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October 2017

Blu-ray Review - My Chauffeur


Following up her starring role in 1983's "Valley Girl," actress Deborah Foreman makes more of a lateral move with 1986's "My Chauffeur." Keeping the Southern California quirkiness, Foreman ups her bubbly personality for the romantic comedy, remaining alert and attentive to the needs of the screenplay, which attempts to summon a screwball mood with broad antics and finger-snap timing. Writer/director David Beaird has a vision for "My Chauffeur," just not the clearest idea on narrative progression, often stopping the feature to highlight shenanigans that have little to do with the plot. However, he does have Foreman and co-star Sam J. Jones, who create passable chemistry and play off each other well, giving the movie a nice boost of brightness when it comes to character interactions, supporting the endeavor whenever Beaird has an idea that pulls his attention away from the rest of the picture.   Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Star Crystal


Released in 1986, "Star Crystal" is caught between two worlds. Perhaps conceived as an "Alien" rip-off, the production makes familiar genre moves, building up a mysterious threat from another world, and the film is set on a spaceship, highlighting crew panic with a strange invader. But there's also an "E.T." aspect to the picture, moving from mean and nasty to cute and cuddly, taking a strange tonal turn that suggests writer/director Lance Lindsay's original plan for terror was drastically reworked when moviegoing trends changed after the release of the Steven Spielberg masterpiece. Caught in the middle of confusing creative choices, it doesn't help that "Star Crystal" is also one of the most crushingly boring features I've viewed in recent memory. If Lindsay had a vision for the effort, it doesn't come through here, throttled by an extremely limited budget and lust for padding that simply kills what passes for pace.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Matinee Idol


Directed by Henri Pachard, 1984's "Matinee Idol" imagines a Hollywood where the adult film industry possesses enough regality to own studio space in town, along with an active backlot. Perhaps it's not such a fantasy when one considers the popularity of the industry and the recognition factor of its stars, but "Matinee Idol" attempts to sweeten the world with classic Hollywood glamour and humor, offering a light-ish comedy about thespian relationships and traditional sinful fantasies. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jigsaw


“Saw: The Final Chapter” was released seven years ago. It was intended to be the last stop on the Jigsaw tour of trap-based pain, but as it goes with horror movies, there’s never truly a final bow when there’s money left on the table. By this point, the franchise (which began in 2004) was a carnival dark ride, offering Halloween audiences a dependable multiplex partner for the holiday, with more care going into the extremity of murder sequences than into the ongoing plot, which by this sequel, resembled a stale pretzel left out in the rain. While dealing with a wildly profitable brand name, studio Twisted Pictures ultimately decided to take a break from the yearly grind. The machine cranks back to life with “Jigsaw,” which offers a new title for the same old games of misdirection and suffering, offering not a reboot or a remake, but yet another sequel…er, kinda. “Jigsaw” has promise in filmmakers Michael and Peter Spierig, but seems determined to provide the least amount of effort with this out-of-the-blue endeavor, giving devoted fans basically a television pilot with periodic geysers of gore. In an ugly, insipid series, the latest chapter has the distinction of being the least surprising and the most boring. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Suburbicon


Joel and Ethan Coen don’t usually allow their scripts to be manhandled by others, making “Suburbicon,” which they wrote in the 1980s, a rare event. Of course, with George Clooney directing the picture, they might as well be credited as helmers. A longtime associate of the Coens and a man with tremendous awareness of their specialized sense of humor and horror, Clooney (who teamed with the siblings for “Intolerable Cruelty,” “Burn After Reading,” “Hail, Caesar,” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”) is an ideal choice to guide “Suburbicon” through its labyrinth of tonal changes, mysterious characters, and hidden motivations. The Coens (along with Clooney and Grant Heslov) have attacked the poisoned suburbia story with attention to criminal endeavors and trust issues, while Clooney fights to find stable ground, unsure if he wants to play some of this jokingly or all of it sinisterly. There are no hospital corners here, but Clooney finds ways to keep the material rolling along, even when humor and suspense take a periodic break. Read the rest at

Film Review - Novitiate


There aren’t many pro-nun movies made anymore. Most endeavors tend to view the calling as a simplistic journey of sacrifice and comfort. Other pictures view the experience as a horror show of submission or, according the 2018 “Conjuring” spin-off, “The Nun,” an actual horror show. The miracle of “Novitiate” is how intimate it becomes, taking the Catholic journey seriously as it explores the fogged, searching minds of those who’ve elected to surrender their hearts to God and devote their lives to service, with most of the women electing to experience this mission already overwhelmed teenagers. “Novitiate” isn’t a to-do list of abuse, but writer/director Margaret Betts doesn’t flinch when punishment arrives, ultimately playing closer attention to the voice within as it searches for heavenly comfort in the unknown. Read the rest at

Film Review - Crash Pad


The state of arrested development and young men isn’t exactly fresh ground to cover, but “Crash Pad” supplies a healthy sense of humor to ease the routine of it all. It’s a silly endeavor that rarely pauses to get real, enjoying a semi-farcical tone that’s greatly enhanced by star Domhnall Gleeson, who delivers a spirited performance that’s capable of transforming screenwriter Jeremy Catalino’s iffy ideas into gold. “Crash Pad” isn’t a revelation, but it maintains mischief and exaggeration, playing nicely with a potentially sitcom story and familiar assessments of lose self-esteem and martial panic. At the very least, it’s funny, and that goes a long way to help forgive some of Catalino’s bad ideas.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Meyerowitz Stories


As Woody Allen struggles to be consistent, losing his very Allen-ness as he ages, it’s encouraging to see others trying to provide a recreation of the director’s early work. After scoring critical hits with “Francis Ha,” “While We’re Young,” and “Mistress America,” writer/director Noah Baumbach sheds his fascination with youth and returns to neuroses in “The Meyerowitz Stories,” which reawakens his interest in splintered families, making a fine continuation of themes and idiosyncrasy he began in 2005’s “The Squid and the Whale.” “The Meyerowitz Stories” plays exactly like an Allen picture at times, which isn’t an unwelcome creative choice, as Baumbach tends to be at his best when capturing NYC bustle and interpersonal awkwardness, offering a loosely plotted character examination that’s periodically hilarious and charmingly restless.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Thank You for Your Service


War at Home movies are difficult to pull off. They arrive with the purest of intentions, trying to shine a light on the emotional and physical wreckage of war, striving to communicate an urgent need to take the welfare of those who fight for their country seriously. When it works, worlds are opened (“The Best Years of Our Lives,” “Born on the Fourth of July,” “Coming Home”), and when it fails, melodrama is often to blame, overpowering the urgency of the subject as filmmakers wrestle with ways to capture their message and not abuse the audience (“Stop-Loss,” “Home of the Brave”). “Thank You for Your Service” is an unremarkable study of PTSD and numerous domestic disturbance issues, covering familiar ground of shattered men trying to put themselves back together again after serving their country. It means well enough, and writer/director Jason Hall has something to work with in Dave Finkle’s 2013 book of the same name, which provides a study of behavioral authenticity the feature could use considerably more of.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Mansfield 66/67


Deconstructing a pop culture legend is always a difficult endeavor. There are facts to consider, along with theories and legends, and when dealing with the life and times of Jayne Mansfield, there are numerous experts who’ve spent decades trying to decode the tumultuous experience of a highly educated sex bomb who wowed millions and died horrifically. Directors P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes play their approach to “Mansfield 66/67” smartly, establishing the documentary as “A true story, based on rumor and hearsay,” thus freeing them to go anywhere with this inspection of Jayne Mansfield and her interest in Anton LaVey, the head of the Church of Satan. It’s quite a story and, thankfully, quite the movie as well, emerging as more of an elastic collection of media and interviews that study the wonders of Mansfield and mystery of LaVey, trying to capture the irresistible camp of the pairing and pick out whatever reality existed between them.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Jungle


Director Greg McLean has built his career on extremes of horror, delighting in the chance to frighten audiences with overt frights emerging from watery depths (“Rogue”), the Australian Outback (“Wolf Creek”), and an office environment (“The Belko Experiment”). Perhaps tiring of blood and guts, McLean goes the true story route with “Jungle,” which has a few potent images concerning bodily nightmares, but mostly remains a searching, hallucinatory inspection of one man’s journey of self, hunting for identity through exposure to new cultures and adventurer’s spirit. “Jungle” is an odd picture, never really achieving an identity as something scary or profound, often spinning its wheels with aimless scenes while star Daniel Radcliffe carries the film with a fantastically committed lead performance, doing whatever he can to make moments count.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Halloween Pussy Trap Kill Kill


Encounter a title such as “Halloween Pussy Trap Kill Kill,” and certain viewing expectations are set immediately. It’s a campy name for what could be an entirely silly endeavor for the spooky season, recalling Russ Meyer-style entertainment sold with a contemporary indie film edge. The actual “Halloween Pussy Trap Kill Kill” is nowhere near as fun as the title promises, emerging as more of a “Saw”-style horror feature that details 70 minutes of iffy actors trying to project agony at top volume. In terms of meeting unavoidable expectations, the picture is a colossal disappointment. On its own, it’s a chore to sit through, with writer/director Jared Cohn more content to be abusive than creative.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Freeway


In the summer of 1987, there was a series of freeway shootings in Los Angeles, rattling a city already accustomed to everyday violence. Co- writer/director Francis Delia doesn't dramatize the event and its aftermath, instead using the hysteria to inspire 1988's "Freeway," which details a madman prowling the streets on the hunt for new victims to blast away at close range. It's a B-movie take on real-world fears, but Delia makes it clear he's out for exploitation purposes, fashioning a detective tale of sorts to support sequences of roadway massacres. "Freeway" isn't a finely knitted offering of escapism, but Delia captures a certain sense of panic and frustration, teasing a graduation to broad car-fu antics. It's not consistent in its recklessness and features plenty of '80s-style leaps in characterization, but the core viewing experience is preserved, providing a reasonably compelling cat and mouse game at high speeds. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Star Slammer


A B-movie director who shows a bit more interest in genre potential than most, Fred Olen Ray returns with 1986's "Star Slammer," which is actually titled "The Adventures of Taura: Prison Ship Star Slammer" at the start of the film. This is Ray attempting to fashion a valentine to serial filmmaking of old, positioning his heroine, Taura, as a new force of futureworld justice, putting her through survival challenges half-naked and full of pluck. While the ambition of the production is interesting, the actual execution of "Star Slammer" leaves much to be desired, depicting an intergalactic battle between warriors and villains on maybe three sets, with space opera visuals recycled from other productions. Ray does what he can to preserve his vision, maintaining interest in the multi-chapter format to the end, but the majority of the feature feels unnecessarily claustrophobic and overwritten, trying to assume the position of a sci-fi blockbuster without earning it.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Hunting Party


Assembled in the shadow of "The Wild Bunch," 1971's "The Hunting Party" plays with industry trends, merging the strangeness of spaghetti westerns with more direct offerings of punishment. It's an unappetizing feature, but it certainly isn't lazy, watching director Don Medford work diligently to make characters suffer or torment one another during every frame of the picture, practically getting off on the agony "The Hunting Party" provides. Perhaps to some, all this aggression carries meaning or reflects genre study, but in the actual endeavor, it's pure excess without the narrative substance to support its obsession with the grotesque.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Lemon Drop Kid


Perhaps the most fascinating bit of trivia associated with 1951's "The Lemon Drop Kid" (adapted from the short story by Damon Runyon) is the debut of "Silver Bells," a Christmas song that started here and grew to become a holiday perennial, covered by a multitude of artists, most famously conquered by star Bob Hope's frequent screen partner, Bing Crosby. Of course, there's an entire movie here as well, with seasonal cheer put into hands of Hope, who tries on a thin layer of Capra for this con man tale of semi-redemption, with the production making the most of his special brand of comedy. "Silver Bells" is merely icing on the cake.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Boo 2: A Madea Halloween


Last year, “Boo! A Madea Halloween” managed to scare up some sizable box office for writer/director/producer/star Tyler Perry, giving him a hit film for the scary season. It was a cheap, unfunny offering of his typical air horn-style of comedy, but it managed to lure in a new, younger audience looking to “hate watch” the endeavor, laughing at the movie instead of with. Either way, Perry’s financial standing improved, which is why, one year later, there’s a sequel. “Boo 2: A Madea Halloween” isn’t about to deviate from the Perry formula of terrible improvisation and limited locations, charging full steam ahead with a revival of Madea and her special way of dealing with the frights of the holiday. “Boo 2” is terrible, but you know that already, though it does identify just how little Perry cares about the look and content of his features, as the sequel is padded with inane conversations taking place in painfully static locations. Read the rest at

Film Review - Geostorm


The second half of October’s “Whatever happened to that movie?” release event (following “Amityville: The Awakening”) is “Geostorm,” which was shot three years ago, extensively reshot one year ago, and has been waiting for its multiplex debut ever since. It’s hard to believe any studio would hesitate for a moment when it comes to the distribution of a visual effects-laden disaster film. After all, it’s a genre that’s largely appreciated for its campy qualities and melodrama, welcoming hoots and hollers from audiences as the productions detail extravagant nightmares. Take “Geostorm” as an offering of extreme silliness, and there’s some approachable absurdity, but only in small amounts. The majority of the effort is leaden, noisy, and generally tone-deaf when it comes to the delivery of a rock ‘em sock ‘em entertainment, gradually revealing why the studio was reluctant to release it.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Brawl in Cell Block 99


Writer/director S. Craig Zahler made a strong debut with 2015’s “Bone Tomahawk,” which arrived in the form of a traditional western and gradually transformed into a vivid horror show. Zahler showcased a commitment to patient reveals, meaty characterizations, and ferocious violence, while his command of escalation was chilling, making “Bone Tomahawk” unforgettable. He’s returned with “Brawl in Cell Block 99,” which arrives in the form of a grindhouse-y prison free-for-all, though, once again, the danger is portioned out deliberately, with each scene building toward something unsettling. And bless his heart, Zahler delivers with the feature, which is unbearably ugly at times, but in all the right ways, presenting an exploitation pummeling that’s moody, grim, and utterly mesmerizing. And it doesn’t hurt to have star Vince Vaughn provide one of the best performances of his career.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Only the Brave


Heroism is difficult to define on the big screen. These days, most offerings of selflessness belong to fantasy characters from comic books, providing a larger-than-life depiction of boldness to achieve a sense of escapism and wish-fulfillment. There’s nothing wrong with the movement, but every now and then, it’s vital to be reminded of the human side of courage. “Only the Brave” details the rise of Granite Mountain Hotshots, a wildfire fighting team that suffered a catastrophic loss of life in 2013, bringing national focus to what these men actually do when they stare down untamable infernos. There’s a certain way such a tale can be played, but screenwriters Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer don’t take the bait, working on the creation of living, breathing characters, choosing to celebrate complexity over extravaganza. “Only the Brave” is a powerful feature, partially due to the sacrifices depicted, but primarily because it remains so grounded, appreciating the firefighters on a relatable level, without slopping on layers of melodrama. Read the rest at