Blu-ray Review - The Mummy's Tomb


Perhaps learning their lesson in 1940's "The Mummy's Hand," Universal Pictures goes all monster, all the time with 1942's "The Mummy's Tomb," which wisely introduces the wrath of Kharis (now played by Lon Chaney Jr.), the titular nightmare, from the get-go, hitting the ground running for a change. While a throwaway effort that's only an hour long, "The Mummy's Tomb" course corrects a few ideas to help keep the franchise staggering along, with the production making sure to keep its greatest asset within striking distance for a change. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - The Mummy's Hand


Arriving long after 1932's "The Mummy," 1940's "The Mummy's Hand" is the first effort from Universal Studios to revive one of their signature monsters for a fresh round of terror and franchise construction, using the war-torn decade to build up the brand name, figuring out ways to return to Egypt and sustain the chills. While a business plan is in place with "The Mummy's Hand," the picture plays a bizarre game of delay, showing more interest in the fumbly, bumbly antics of archaeologists than the titular creature, who doesn't even make his grand entrance until the final act.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Son of Dracula


After dealing with one kid in 1936's "Dracula's Daughter," the horror franchise finds more family trouble in 1943's "Son of Dracula." Of course, there's no real connection between the "Dracula" movies, as attention to series detail isn't valued. It's a brand name, and one that introduces Lon Chaney Jr. as the titular vampire, preserving all the dead-eyed menace the character is known for, but now enjoying a few technical upgrades to shock audiences. And the film needs all the visual help it can get, often struggling mightily with a lukewarm screenplay filled with exposition that rarely leads to excitement.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Dracula's Daughter


Losing the leadership of Bela Lugosi, 1936's "Dracula's Daughter" tries to return to the Bram Stoker saga with a new direction of evil, but the production plays one too many funny games to help revive the brand name for a sequel. Messing with time and character, "Dracula's Daughter" is best appreciated as its own creation, tackling the subject of monster movie loneliness with a uniquely feminine perspective, adding a sense of psychological warfare to chiller expectations. It's not a successful continuation, but "Dracula's Daughter" has its own thespian achievements that support the feature, better off as a study of isolation and need than a follow-up to Lugosi's legacy. Read the rest at

Film Review - Annabelle: Creation


We rarely see this type of excavation when dealing with a Hollywood franchise, but “Annabelle: Creation” is a prequel to 2014’s “Annabelle,” which was a prequel to 2013’s “The Conjuring,” which has already spun off a sequel in 2016’s “The Conjuring 2,” and currently awaits another prequel in 2018’s “The Nun.” Phew. And yet, through the haze of industry universe building (“The Conjure-verse”?), “Annabelle: Creation” arrives relatively unscathed, defying the odds to be an effective chiller that’s excitedly performed and sensationally directed by David F. Sandberg. That the movie works at all is miraculous, considering what a dud “Annabelle” was, but the helmer stays grounded with this return to the antics of a possessed doll, playing with sound and imagery wonderfully, while trying to restore elements of demonic influence that made the original “Conjuring” such a treat for genre fans. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Glass Castle


Four years ago, Destin Daniel Cretton directed “Short Term 12,” which detailed the inner lives of those involved in a residential treatment facility. It was a beautiful, emotional feature. My favorite of the year. Cretton returns to screens with “The Glass Castle,” graduating to a larger, more mainstream project that has the opportunity to be seen by a wide audience, potentially flocking to theaters to view what the helmer has done with his adaptation of Jeannette Walls’s best-selling 2005 memoir. To maintain such broad expectations, Cretton smoothes his filmmaking fingerprints, reducing most of “The Glass Castle” to questionable sentimentality and troubling character arcs. It’s certainly a different beast than “Short Term 12,” but Cretton’s latest is in dire need of the same grit and intimacy, playing broad with primal emotions and delicate dramatics.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Planetarium


If you find yourself in the presence of someone complaining about a lack of original films being made these days, send them over to “Planetarium,” which features one of the stranger, more unexpected plots I’ve encountered in recent memory. It’s not an especially triumphant effort, but co-writer/director Rebecca Zlotowski (“Grand Central,” “Belle Epine”) certainly gives the endeavor a proper boost of the odd and the seductive, making a pre-WWII story that touches on the afterlife, moviemaking, and sisterhood. “Planetarium” rides a thin line between intoxicating and infuriating, and perhaps this is where Zlotowski enjoys the view most, creating a picture that uses mystery to manage the unreal, filling the gaps with fetishistic activity and scrambled behavior, asking the viewer to put a cinematic puzzle together where half the pieces are missing.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature


I can’t imagine anyone was more surprised by the success of 2014’s “The Nut Job” than the producers of “The Nut Job.” It was a throwaway feature, meant to gobble up some family filmgoing bucks during a January slow period, but it connected, defying expectations to become another “Hoodwinked!” of sorts, showing box office hustle in a marketplace dominated by animation empires and brand names. That the movie wasn’t very good was another story. Profit is profit, and now there’s “The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature,” which also isn’t very good, but it remains to be seen if parents, now stuck in the dog days of August, will have a much patience with a franchise that’s not particularly clever or inventive with cartoon mayhem, and offers a follow-up where a canine character gleefully consumes two piles of vomit.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Escapes


I think for most people, at least in film circles, the name Hampton Fancher only has meaning as the screenwriter of “Blade Runner” and the director of “The Minus Man,” which featured advertising that reinforced his creative control. “Escapes” is a love letter to the real man, with director Michael Almereyda creating a documentary to celebrate Fancher’s expansive life. However, instead of recruiting friends and family to help tell this story, approaching the subject from the outside in, “Escapes” simply permits Fancher to share tales on his own, with enormous amounts of text-based information used to fill in the gaps. And Fancher talks, talks, and talks, transforming into a monologist as she shares select memories for Almereyda, working through the details of his days with a subtle physical bounce and a mind that enjoys the labyrinth of storytelling, leaving no stone unturned as he welcomes visitors to his past.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Pilgrimage


Medieval monks go on a mission in “Pilgrimage,” a bruising actioner that returns to a burgeoning world of fanaticism and the worship of magic. Director Brendan Muldowney isn’t interested in telling a superficial story of travel and combat, but sets out to make the viewer feel the pain of the journey, which keeps its characters in state of discomfort and confusion for the duration of the run time. That’s not to suggest the feature is a slog, as it highlights compelling characterizations and meaty conflicts, with a primary offering of mysticism fueling tempers in the middle of Ireland, finding Muldowney keeping his effort primal and propulsive, using limited locations effectively, tied together with a reasonable amount of mystery.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Armed Response


There was some hope that with his appearance in “The Expendables 3,” Wesley Snipes would be able to restore what was left of his career after years of participating in junk cinema and enduring personal problems. Handed a high-profile gig, Snipes followed it up with an appearance in “Chi-Raq,” the best Spike Lee movie in years, but his bad habits are back. “Armed Response” effectively ends the Snipes revival, returning him to dismal DTV fodder that previously padded his filmography. He couldn’t look more bored here, but it’s hard to blame the man for sleepiness when paired with director John Stockwell, who rarely, if ever, puts in a commendable effort (previously helming “Turistas,” “Cat Run,” and “Dark Tide”), barely piecing together this tedious supernatural chiller.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Malibu High


Marketing materials for 1979's "Malibu High" paint the picture as an R-rated romp featuring nude women and dirty old men, accompanied by a cheeky tagline about a failing high school student and her plans to restore her GPA without doing homework. The actual "Malibu High" is a bit crazier than simple sexploitation, emerging as a sort of distant relative to Luc Besson's masterwork, "La Femme Nikita," only with a very limited budget, little command of tone, and pronounced displays of goofballery at every turn. What begins with teen angst ends with a series of assassinations, keeping the feature on high alert as screenwriter Thomas Singer attempts to manage a crazy story that blends sex, violence, and bad grades, enjoying the permissiveness of the late 1970s to fill the tale with numerous couplings, disco, drugs, and bullets. It's not a particularly cohesive endeavor, but it's memorable, delivering all the B-movie nonsense a person can stand. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - The Hearse


1980's "The Hearse" is one of the last gasps of horror from the 1970s. Before the tidal wave of gore and sexualized teenagers served up for the slaughter, there were weird stories with Satanic inspirations, pitting hapless characters against unholy forces they don't understand. The feature strives to make something unsettling about a haunted car and evil influence in a small town, but there's not a lot of truly terrifying incidents to savor in "The Hearse," which tries to get plenty of mileage from the vision of the titular car ruling rural roads, but director George Bowers isn't motivated to move the plot along, working on his cheap fright film tricks and atmosphere instead. It's a game attempt to generate an unusual four-wheeled cinematic nightmare, but the production takes it time before it reaches the unknown, and doesn't do much with it once it gets there.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Indian Fighter


1955's "The Indian Fighter" is one offering in a wave of Hollywood westerns where the concept wasn't to vilify Native American characters, but try to understand the concerns of the First Nation as it dealt with the terror of settlers. With star Kirk Douglas around, deeply felt sympathies aren't readily available, but the production at least makes an attempt to be gentle around cultural divides, delivering a story that's big on action and debate, but also wrestling with a love story that doesn't belong in the mix.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Sheik


It's important to watch 1921's "The Sheik" with awareness of its age. It's the film that brought star Rudolph Valentino to stratospheric heights of fame, greatly complicating his burgeoning career with an iconic display of matinee idol charisma. It's also a picture that carries an uneasy appreciation for Stockholm Syndrome-style romance, created during a time when such a union wasn't open season for 1,000 think pieces on big screen sexism. "The Sheik" is period escapism, and it mostly comes together thanks to Valentino and co-star Agnes Ayres, who manage to make a credible connection in a story that needs something a bit more than soapy romanticism to penetrate the senses.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Kidnap


Managing a career filled with critical and commercial disappointments, Halle Berry found moderate success with 2013’s “The Call,” which required the actress to portray a character largely stuck in a stationary position, directing the survival of a kidnap victim from the pressurized environment of a 911 call center. It was mild exploitation, and it found an audience, reenergizing Berry’s career as Hollywood hunted for another “Taken” situation where a veteran actor could be transformed into mature butt-kicker for an older audience. Berry picks up where she left off in “Kidnap,” which also finds the star in a stationary position directing the survival of a kidnap victim, only here the action largely takes place on interstates, challenging Berry to come up with a commanding characterization that mostly involves a persona talking to themselves and making poor decisions for 90 minutes. “Kidnap” is certainly energetic, but before it gets stupid, it remains very dumb. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Dark Tower


Development on “The Dark Tower” has been brewing for a very long time. Many filmmakers, including J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard, have attempted to conquer Stephen King’s legendary series of novels, but only now has there been a production that’s managed to stick the landing. Perhaps the mere act of getting this byzantine material to the big screen is enough to brand the movie a success, but director Nikolaj Arcel (“A Royal Affair,” “Truth About Men”) doesn’t have the experience with such massive waves of fantasy. “The Dark Tower” offers a divisive viewing experience, with fans offered references and backstory, while newcomers are presented with the digestion of an entire universe in a mere 90 minutes. The picture speaks a different language, and if you’re not locked into position from the get-go, giant sections of the effort are terribly confusing, while the rest is just tiresome and dull.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Endless Poetry


Writer/director Alejandro Jodorowsky took a break from filmmaking after 1990’s “The Rainbow Thief,” or perhaps filmmaking asked for a breather. While never a prolific helmer, Jodorowsky’s absence was noted, making his return to screens with 2013’s “The Dance of Reality” all the more special. Going the autobiographical route, Jodorowsky distorted and amplified his life and times, emerging with another, slightly less extreme offering of surrealism that triumphantly reinstated his creative authority. Interested in scratching the same itch, Jodorowsky returns to his story with “Endless Poetry,” a continuation of “The Dance of Reality,” charting his maturity and artistic awakening, revisiting the point of impact when childhood melts away and more adult pursuits begin to take command. Sustaining the mood, Jodorowsky once again bathes the feature in oddity, personal expression, and grotesqueries, making this second chapter as captivating as the first.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Step


For a film titled “Step,” highlighting the struggles and successes of a high school dance squad, there’s surprisingly little choreographed movement contained within. It’s a documentary about young black women in America who use dance to escape from their daily lives and questionable future, but the feature isn’t strictly about rhythm. Director Amanda Lipitz is far more interested in the educational goals of her subjects, which is an amazing break from expectations, putting full attention on the battle to attend college and the war of passing grades. “Step” eventually gets around to dance and its substantial rehearsal time, but Lipitz has a stronger picture when exposing concerns about potential and showcasing intelligence celebrated and sabotaged. As empowerment cinema goes, it works, but not for the obvious reason.  Read the rest at

Film Review - A Ghost Story


After helming “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” director David Lowery elected to disturb his rise to indie film glory by taking on the considerable demands of a Disney production. Lowery was an unusual choice to take command of 2016’s “Pete’s Dragon,” but he managed to create something remarkable out of a remake, gifting the effort a sense of magic and sincerity that’s rarely encountered in family entertainment. It was one of the best pictures of the year. Getting something mainstream out of his system, Lowery returns to the low-wattage needs of no-budget cinema, going the esoteric route with “A Ghost Story,” which is as opposite a viewing experience from “Pete’s Dragon” as can be. Challenging the mind and the rear end, the endeavor is pure Lowery, who puts everything into a tiny feature about time, the afterlife, and relationships, crafting an art-house Rorschach test that demands a specific type of moviegoer in a precise mood for cosmic puzzling.  Read the rest at