standard crime thriller with elements of “Speed,” dusted with some off-the-shelf emotional obstacles for the characters. Director Scott Mann (“The Tournament”) has all the right ingredients for junk food cinema in front of him, but no real clue how to assemble a frothy feast of exploitation. “Heist” is only enjoyable when it remains on the move, racing past logic and repetition with convincing energy. Applying the brakes to detail worry only reinforces flimsy screenwriting and iffy casting, losing the movie’s appeal as it struggles to build a more dramatically sound offering of complete nonsense. Read the rest at