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January 2016

Blu-ray Review - The Last Horror Film


Obsession cinema hits the hotels and beaches of France in 1982's "The Last Horror Film," which boldly takes its inspiration from John Hinckley's 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, with the would-be killer hoping to impress actress Jodie Foster with his display of violence. It's a provocative starting point for co-writer/director David Winters, but it's not a plot he approaches with sincerity. Something of a goof, with a broad lead performance from actor Joe Spinell, "The Last Horror Film" is best appreciated as a travelogue for the 1981 Cannes Film Festival and as a showcase of style for actress Caroline Munro. Lowered expectations are perhaps best to approach the feature, which doesn't care much for suspense, far more interested in mild industry satire and pulled punches. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Knack...and How to Get It


After conquering pop culture with his vision for "A Hard Day's Night," essentially fanning the flames of Beatlemania via the all-powerful influence of the movies, director Richard Lester builds on his reputation for quirk and non-sequiturs with 1965's "The Knack…and How to Get It," which gifts viewers time with Swinging London during a particularly fertile period of style and sexuality. Lester doesn't miss a beat here, investing once again in the power of avant-garde filmmaking mixed with dry comedy. However, the game of love doesn't play to his strengths, with much of "The Knack" an exercise in visual experimentation, with Lester forgetting to add a little heart. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - How I Won the War


Adapting Patrick Ryan's satiric novel, "How I Won the War," for the big screen, screenwriter Charles Wood and director Richard Lester take on a considerable creative challenge, tasked with identifying horrors while poking fun at a never-ending cycle of misery. Overall, the feature fails to convey the details of psychological poisoning, but Lester-isms tend to define the viewing experience, watching the impish filmmaker struggle to find a balance between the slapstick he's known for and the severity of the story. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jane Got a Gun


It’s been a long, hard road to a theatrical release for “Jane Got a Gun.” Hit with contract disputes (original director Lynne Ramsay left the picture on its first day of shooting), casting woes, and distribution setbacks, it almost seemed like the movie was cursed, unable to establish momentum as multiple release dates was scheduled and abandoned. Heck, the original Parisian premiere of the feature was canceled in November due to terrorist attacks. And yet, “Jane Got a Gun” has survived, finally seeing the light of day. Perhaps greatness was never in the cards for the production, but it manages to stand on its own two feet, with a mournful atmosphere that’s nicely handled by the cast and crew, who try to make sense of an impossible creative situation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fifty Shades of Black


It’s fairly easy to lampoon “Fifty Shades of Grey.” The source material is already nearing parody due to its misguided amplification of sensuality, leaving co-writer/star Marlon Wayans with little heavy lifting when it comes to making fun of something that’s already culturally shamed. Of course, this doesn’t stop Wayans, who returns to his juvenile sense of humor with “Fifty Shades of Black,” taking on the E.L. James empire with a no-budget vision for pantsing that sticks close to bodily orifices and racial humor. It’s awful, but you already knew that. On the bright side, at least this isn’t “A Haunted House 3.” Just kidding. There’s no such thing as a bright side when dealing with a Marlon Wayans production. Read the rest at

Film Review - Kung Fu Panda 3


While the wait between the first two installments of the “Kung Fu Panda” series was a surprisingly tight three years, the road to “Kung Panda 3” has been a little longer, with the last screen adventure for hero Po released in 2011. That’s an eternity in pop culture freshness time, putting pressure on directors Jennifer Yuh and Alessandro Carloni to make sure the second sequel was worth the extended production time. Mercifully, “Kung Fu Panda 3” is a respectable continuation of the animated franchise, and while the story isn’t completely engrossing, character charms and creative visual design remain as beguiling as ever. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Finest Hours


“The Finest Hours” is a curious blend of a big-budget disaster movie and a modestly moving inspirational story of courage, politely refusing to commit to any single dramatic tone as it visits crashing waves and pained looks. It's an impressively mounted picture, favoring chaotic scenes of self-preservation as its details the horror of panicked men struggling to keep their ships under control and prevent loss of life as they face impossible odds of survival. And yet, as purely intentioned as it is, “The Finest Hours” isn't as emotionally charged as it would like to believe, gradually revealing an uncomfortable distance from the audience as ocean-based mayhem becomes a coldly realized visual effects display. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Veil


“The Veil” remains locked in a holding pattern between psychological horror and a ghost story, never prepared to take either extreme seriously. Yet another riff on the 1978 Jonestown Massacre, the picture isn’t particularly menacing, laboring to generate the claustrophobia of life inside a doomed cult without exploring its working parts to satisfaction. Director Phil Joanou is gifted a few provocative events in Robert Ben Garant’s screenplay, but the final edit generally strips the feature of intimidation, with cheap scares and lopsided storytelling diminishing attempts to introduce chills. “The Veil” has a certain way with menace, but it never follows through on the sinister business it introduces. Read the rest at

Film Review - Lazer Team


“Lazer Team” certainly has spunk, carrying on with extraordinary energy as it attempts to satirize and celebrate the superhero genre. That little of it actually translates to laughs is a disappointment, but the production definitely deserves points for trying. Submitting untested actors in a low-budget action extravaganza, “Lazer Team” tries to get by on noise, cranking up performances and visual effects, but aggression doesn’t encourage comedy, finding the effort gasping for focus as director Matt Hullum struggles to achieve an overall balance of mischief and mayhem. The picture is never quiet for long, which might be enough to please its intended audience, but as long-form parodies go, “Lazer Team” isn’t particularly sharp. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Downton Abbey: Season 6


It's difficult to imagine a pop culture world without "Downton Abbey," but its sixth season represents the final year of life with the Crawleys and their persistent trends of disaster and glory. The times are a-changin' for creator Julian Fellowes as well, tasked with creating an extended cool down for a series that's prided itself on exquisite melodrama, organizing closure for an enormous community of characters. "Season Six" doesn't live up a level of engagement found in previous years, but as "Downton Abbey" goes, Fellowes and Company do a fine job with finality, using nine episodes to explore heart and hatred, tea and contempt; pulling off the familiar while adding a few new twists to spice up the viewing experience. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Spellbinder


1988's "Spellbinder" is a chiller with a sensual edge, exploring how temptation is often the most dangerous weapon evil can wield. Directed by Janet Greek and scripted by Tracy Torme, the feature carries a strange energy of suspense, weaving between the ridiculous and the inspired, but it retains a strong focal point in Kelly Preston, aptly cast as the object of desire. "Spellbinder" is a B-movie with limited scope, but it handles itself relatively well, delivering a few strong performances and a steady pace as it samples satanic powers and strange moments of intimidation. At the very least, it's fine genre entertainment, delivering on beats of seduction and panic with refreshing clarity. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Valentino


To put Ken Russell in charge of anyone's life story is asking for trouble. The notoriously mischievous director, a man who asked Ann-Margret to roll around in a pile of baked beans for "Tommy," takes on the legend of silent movie star Rudolph Valentino, trying to remain somewhat respectful for as long as possible, easing mass consumption of the 1977 picture. However, it doesn't take long before Russell's instincts are unleashed, transforming an admittedly odd viewing experience into a fantasia of elaborate sets, costumes, and old Hollywood personalities. "Valentino," which isn't entirely rooted in truth, is difficult to digest, with terrible performances and general storytelling indecision hobbling the extravaganza, but with a mute button handy, Russell's visuals do stand out, permitting viewers a chance to explore his unique creative approach, even when it's all wrong for the project. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Yongary, Monster From the Deep


Fearing that they were missing out on all the fun occurring over in Japan, South Korea decided to join the Kaiju sweepstakes with 1967's "Yongary, Monster from the Deep." Admittedly, the country was a little late to the party, but when it comes to man-in-suit antics and endless shots of terrified onlookers, the feature manages to satisfy, providing a buffet of destruction and panic for fans of the subgenre, while a substantial amount of time is spent with the titular creature. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Fantomas


Darkness is teased through "Fantomas," a five-episode serial that ran from 1913 to 1914, adapted from literary adventures created by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre. A villain with a sense of style and ability to change his appearance through carefully designed disguises, Fantomas is brought to the screen by director Louis Feuillade, who labors to transform the mundane details of crime fiction into riveting silent movie suspense. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Boy


I wish “The Boy” was nearly as fun as it sounds. Inspired by anthology horror shows like “The Twilight Zone,” the feature tries to pack in a few twists and turns as it slowly arranges a semi-haunted house environment for the main character. I suppose expecting something fresh from the director of the “The Devil Inside” is a mistake, but William Brent Bell only wants to cheat his way through “The Boy,” assembling a disappointingly flaccid chiller that’s never quite as amplified or disturbing as it could be, keeping a PG-13 mood of cheap scares and weak screenwriting before it gives up for good in the finale. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dirty Grandpa


Midway through “Dirty Grandpa,” there’s a scene that features Jason (Zac Efron) emerging from unconsciousness on a Florida beach after an evening of smoking crack, answering a Face Time call from his high-strung Jewish fiancée Meredith (Julianne Hough), who’s introducing the rabbi hired to oversee their wedding. In his daze, Jason doesn’t realize he has a swastika inked on his forehead. The character is also trapped without clothes, with only a stuffed bee toy strapped to his groin. A little boy, playing on the beach, spots the bee and immediately begins tugging on it, much to Jason’s horror. The ensuing physical confrontation creates the image of the child performing oral sex on Jason from afar, inciting anger from the boy’s inattentive father. That’s “Dirty Grandpa.” If you choose to see it, it’s your own damn fault. Read the rest at

Film Review - Exposed


Declan Dale is the credited director of “Exposed,” but the name is a pseudonym for Gee Malik Linton, who walked away from the film after executives drastically recut the movie. Even without this information, it’s clear something is awry with “Exposed,” which is all over the map in terms of story and character, stumbling around while on the hunt for a grander meaning that never arrives. It’s a baffling feature, especially in its current confused state, providing little reward for those electing to piece together what appears to have been an eerie exploration of sexual abuse and police corruption at one point during its troubled production history. Read the rest at

Film Review - The 5th Wave


“The 5th Wave” is Sony’s latest attempt to play the Young Adult adaptation lottery, recently striking out with 2013’s “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.” Chasing “Hunger Games” money (though I’m sure they’d settle for “Divergent” grosses at this point), the studio selects a strange book to bring to the screen, with author Rick Yancey’s coming-of-age saga set against the backdrop of an alien invasion a troublesome tale to manage on the big screen. Unfocused and dull, “The 5th Wave” doesn’t offer much of a punch, sticking close to YA formula that emphasizes teen heartache over a global battle for survival. Read the rest at

Film Review - Son of Saul


Most World War II Holocaust films tend to remain at a respectful distance, permitting the audience to understand the atrocities in play without a full submersion into horror. “Son of Saul” is a Hungarian picture that does away with boundaries, dragging the viewer along as a specific point of view is explored, with graphic details evident, but just out of focus to represent a true perspective with a character living inside the nightmare. Exploring a fractured sense of honor in the face of extinction, “Son of Saul” is brilliantly executed and chillingly evocative, creating a screen space that, while suffocating, also provides a window to pure behavior, with co-writer/director Laszlo Nemes locating a fresh chapter of the Holocaust to inspect. Read the rest at