Blu-ray Review - Defiance


1980's "Defiance" is a B-movie that doesn't aspire to be much more than a basic vigilante drama, with New York City its playground as it explores tensions between a neighborhood of decent folks trying to survive against a roving gang of violent thugs. It's not an especially accomplished film, but director John Flynn ("Rolling Thunder," "Lock Up") works hard to create streetwise tension, paying attention to character and motivation to the best of his ability. Not helping the cause is star Jan-Michael Vincent, who sleepwalks through the feature, putting pressure on his charismatic co-stars to deliver some sense of life. Still, the basic ingredients of aggression remain vivid in "Defiance," helping the movie achieve entertainment value that nears campiness, endeavoring to position Vincent as an urban superhero, taking on the scum of the Earth in this obvious "Death Wish" knockoff. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hornets' Nest


It's the children of Italy vs. the Nazis in 1970's "Hornets' Nest," a bizarre war picture that puts star Rock Hudson in command of the "Red Dawn" Wolverines. There's an enormous amount of trauma passing through the feature, but all the deep-seated psychology of premise is pushed aside to become a Men on a Mission effort, trusting in Hudson to bring the brawn while a cast of younger actors scrambles in the background. Unsure if it wants to be the saddest film ever made or the loudest, "Hornets' Nest" only captivates in small doses, especially when the long road to combat hell transforms into a therapy session. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hidden Agenda


1990's "Hidden Agenda" is a rare film from director Ken Loach that's driven by an almost traditional escalation of suspense. That's not to suggest the picture has been dumbed down in any way, remaining in line with Loach's interests in political and social issues, but it carries a toxic mood that's reminiscent of the conspiracy subgenre of the 1970s, using paranoia as a powerful cinematic weapon. Loach rarely works this conventional, but he wears the focus well, achieving a surprising balance between dramatic tension and community woes as he once again details the volatility of Great Britain. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sicario


Director Denis Villeneuve generally makes one type of movie. With “Prisoners,” “Enemy,” and “Incendies,” the helmer has displayed a fascination with the darkness of human behavior, exploring cruelties and lies with surgical precision, but also maintaining his distance from drama, which doesn’t always result in the most engrossing storytelling. “Sicario” doesn’t alter his modus operandi, with the director once again reaching into the void to observe the death of spirit. What “Sicario” has that separates it from the rest of Villeneuve’s work is a merciless script by Taylor Sheridan, which clears away most of the director’s interest in stasis, paying attention to thriller cinema basics before returning to long takes of silent contemplation. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Martian


Space movies appear to be all the rage these days, with the one-two punch of “Gravity” and “Interstellar” making it safe for features about exploration and survival to compete with superhero adventures. “The Martian” is a fine addition to the trend, forging its own path of suspense, science, and humor to grasp the extremes of isolation and the fever of NASA brainstorming. A kissing cousin to “Apollo 13,” “The Martian” comes alive thanks to director Ridley Scott, who wisely steps out of the picture’s way and allows the pressurized environment of Andy Weir’s best-selling novel to take command, assembling a technically marvelous and emotionally gripping tale of a special rescue mission that demands years of planning and execution. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Walk


Any active moviegoer in recent years may have already heard of “Man on Wire,” a documentary dedicated to Philippe Petit’s 1974’s high-wire walk across the tops of the Twin Towers in New York City. Such a specialized but high-profile release (winning an Oscar for Best Documentary) easily threatens the elements of surprise in “The Walk,” director Robert Zemeckis’s dramatization of the daredevil event. However, leave it to the man behind “Back to the Future,” “Forrest Gump,” and “The Polar Express” to sustain suspense, taking a known experience and making it feel like front page news again, helped in great part by stunning visual effects that put the viewer on the wire with Petit, taking in the expanse of the city. Read the rest at

Film Review - Deathgasm


Horror and heavy metal are natural companions, with their shared interest in demonic events lending itself to perverse genre interests. The New Zealand production “Deathgasm” takes a more comedic route to blood-soaked events, but it manages to stay respectful of the wilds of extreme music and the wonders of cinematic hellraising. A Cannibal Corpse album cover come to life, “Deathgasm” is a wily creation from writer/director Jason Lei Howden (a visual effects artist making his helming debut) that’s teeming with humor and gore, generating a sufficient ordeal of Satanic bedlam while tending to the nuances of life as a metalhead. It’s extreme, but the movie is undeniably fun -- absolute cat nip for those who demand their dark adventures cover the limb-tearing basics. Read the rest at

Film Review - This Is Happening


“This Is Happening” takes on a substantial amount of confused emotions while it maintains life as a stoner comedy. It’s an odd bouillabaisse of feelings and tonal shifts, overseen by writer/director Ryan Jaffe, who makes his helming debut with the effort. “This Is Happening” takes some bizarre detours, and perhaps the overall psychological thickness proves a bit too difficult for the script to manage, but the feature finds clarity more often than not. It’s bright work from Jaffe, who oversees a lively cast and an authentic rendering of a combative sibling relationship, while dumping in dollops of pathos and slapstick to keep the road trip offered here as unexpected as possible. Read the rest at

Film Review - Gravy


 Joining the big screen celebration of Halloween is “Gravy,” a bizarre picture that doesn’t exactly top off the tank with nightmare fuel. A horror-comedy that plays unsettlingly broad, the film marks the feature-length directorial debut for actor James Roday, who also co-scripts this attempt to outdo recent cannibal movies, submitting a grotesque effort that’s slathered in gore and mindful of one-liners, while keeping a low-budget aesthetic that contains the brutality to a single location. Much too self-consciously zany to be funny, “Gravy” is best approached as a celebration of make-up achievements, with gushy guts and mutilated bodies emerging as the highlights of this wheezy Looney Tunes-style take on savagery and foodie culture. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Christmas Horror Story


Just in time for Halloween comes an anthology film about Christmas? “A Christmas Horror Story” combines the two best holidays to dig up nightmarish qualities about the season of joy, working with four different narratives to explore the wrath of demons, the terror of changelings, the mystery of ghosts, and a viral plague. Directors Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, and Brett Sullivan put in an impressive low-budget effort with “A Christmas Horror Story,” and while not all the tales come alive, more hit than miss, bringing gore and menace in October, but reveling in the iconography of December. Read the rest at

Film Review - Addicted to Fresno


Director Jamie Babbit made her debut with 1999’s “But I’m a Cheerleader,” a sharp, funny exploration of sexual oppression that launched a promising career. Subsequent efforts failed to match the invention of her first film, with Babbit turning to television to hone her chops. She returns to screens with “Addicted to Fresno,” though the true intent of this painful misfire isn’t exactly clear, with much of the movie playing like Babbit’s impression of a Farrelly Brothers production. Crude and poorly written by Karey Dornetto, “Addicted to Fresno” flails wildly to set a subversive tone, only to end up about as dangerous as a Fox sitcom. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Flash: The Complete First Season


"Smallville" was the canary in a coal mine. The 2001 show about Superman's early years before the suit and cape arrived during the infancy of the superhero cinema explosion as we know it today, with WB execs hoping that a comic book property could thrive on the small screen in a manner that bested similar attempts throughout the years. "Smallville" ended up running for a decade, establishing a youth-demo formula the CW would routinely recycle to kickstart potential new franchises (including failures "Birds of Prey" and "Aquaman"). They found their way back to DC Comics-branded dominance with "Arrow" in 2012, which soon crossed over to the debut of 2014's "The Flash," with producers making sure that everything fans found appealing about the original program is going to be embedded in the new series. While the shows are joined at the hip, "The Flash" works to define its own identity, taking on the challenge of humanizing a hero with super-speed, using comic inspiration to create a community of nuanced supporting characters and a setting dense enough to support 23 episodes. Against all odds, the program manages its minutiae with satisfactory enthusiasm. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Nightmare Weekend


1986's "Nightmare Weekend" doesn't even try to make sense. It's a French production directed by Henri Sala (one of his final efforts) that tries to cash-in on mid-'80s horror trends, assembling a mixture of slasher and sci-fi cinema, ornamented with mild aerobics, multiple visits to a video game arcade, and squishy make-up achievements. However, somewhere during the production's journey, an actual story was dismissed, resulting in a feature that merely chases whims, especially ones involving nudity and bloodshed. There's a green-haired puppet and a supercomputer involved in the mayhem as well. Hilariously bizarre but oddly mindful of exploitation basics, "Nightmare Weekend" is riveting mess for B-movie fanatics, especially those who appreciate the value of an endeavor that's holding on for dear life. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Vigilante Force


Drive-in cinema receives another thorough workout in 1976's "Vigilante Force," which submits a combination of fisticuffs, scowling, and limited drama, trying to hand its audience the basics in big screen violence. Directed by George Armitage ("Miami Blues" and the brilliant "Grosse Pointe Blank"), the feature is intended to be a rough-and-ready exploitation movie that wears its production year like a badge of honor, but a few things are lost in translation, finding the finished film missing large portions of motivation and smooth editing as it pares down a bigger picture of corruption and family divide to a more comfortable to-do list of mid-70s intimidation tactics. "Vigilante Force" is certainly diverting work, especially when it winds up the stunt team, setting them loose on busy streets and backlots. Anyone expecting anything more than a loosely defined tale of bare-knuckle brawling and vague sibling rivalry is going to walk away from the feature sorely disappointed. The effort is merely interested in basic thrills. Engaging conflict has not been permitted to cross county lines. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Honey Pot


Absorbing influences from plays and novels, legendary director Joseph L. Mankiewicz sets out to create a particularly knotted game of love and allegiance with "The Honey Pot." The 1967 picture is one of his last productions, but it still bears the fingerprints of an invested filmmaker with an interest in razor-sharp banter and unusual motivations, laboring to define a collection of troublesome personalities as they struggle with the devil itself, greed. The feature isn't always an easy sit, but when it comes alive, it does so with tremendously refined performances and a streak of mischief that powers the effort for a great deal of its indulgent run time. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hotel Transylvania 2


Endeavoring to bring a world of monsters to the CGI-animated realm, 2012’s “Hotel Transylvania” conjured a horror-comedy atmosphere of slapstick, scares, and overall tomfoolery. And there was plenty of bathroom humor to keep younger audiences engaged. Instead of trusting the inherent madness of the plot, director Genndy Tartakovsky elected to keep things crude, souring an otherwise promising Halloween-season adventure with classic ghouls. “Hotel Transylvania 2” is the inevitable sequel, and while it suffers from major structural problems, the effort has dialed down the poo-poo, pee-pee gags, trying to engage audiences with a tale of grandfatherly love, trading fart jokes for cute kids and more manic monster shenanigans. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Intern


Nancy Meyers makes comfort food cinema. It’s a particular skill few share in the industry, but she’s forged a career blending domestic fantasy with tender emotions, guiding efforts such as “It’s Complicated,” “The Holiday,” and “Something’s Gotta Give.” She does one thing and she does it relatively well, always at her best when character comes before contrivance. “The Intern” enjoys a rough tonality of high comedy and grim drama, but Meyers steadies the picture with an enjoyable script that’s most interesting when playful, while lead performances from Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway are lively and open for inspection. “The Intern” gets a little strange at times, but it’s a sturdy creation that carries a little more personality than many might be expecting. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mississippi Grind


“Mississippi Grind” is a story about gambling, but it’s careful not to glamorize the potentially destructive pastime. Instead of taking in the thrill of horse racing and casino action, the feature carries an ominous tone of self-destruction, essentially updating James Toback’s 1974 screenplay for “The Gambler.” Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck keep their effort low to the ground, picking up on behaviors and “tells” as they explore the corrosive nature of addiction, taking a long journey with two wayward characters as they experience the thrilling highs and desperate lows of gambling. Whatever “Mississippi Grind” lacks in efficiency, it makes up for it in pure observation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Stonewall


The director of “Independence Day,” “2012,” and “White House Down” is trying to grow up. Roland Emmerich made an attempt for art-house legitimacy with 2011’s “Anonymous,” hoping some intrigue surrounding Shakespeare’s creative origins might stimulate a career detour into more respectable projects featuring real characters, not just cartoon creations battling heavy CGI. It failed to attract much attention, inspiring Emmerich to capture the zeitgeist with “Stonewall,” a tale of gay rights wrapped up in an historical event that triggered a revolution of pride. Well-intentioned but frighteningly tone deaf, “Stonewall” (already the subject of numerous documentaries and books) doesn’t inspire hope and awareness, it simply pushes dreary formula and torturous melodrama, with Emmerich failing to create a single moment of humanity as cliché and stereotype run rampant. Read the rest at