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August 2014

Blu-ray Review - Graduation Day

Graduation Day Vanna White

It's hard to hate any horror movie that opens at a track meet and welcomes viewers with a disco theme song. 1981's "Graduation Day" arrived in a crowded marketplace, with dubious producers scrambling to cash in on the success of 1978's "Halloween," with their lust for cheap and easy profit renewed when 1980's "Friday the 13th" hit the box office jackpot. Horror was hitting hard and fast during this period, with overall creative quality less of a priority. While "Graduation Day" isn't an awards contender, the Herb Freed-directed chiller has a little more interest in cinematic pursuits than much of its brethren, offering audiences a traditional offering of slasher entertainment, with victims pierced and gutted by a variety of weapons, but done so with a raw style that fixates on pace, not prolonged suffering. It's completely goofball stuff, but engaging and, at times, exciting, giving a notoriously lazy genre a firm towel snap as it strives to turn a minimal budget into a nail-biter. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - What's New Pussycat?

What's New Pussycat Peter O'Toole Peter Sellers

I'm sure at the time it all seemed foolproof. Team one of the most respected actors in the industry with a powerhouse comedian, working from a script by an up and coming talent just beginning his film career. With Peter O'Toole, Peter Sellers, and Woody Allen participating in 1965's "What's New Pussycat?," there was little room for doubt. However, such beaming intentions don't always secure an ideal movie, and while Allen's screenplay is bedazzled with his distinct sense of humor, actual laughs are buried under layers of chaotic behavior, with director Clive Donner unable to control the whiz-bang energy of the effort, often mistaking noise for timing. "What's New Pussycat" offers a few bursts of insanity worth paying attention to, but as a farce, it never finds its footing, missing a golden opportunity to make iconic mischief with a trio of determined leading men. Read the rest at

Film Review - Starred Up


In the hostile, coldly metallic realm of the prison picture, “Starred Up” carries a special intensity. While it maintains a fierce concentration on procedure and pecking order behind bars, the story emerges out of the darkness as one of a father and son getting to know each other for the very first time. “Starred Up” is brutal and intense (effectively emphasizing its hellish setting), but also unexpectedly sincere, approaching the weary routine of inmate life with a barbed but expressive human perspective that’s exceptionally communicated by screenwriter Jonathan Asser and director David Mackenzie, who combine forces to deliver character instead of chaos. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Letter to Momo


Japanese animation rarely finds its way to American screens in any significant way, making the release of “A Letter to Momo” all the more special. Mercifully, the picture earns such attention, submitting a mournful and sometimes silly fantasy that’s Studio Ghibli-esque in design, but carries its own personality with style and sensitivity. Although it doesn’t thunder forward with much originality, “A Letter to Momo” gets far on feelings, offering audiences a helping of magic that seasoned with slapstick and a direct hit of regret, which encourages a few tears to go with the laughs and wonder. Read the rest at

Film Review - As Above, So Below


Moviemakers John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle have made four studio pictures, and three of them have incorporated found footage events in some form. “As Above, So Below” is their latest foray into shaky-cams and exaggerated acting, and I think it’s about time the brothers move on to a genre other than horror. Much like “The Poughkeepsie Tapes” (their 2007 feature, which finally found release back in July), “Quarantine,” and “Devil,” the Dowdles have a strange way of watering down potential terror in their fright films, with “As Above, So Below” teasing a fascinating premise, only to slog through conventional beats of suspense, blending elements from “The Da Vinci Code,” “The Goonies,” and “Event Horizon” into a criminally inert, repetitive effort. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Calling


The serial killer subgenre has seen its fair share of variation, reaching a point of complete exhaustion as productions hunt for new ways to frighten audiences with unusual murders and creepy suspects. “The Calling” doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it offers a certain amount of patience and simplicity when it comes to the horrifying routine, placing emphasis on the crime, not necessarily the criminal. Director Jason Stone orchestrates an appealingly gloomy picture, extracting some fine performances and a welcome momentum to the story. Originality isn’t a priority with “The Calling,” but the little changes in execution and motivation allow the movie a chance to breathe, preserving interest in the ongoing slaughter. Read the rest at

Film Review - The November Man

NOVEMBER MAN Pierce Brosnan

The idea of Pierce Brosnan in another spy franchise holds promise, even if it’s been over a decade since the actor last portrayed James Bond. Hoping to return some firepower to a lethargic filmography, Brosnan loads up on pained machismo for “The November Man,” the launch of a fresh series of actioners based on the character Peter Devereaux, an ex-CIA brute conceived by author Bill Granger. The star is quite literally the only highlight in this stunningly brain dead thriller, working his tight-faced routine to the best of his ability as director Roger Donaldson bungles even the most basic of chase sequences and spy game antagonism. As enjoyable an actor as Brosnan is, sometimes his taste in screenplays boggles the mind. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears


As brain-bleeders go, “The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears” doesn’t really care if the audience is involved in this surreal journey of murder and madness. It’s an art piece that’s meant to be admired, not enjoyed, with directors Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani creating the picture for themselves, building a hallucinatory world one fluttering edit and suggestive image at a time. “The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears” is only appreciable as pure cinematic craftsmanship, and it’s a gorgeous movie, teeming with inventive compositions and wild lighting. As a mystery, there’s no tractor beam pull to the enigmatic happenings, leaving the effort all about form. Read the rest at

Film Review - Frank


Although it deals with troubling areas of mental illness, “Frank” provides a distracting visual with its titular character. A masked singer in a rock band, Frank doesn’t pull off his oversized disguise for anyone, supporting the promise that co-star Michael Fassbender is never going to show his face to the camera, content to hide himself as part of his character. It’s an effective tool to trigger ticket-buyer curiosity, and the gimmick does get “Frank” surprisingly far. It’s the film’s understanding of depression that leaves much to be desired, unsure if it wants to be a funny movie or a moving one, with director Lenny Abrahamson creating a diverting but vaguely penetrative picture that’s so concerned with idiosyncrasy, it’s missing consistency. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Prince


Paycheck roles for Hollywood stars is nothing new, but director Brian A. Miller appears to be building an empire with his access to once mighty marquee players. “The Prince” is the latest in a long line of forgettable actioners, with big bucks enticing John Cusack and Bruce Willis to drop by for a few scenes while Jason Patric does his best to carry the effort, which is little more than a flimsy “Taken” knockoff. Aggressive but hopelessly thin, “The Prince” hopes to dazzle viewers with famous faces, which act as a rodeo clown while the rest of the picture trots out snoozy underworld and revenge clichés in a most uninspired script. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Fabulous Frogs

Fabulous Frogs David Attenborough

A world-renown naturalist and television host, David Attenborough has acquired a close-up look at many of Earth's most dynamic creatures. However, nothing appeals to his boyish sense of curiosity quite like the frog. "Fabulous Frogs" is an episode of "Nature" that explores the life and times of numerous amphibians, with a focus on mating habits, self-preservation, and feeding achievements, traveling around the globe to achieve a greater understanding of the subject. For Attenborough, nothing gives him greater joy than an opportunity to share his love for the frog with the viewer. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Manakamana


The Manakamana Temple is located high in the mountains of Nepal, and while it can be accessed several different ways, the most popular mode of transportation is by cable car. "Manakamana" isn't a documentary about the temple, but a study of life inside the cable cars, with directors Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez welcoming riders into their cabin, studying interaction, discomfort, and reflection during the nine-minute-long trip up the mountain. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Music from the Big House


Angola Prison, often called the "Alcatraz of the South," has a history of violent inmates and chaotic rule. It's not a place few intentionally decide to visit, but musician Rita Chiarelli has a special mission in mind. Armed with a wealth of musical interests and desire to fill a place of darkness with some sense of hope, Chiarelli decided to stage a concert, teaming up with three prison bands (The Jazzmen, Little Country, and Pure Heart Messenger) to share the blues and a little country with a captive audience. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Cry-Baby

CRY BABY Traci Lords

It's almost impossible to believe, but there was once a time when John Waters nearly played by Hollywood rules. With 1988's "Hairspray" and its PG rating, Waters dialed down his interests in outrageousness while still preserving his love for the bizarre, making a dance movie the entire family could enjoy (a real event from the director of "Pink Flamingos"), though parents were more likely to understand the references. In 1990, Waters upped his game with "Cry-Baby," achieving the next level of studio acceptance with an ode to the juvenile delinquent pictures of the 1950s, blended with highlights from Elvis Presley's filmography. This PG-13 endeavor was met with yawn at the box office, but it showcases the very best of Waters's sense of humor and enthusiasm for details, crafting a loving parody of already goofy efforts, sold with high energy, big music, and cast delighted to frolic around the helmer's playground of the absurd. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Mr. Majestyk

MR. MAJESTYK Charles Bronson

Only a week before Charles Bronson took America by storm with the vigilante saga "Death Wish," "Mr. Majestyk" slipped into theaters, looking to cash in on a heartland hero trend boosted by the success of "Billy Jack" and "Walking Tall." While it has the benefit of Bronson's icy glare and a supporting cast skilled at playing ghouls, the film isn't exactly the man-against-the-machine event the movie's initial scenes hint at. More of slow-burn game of intimidation, "Mr. Majestyk" (my spell-check just killed itself) would rather explore the honor of a good rural fight, tossing cops, the mob, and a melon farmer into the ring, with screenwriter Elmore Leonard works out the details of the escalating aggression. While it's not a swiftly paced picture, it's a likable blend of bravado and villainy, with Bronson submitting his traditional thespian offering of deep squints, cynical chuckles, and reluctant heroism, utilized quite well by director Richard Fleischer, who embraces the star's dependably creased charms. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sin City: A Dame to Kill For


2005’s “Sin City” was a fascinating cinematic experiment. A slavish, stylish expansion of Frank Miller’s graphic novel, the feature enjoyed an element of surprise, stunning audiences with its particular approach to a literary adaptation. Instead of reimagining the book, co-directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller used the tome as an altar for worship, preserving the visual intensity of the original work and its taste for the unsavory. A hit with audiences, a sequel was all but guaranteed. However, that it took nearly a decade to revive this sleazy world is shocking, with the abyssal gap in years between installments hurting the aspiring series. Instead of fanning the franchise flames, “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” tosses a wet blanket on the fun, stumbling with a plodding follow-up that’s missing the insanity and most of the grim highlights that made the original so memorable. It’s as though Rodriguez and Miller forgot how to make a “Sin City” movie. Read the rest at

Film Review - The One I Love

ONE I LOVE Elizabeth Moss Mark Duplass

Spoilers are a tricky thing. Some readers get upset when the name of a lead character is shared in a review, while others prefer to understand as much about a movie as possible before deciding to buy a ticket. It’s a tightrope walk that’s never fun to attempt, but with some features, it’s impossible to discuss the particulars at all without some explanation of plot. “The One I Love” is a particular challenge because the entire picture is built on a secret. Not an explosive one, but just revealing enough to make any critique a mine field of potential problems. I will do my best to avoid ruining this wonderful film, but to be safe, if you’re committed to going in cold, stop reading here. Read the rest at

Film Review - To Be Takei


Actor George Takei used to be known for his role as Hikaru Sulu on “Star Trek,” remaining with the part through multiple television incarnations and a series of feature films, cementing his fame in the sci-fi realm. Ask a kid who George Takei is today, and they might list him as one of the funniest meme curators on Facebook, or perhaps his tireless work for human rights is what immediately springs to mind. It’s been an amazing journey for the deep-voiced man, who’s now the subject of “To Be Takei,” a hilarious and heartfelt documentary by Jennifer M. Kroot that explores the strange magic that surrounds the icon, and how he’s used his fame to support his causes, with a personal drive to make the world a better place formed during his tumultuous childhood. Read the rest at

Film Review - If I Stay

IF I STAY Chloe Grace Moritz

Sometimes it’s difficult to assess these teen tearjerkers, with my adult perspective reacting violently to the irrational decisions of young love, where passions rule and parents are a four-letter word. I’m all for warmth and deep feelings, but “If I Stay” is particularly ghoulish when it comes to the demands of an adolescent union. It’s a bizarre movie, though it’s interesting to note that the production doesn’t share the same assessment, plowing forward with images of death and unbridled selfishness without registering how weirdly it plays all stitched together. Mistaking control for adoration, “If I Stay” makes “Twilight” look like a Gloria Steinem manifesto. Read the rest at