Blu-ray Review - The Master: The Complete Series


The 1980s were filled with strange fads, including the Rubik's Cube, breakdancing, and Cabbage Patch Dolls, but the oddest pop culture uprising from the decade has to be the surge of ninja-themed entertainment. While there's nothing wrong with a good ninja adventure, the '80s were chock full of them, triggered in part by the cult success of 1981's "Revenge of the Ninja," which spawned a few sequels and partially inspired "The Master," with franchise star Sho Kosugi returning in a supporting role, reclaiming his position as the go-to actor for all cloaked martial arts business. Crazily, the production didn't give Kosugi a weekly shot at impressing American audiences with his physical skill, handing starring duties to Lee Van Cleef, then a 60-year-old man stroking a filmography had him playing all types of hard creeps and antiheroes. When one thinks about the basic flexibility and weapon mastery of a stealthy ninja, Van Cleef and his slight limp doesn't come to mind, but "The Master" has a funny way of making the crazy casting work, finding Van Cleef the most appealing element in the action series, which plays like much of the kid-centric escapist fare from the era, mixing Eastern culture with "A-Team" antics, keeping things sufficiently kick-happy and shuriken-spinning.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Covered Wagon


1923's "The Covered Wagon" is a silent production that's largely credited as having a role in the birth of the big screen epic. Director James Cruze doesn't want a simple tale of Oregon Trail travel, going as big as possible to accurately detail the arduous cross-country trek, masterminding spectacle as the screenplay (an adaptation of a novel by Emerson Hough) secures simplistic but effects swings of melodrama, creating a love triangle to hold attention between wild displays of barely controlled chaos.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Prey


The behind-the-scenes story on 1977's "Prey" is extraordinary, with the picture conceived, shot, and released in a matter of months, delivering a sci- fi/horror tale with the minimum of second thoughts, basically committing to the screen anything that was conjured during production. It's important to remember such creative speed while watching the feature, with the low-budget endeavor often struggling to find things to do between scenes that advance the story. "Prey" is minor, but director Norman J. Warren does what he can with his frightening creative challenge, preserving a few provocative ideas screenwriter Max Cuff inserts into the work.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Divine Order


While "The Divine Order" shares a story of gender discrimination, misogyny, and marital woes, it's almost refreshing to find the tale taking place in Switzerland, avoiding American hostilities for once. The change in location is most welcome, with writer/director Petra Biondina Volpe examining the pains of womanhood from a different perspective, and while American influence remains, the screenplay showcases a distinct cultural fingerprint as it details the jail sentence of being a woman in 1971. "The Divine Order" has its melodramatic urges, but it's an excellent overview of personal need with sharply defined characters, returning to an era of global change with a few details that mirror today's social turbulence. Volpe taps into the zeitgeist and shares a period saga of equality, creating a picture that's essential viewing for those interested in a wider perspective on feminist challenges. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Sorry to Bother You


“Sorry to Bother You” marks the feature-length directorial debut for musician Boots Riley and, for this grand occasion, he’s elected to construct a picture that’s often defies description. Imagine if Mike Judge and Michel Gondry joined forces to make a Spike Lee Joint, and that’s part of the experience watching “Sorry to Bother You.” It’s a unique vision of the world as it exists today, using wit and blunt force to comment on racism, greed, and powerlessness, but it’s also a silly movie for the first half, with Riley showcasing surprising chops with absurdity, trying his best to undermine expectations as the story begins to reveal layers of insanity. It’s not an especially tight creation, but Riley’s enthusiasm for his big moment is understandable, on a mission to go crazy with his first film, with hopes to make a lasting impression on the audience. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Skyscraper


For his third release in the last seven months, Dwayne Johnson once again portrays a mighty hero up against impossible odds. There was the video game world of “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” and the…video game world of “Rampage,” but “Skyscraper” aims to be a more traditional offering of search and rescue, mashing together elements from “Die Hard” and “The Towering Inferno” to make a modern blockbuster, with gobs of tech tossed into the fiery chaos. Writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber (“Central Intelligence”) keeps his influences close, but doesn’t learn much from them, manufacturing a flat, routine Rock-against-‘em-all thriller that’s big on CGI spectacle but very limited when it comes to the creation of true heart-stopping sequences. Other films have done what “Skyscraper” is doing, and they’ve done it better, rendering the feature numbing instead of nail-biting. Read the rest at

Film Review - Siberia


The poster art for “Siberia” displays star Keanu Reeves with a shotgun, looking mournfully at the ground, as though he’s about to unleash complete hell on those who’ve wronged him. In a post-“John Wick” world, this is how all of Reeves’s movies are going to be sold to audiences, but it’s important to note that his new film is almost nothing like his old ones. Screenwriter Scott B. Smith doesn’t care much about overt violence, and revenge is hardly the motivation for the story. In reality, Smith goes the opposite direction, trying to unearth a love story in the midst of freezing locations and games of suspicion. “Siberia” is aiming to be noir-ish and contemplative, but it’s uncomfortably muddled most of the time, finding Smith trying to reach for a special mood of psychological disturbance, while director Matthew Ross struggles to locate any sign of life. Another “John Wick” this feature most certainly isn’t.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The King


Director Eugene Jarecki is concerned about America. He’s the documentarian behind “Why We Fight,” “Reagan,” and “The Trials of Henry Kissinger,” making him a filmmaker who’s not afraid to dig into politics to inspire his work, often concentrating on the evolution of the country as it marches from perceived glory into gray areas of conduct, possibly leading to its permanent downfall. For “The King,” Jarecki tries out a more lighthearted way to explore American divide, acquiring a 1963 Rolls Royce once owned by Elvis Presley, using the aged automobile to travel around the nation, visiting cities important to the icon’s legacy while interviewing fans, friends, and musicians in the back seat. The result is a complete mess of a movie, but one that’s fascinating to watch for most of its run time, with Jarecki managing to capture the sweep of the country and its internal ache, only to let the picture’s gelatinous structure wear it down more often than not.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter


Co-writer/director Jody Hill returns to feature-length moviemaking with “The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter,” finally following up his 2009 dark comedy, “Observe and Report.” Hill’s been involved with television for the last decade, guiding such shows as “Eastbound & Down” and “Vice Principals,” where he’s masterminded all kinds of craziness, often with collaborator Danny McBride. With “The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer,” Hill softens some to examine the troubled mind of a divorced dad trying to making a lasting impression on his son, creating a parody of basic cable hunting shows while attempting to show a degree of serious with emotional ruin. Comedy is here, but not always a priority to Hill, who’s aiming for more of a character study than a laugh riot, and this picture doesn’t benefit from a general muting of silliness.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Boundaries


Having Shana Feste in charge of “Boundaries” is initially unsettling. The writer/director hasn’t inspired confidence with her previous endeavors, making messes out of “Country Strong” and the “Endless Love” remake, and “Boundaries” isn’t material that initially appears headed in the right direction, working with dysfunctional family and disoriented single mom cliches. It comes as a surprise that the picture works as well as it does, but Feste is smart about casting, giving a pro in Vera Farmiga and a legend in Christopher Plummer a chance to buddy up for this road dramedy, which takes a look at the frayed ties that bind. It’s the best thing Feste has made to date, which isn’t saying much, but she shows newfound interest in emotional authenticity here, giving sitcom material a few deeper grooves of interesting behavior.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Shock and Awe


Rob Reiner has always been a political person, but his passion for world events and Washington D.C. activities has taken over his career as a filmmaker over the last year. Eight months ago, there was “LBJ,” a study of the 36th President of the United States. And now there’s “Shock and Awe,” which also examines a presidency, only this time from the perspective of journalists searching for proof that the man in charge is a liar. Reuniting with “LBJ” screenwriter Joey Hartstone and star Woody Harrelson, Reiner attempts to craft his own “All the President’s Men” with “Shock and Awe,” which takes a look at the invasion of Iraq after 9/11, highlighting the struggle of reporters tasked with understanding presidential motivation, making connections between military preparation and the politicians pulling the strings.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Kings


“Kings” is a movie that has a time, place, and talent to bring unusual perspective to the 1992 L.A. Riots. And yet, writer/director Deniz Gamze Erguven doesn’t have anything to say with the feature, which thrives on chaos, not drama. Erguven made a remarkable impression a few years back with the French film “Mustangs,” but she has no vision here, adding clumps of urban distress, social outrage, and racial hostility to a tale of domestic unrest, while the actual riots barely factor into the picture. “Kings” is a mess, edited with a butter knife and emotionally constipated, with Erguven giving up on a focal point as she mashes together subplots, hoping that this weird combination of sobering reality and light comedy will somehow gel on its own.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Flesh and Bullets


Director Carlos Tobalina is primarily known for his work in adult cinema (helming titles such as "Champagne Orgy" and "Sexual Kung Fu in Hong Kong"), but there was a moment in his career where he wanted to try out some professional legitimacy. 1985's "Flesh and Bullets" doesn't contain any hardcore material, but it might as well, with Tobalina treating the "thriller" with the same kind of attention most throwaway X-rated endeavors receive. That's not to suggest the movie isn't a wildly entertaining junk food viewing experience, but "Flesh and Bullets" is no display of creative focus from Tobalina, who sticks to what he knows, only dialing down graphic content. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Murder on the Emerald Seas


Co-writer/director Alan Ormsby endeavors to create something wacky with 1974's "Murder on the Emerald Seas" (a.k.a. "The Great Masquerade"), and his approach to big screen comedy takes some getting used to. Clearly a fan of classic comedies, favoring the work found in silent cinema, Ormsby tries to master the same timing and tirelessness for "Murder on the Emerald Seas," which plays broadly and excitedly with familiar set-ups and punchlines. It's a whodunit, but providing a thorough mystery isn't part of the production's plan, as most energy is poured in generating silliness, which can only reach as far as the iffy screenplay allows. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Muthers


1976's "The Muthers" is happy to participate in a multitude of subgenres, hoping to appeal to as many audiences as possible with a relatively simple product. The overall mood is rooted in Blaxploitation, focusing on tough black women and the nonsense they reject, but there are also cinematic avenues to explore that include martial art displays and women-in-prison entertainment. "The Muthers" isn't classy, trying very hard to follow filmmaking trends, but director Cirio H. Santiago launches an amusing assault, working to keep the endeavor on the go with action encounters and assorted survival challenges.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Hang Up


1969's "The Hang Up" offers no introductions, flinging viewers into a gender fluid bar where a young entertainer known as Suzette sits in the middle of the room, removes her top, and wills herself to orgasm. No characters are identified or motivations established, it's just pure sexploitation filler from writer/director John Hayes, who trusts the core demographic sitting down to watch the picture are far more interested in the baring of breasts than the morality play to come. "The Hang Up" eventually connects to a story, but it's hard to top such a bizarre opener, though the kinky melodrama that ensues is just kooky enough to pay attention to, though it helps to have the knowledge that Hayes never returns to salaciousness with the same verve he offers in the film's opening.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Dungeon of Harrow


In the general DIY movement of horror cinema in the 1960s, perhaps spurred on by successes achieved by Hammer Films and Roger Corman, more than few oddball productions managed to sneak their way into release. 1962's "The Dungeon of Harrow" is one such picture, with co-writer/director Pay Boyette trying to create his own gothic nightmare with only a few passable ideas, struggling with budget issues and a strange imagination for evildoing inside a remote castle. "The Dungeon of Harrow" is painfully inert at times, but for those who have the patience for slow-drip suspense, the feature does have the advantage of an ending, with all the sluggishness, crude technical achievements, and labored performances actually leading somewhere for a change, though it takes an incredible amount of patience to get there.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation


Franchise fatigue is a very real issue with animated features, finding certain productions struggling to dream up something worthwhile to keep up monetary interests and, more often than not, the best ideas have already been used up. Originality isn’t an issue for “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation,” as the previous two installments haven’t been all that inspired to begin with, giving the screenplay free reign to do anything it needs to do to keep the characters busy for 90 minutes. For returning director Genndy Tartakovsky, “Hotel Transylvania 3” is a shot to purge all his cartoon reverence into an unlikely second sequel, cranking up the silliness and general rubbery nonsense to point where the actual plot gets in his way. Tartakovsky is making this one for himself, folks, and while he’s attentive to expectations (don’t worry, there are fart jokes), he’s also going bananas with previously unseen scale and manic animation, making the endeavor the best of the series just by sheer energy alone. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Domestics


With the success of “The Purge” and its sequels, there’s clearly an audience for dystopic visions of the near-future, where a world teetering on the edge of chaos finally plunges into darkness. Writer/director Mike P. Ryan sets up to the plate with “The Domestics,” his take on end-of-civilization horrors, and, unlike “The Purge,” he seems to understand the need for pace and performance when feeling out the edges of inhumanity. It also helps to have an unusual setting, with “The Domestics” a “Mad Max” riff that crosses Wisconsin, finding Hell on Earth in Midwestern surroundings. Ryan has fresh ideas and rhythm to go with his cinematic tributes, with the film also taking notes from “The Warriors,” setting up a chase picture that’s heavy on barbarity and oddity, and smart enough to only take a few pit stops as Ryan arranges apocalyptic violence and bits of dark humor.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Ideal Home


“Ideal Home” brings writer/director Andrew Fleming back to screens after some time away, last seen with 2014’s disappointing “Barefoot.” Fleming was once a promising filmmaker with a string of creative successes in “Threesome,” “The Craft,” and “Dick,” but he lost his vision along the way, getting stuck with underwhelming fare such as “Hamlet 2” and an ill-advised remake of “The In-Laws.” The good news is that Fleming is back on solid ground with his latest endeavor, and it’s one from the heart, taking a comedic look at gay parenting in “Ideal Home,” which does an impressive job riding the line between camp and syrup. It’s a silly picture, which helps to extract a good number of laughs, but the effort also gives Fleming some much needed inspiration, finding his helming mojo with a very funny movie.  Read the rest at