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July 2017

August 2017

Film Review - Logan Lucky

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When Steven Soderbergh teased retirement from feature filmmaking after the pay cable debut of “Behind the Candelabra” in 2013, I doubt few truly believed he was going to give up the habit. He returned for the Cinemax series, “The Knick,” and now Soderbergh is back in an “Ocean’s Eleven” mood with “Logan Lucky.” One might expect something more profound from a revered director returning to the big screen (his first theatrical effort since “Side Effects”), but he’s in a silly mood for this West Virginia-branded caper, mounting a heist movie that’s big on broadness, with chewy, dim-witted characters trying to outfox one another while screenwriter “Rebecca Blunt” orchestrates a twisty, procedural event for the audience to snack on. It’s light stuff, which is a nice change of pace for Soderbergh, who, for the first time in a long time, seems genuinely interested in providing an entertaining ride, albeit with total boobs in the driver’s seat. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - What Happened to Monday

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As a director, Tommy Wirkola is a wily one. He rose to prominence with 2009’s “Dead Snow,” which pitted vacationers against zombie Nazis, toying with subgenre parody while playing it all with violent intensity, coming up with something different where few others could. Wirkola graduated to Hollywood attention with “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters,” permitted him access to a large budget and global attention, still managing to preserve his sick sense of humor. Eventually returning to his roots with “Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead” (a grand improvement over the original), Wirkola now graduates to more sobering fare with “What Happened to Monday,” which strives to provide vigorous action/mystery beats while essentially detailing the end of the world. “What Happened to Monday” is twisty and pitiless, but it retains Wirkola’s interests in aggressive confrontations, often sold with subtle cheekiness. It doesn’t feature the engorged fantasy flow of his earlier efforts, showcasing a maturing of sorts for a man who’s made two movies about zombie Nazis.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Naked

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Actor Marlon Wayans and director Michael Tiddes have been inseparable in recent years, but their output has been thoroughly depressing. They’ve been addicted to parodies, making easy jokes about dumb movies, scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of comedic content in efforts such as “Fifty Shades of Black,” “A Haunted House,” and “A Haunted House 2.” Their endeavors have been simply awful, becoming a fixture on Worst of the Year lists and box office returns have been dwindling. Enter Netflix, who offers the partnership a chance to continue without the pressure of multiplex performance, allowing the pair to try something a little different for their small screen debut. “Naked” aims to be a bit softer than their previous films, blending more romantic and dramatic elements with screamingly unfunny comedy, keeping Wayans expectedly unpleasant, but with a smaller decibel level, which is easier on the senses.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Dave Made a Maze

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“Dave Made a Maze” plays like a short film that spun out of control, unable to contain its big ideas, colorful characters, and bottomless appetite for homegrown visuals. It emerges from the mind of co-writer/director Bill Watterson, a longtime actor and once a mighty production assistant, who pours every last drop of imagination he can find into the oddball creation, which offers a striking odyssey into the shared uncertainty of milennials, who face domesticity, scarcity of work, and management of expectations often without a proper outlet for crippling fears. And it’s all stuffed inside a puppet theater-style explosion, with Watterson doing a fine job juggling tone and providing enough visual oddity to make this strangely sincere cardboard adventure work for much of its run time.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - 6 Days

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“6 Days” is a dramatization of an embassy siege that occurred in the heart of London in 1980. There have been many films detailing similar conflicts, and they all follow a routine of shock and chaos, with the defining elements of the production found in the moments wedged between argumentative behavior and terrorist demands. “6 Days” has an interesting story to tell in this regard, delving into the headspace of the madmen, the police, the press, and the Special Forces unit preparing to end the standoff when activated. Perhaps sensing a losing battle with originality, director Toa Fraser (“The Dead Lands”) keeps the picture taut and introspective, finding ways to encourage suspense and maintain personal perspectives in the midst of panic.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The Fencer

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“The Fencer” is a European production, but it plays like a heartwarming Hollywood production. It’s a post-WWII tale of leadership and redemption, and it’s something of a sports movie as well, but instead of taking on more obvious confrontations, the feature explores the world of fencing, using its foundation of strategy, elegance, and respect to inform a story about a man struggling to reconcile with his traumatic past, finding hope in the company of children. What could be saccharine and silly is transformed into a pleasingly sweet endeavor from director Klaus Haro (“Letters to Father Jacob”), who’s faced with a slightly icier version of “The Bad News Bears,” but manages to make something sincere. “The Fencer” is built to be an audience-pleaser, and it’s successful in that respect, delivering a level of benevolence that’s immensely appealing, even if it’s not the most challenging picture in release today.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Liza, Liza, Skies Are Grey

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The synopsis, “A coming of age California motorcycle road trip set in the ‘60s, combining elements of ‘Romeo & Juliet’ and ‘The Odyssey’,” accompanies the release of “Liza, Liza, Skies Are Grey.” While it’s certainly true that the movie features a motorcycle road trip, the rest of the claims aren’t precisely correct, perhaps reaching a bit high for this low-budget endeavor. A sense of self-importance drives the film, with writer/director Terry Sanders (a practiced documentarian) striving to make a distinctly American effort concerning universal curiosity about sex, crafting a period picture to return to a time of relative innocence, which best supports his mission. Aiming to replicate classic literature, and Sanders ends up with a YA novel, as “Liza, Liza, Skies Are Grey” is soft, melodramatic, and while not offensive, it’s just too imprecise for its own good.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Mummy's Tomb

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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.com 


Blu-ray Review - The Mummy's Hand

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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.com


Blu-ray Review - Son of Dracula

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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.com


Blu-ray Review - Dracula's Daughter

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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 Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Annabelle: Creation

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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 Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The Glass Castle

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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 Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Planetarium

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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 Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature

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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 Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Escapes

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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 Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Pilgrimage

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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 Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Armed Response

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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.com


Blu-ray Review - Malibu High

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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.com 


Blu-ray Review - The Hearse

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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.com