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January 2018

Blu-ray Review - Space Camp


After years of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg enjoying the mysteries and excitement of space through big screen fantasy, the producers of 1986's "Space Camp" were looking to achieve the same sense of awe, only from a slightly more realistic perspective. During the shooting of the movie, the American space program and all things NASA were red hot, inspiring a tale of adolescents interested in the astronaut program accidentally shot into space. The premise was pure fiction, but director Harry Winer puts some effort into authenticity, grounding what amounts to a wish- fulfillment endeavor that's generally better with procedure than extravaganza. "Space Camp" has its dramatic issues, but there's a sense of time and place that's endearing, and the screenplay dares to provide focus on intelligent young characters put to the test, tasked with saving themselves and the space program as they conquer what they previously thought to be an impossible set of mechanical and survival responsibilities.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Flamingo Kid


For his second directorial outing, Garry Marshall taps into the golden memories of his youth. 1984's The Flamingo Kid" feels like autobiographical work from Marshall (who co-scripts with Neal Marshall), helming a low-energy coming-of-age dramedy that's thick with atmosphere and generally attentive to characterization. There's plenty of charm to go around in the feature, which hits on all the teen horndog trends of the era, but does so with restraint and good taste (earning the distinction of becoming the first movie to be rated PG-13 in the process), finding Marshall more interested in perfecting the screen details of the setting, stepping away from crude hijinks to make a sincere endeavor. Granted, Marshall's oeuvre isn't littered with gems, but "The Flamingo Kid" is one of his best pictures, showing a relaxed approach to jokes, relationships, and setting, making it catnip for viewers who enjoy nostalgia and tales of dented maturity.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Stone Cold Dead


1979's "Stone Cold Dead" is an adaptation of Hugh Garner novel, and writer/director George Mendeluk ("Bitter Harvest," "Meatballs III: Summer Job") doesn't know what to do with it. It's a suspense piece about a Jack the Ripper-style murderer prowling the streets, armed with a sniper rifle, but subplots are also dedicated to heroin abuse and trafficking, kinks in the prostitution game, dirty cops, and the elaborate feeding of fish. It's everything but really nothing, as the production is often pulled in different directions, and none of them are particularly interesting. It's Mendeluk's helming debut, and it shows, as "Stone Cold Dead" has moments of ambition that appear to be taking plot developments in the right direction, only to have the whole thing repeatedly undone by poor dramatic management.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Swept Away


1974's "Swept Away" is built to generate attention. Written and directed by Lina Wertmuller, the feature takes on two challenging subjects, politics and sex, and does so in the most charged manner imaginable, adding violence and subjugation to an already toxic brew of opinion and defiance. It's raw nerve filmmaking disguised as a black comedy, or perhaps a romance, with Wertmuller using her collision of classes and temperaments to poke viewers as hard as she can, making a provocative movie that has strange sensuality, repellent characters, and gorgeous Italian locations.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Kickboxer: Retaliation


1989’s “Kickboxer” was reimagined for 2016’s “Kickboxer: Vengeance,” keeping star Jean-Claude Van Damme, but jettisoning the B-movie escapism that made the original picture so much fun, especially for underdog action cinema fans. “Vengeance” was oppressive and disappointing, unfortunately helmed by John Stockwell, who’s not known for his directorial triumphs. While nobody asked for a sequel, Van Damme returns with “Kickboxer: Retaliation,” joining star Alain Moussi for another round of Muay Thai combat, only for the follow-up, certain tonal and creative changes have been made, making for a more engaging, intermittently rousing bruiser, scratching that “Kickboxer” itch with a broader continuation. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Maze Runner: The Death Cure


2015’s “Maze Runner: Scorch Trials” was released only a year after its predecessor, “The Maze Runner.” The producers were wisely trying to work through this adaptation of the James Dashner YA book series as quickly as possible, hoping to keep the attention of the target demographic, which almost worked, finding part two costing twice as much as part one to make and pulling in a slightly lower box office gross. It’s been a two and a half year wait for “Maze Runner: The Death Cure,” an eternity for this type of entertainment, presenting a creative challenge for director Wes Ball, who not only has to mastermind a franchise closer, but also provide a reason for anyone to return to this anemic brand name in the first place. His solution is to blow everything up, which works in fits for “The Death Cure,” but doesn’t magically make this 145-minute-long slog enjoyable. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Light of the Moon


“The Light of the Moon” adds an important perspective to the ongoing examination of sexual assault in film. Writer/director Jessica M. Thompson doesn’t create a melodrama to soften the blow of violence, generating a fascinating reality for the effort, which doesn’t pretend to have easy answers to complex questions of identity and aftermath. It’s an intelligent, emotional feature that’s interested in atypical feelings and reactions associated with the crime of rape, giving itself room to consider the bigger picture of relationships, inspecting how intimacies are challenged when the unthinkable occurs. There are no hysterics, just rawness and the deception of denial, making “The Light of the Moon” different, more in tune with the authenticity of the crime and its lingering hold on victims and their loved ones. Read the rest at

Film Review - Small Town Crime


“Small Town Crime” works hard to remain elusive. It’s not a comedy, but there are some big laughs. It’s not a thriller, but chases and shootouts ensue. It’s not a drama, but heaviness remains. It’s a whodunit without emphasis, with writer/directors Eshom and Ian Nelms keeping their cool while they construct a detective tale that’s defined by its idiosyncrasy and guided by a strong lead performance from John Hawkes. “Small Town Crime” doesn’t add up to much, but the journey is better than the destination, with the Nelms offering a mild ride with interesting characters and modest tensions, creating a special space for their cinematic interests. Read the rest at

Film Review - Like Me


With the release of “Ingrid Goes West” last summer, there’s already been a fairly accurate summary of social media and its capacity to distort lives, exposing dangerous levels of need and delusion. “Like Me” has the same interest in the potency of stranger celebration and condemnation, but writer/director Robert Mockler isn’t interested in playing straight with what little drama he offers here. “Like Me” is more of a modern art installation, going the abstract route with wild visuals and anxious editing, keeping Mockler busy orchestrating a 79-minute-long freak out. Your mileage may vary with the picture, as those particularly interested in an artful summary of personal ruin while find something to embrace here. It’s not for everyone, but what’s disappointing about the movie is that, at times, it’s only really for Mockler. Read the rest at

Film Review - American Folk


In a time of divisiveness, writer/director David Heinz makes a curious choice to return to a national nightmare to help identify the last time Americans share a common vision for anything. The event was 9/11, and while “American Folk” isn’t a story of terrorism, it utilizes the aftermath of the tragedy to inspire a sense of harmony, both literally through music and spiritually through a road trip, with the main characters experiencing a changed land that’s received a chilling reminder that unity is vital to the state of the union. “American Folk” is soft work, gentle on the senses and peppered with musical performances, and while Heinz gets a little too meandering at times, he’s after something kind and soulful with the feature, fighting current political and cultural divides with a reminder that civility and hope is still possible. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Orgy of the Dead


The credited director of 1965's "Orgy of the Dead" is Stephen C. Apostolof, but everything else in the production is born from the mind of Edward D. Wood, Jr., the famous architect of B-movies and no-budget nonsense. I'm not sure "Orgy of the Dead" could even be considered a legitimate film, as it plays more like a night at a burlesque show, with Wood scripting a vague horror story to help link together performances from ten dancing women, all working to share a sense of character and narrative with their gyrations as they slowly shed clothes. It's simple, effective, and for fans of Wood, remains in line with his exploitation interests. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Funny Bones


Director Peter Chelsom once had a promising career. He made his debut with 1991's "Hear My Song," and graduated to a more star-laden effort with 1995's "Funny Bones," but the ride didn't last forever, eventually stepping into career quicksand with duds like "Town & Country" and "Hector and the Search for Happiness," and journeyman opportunities such as "Hannah Montana: The Movie." "Funny Bones" was the last full-blooded Chelsom film, and it plays like a production that was, at one point, granted complete creative freedom to pursue any bit of whimsy and grotesquerie it wanted to find. The final cut is a collision of tones and ideas, but it remains distinct in its intent to be unpredictable and oddly sincere, hunting for the meaning of family and emotional stability in the mine field of professional comedy.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Slack Bay


It's difficult to pinpoint exactly what "Slack Bay" is, and I'm sure that's exactly how writer/director Bruno Dumont likes it. Strange doesn't even begin to cover this comedy about class struggle, cannibalism, levitation, and young love, but Dumont commits to every single frame, concocting a deliberate journey into oddity that's sure to polarize viewers, especially those expecting another tender Juliette Binoche period piece.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Trip with the Teacher


1975's "Trip with the Teacher" is an exploitation movie, filled with sleazy material, but it's actually is more of a horror film when one processes the dire tone and threatening behavior found in the picture. Directed by Earl Barton (his lone helming credit), "Trip with the Teacher" isn't harmless entertainment, made with a certain edge that's unusual for material that's not striving to be the most intelligent offering at the local drive-in. Barton isn't a craftsman, but there's menace to the work, which helps to pull the feature out of a few dead spots and endure the habitual overacting of co- star Zalman King.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Killer Barbys


After covering Jess Franco titles from the 1960s and '70s, it's interesting to watch the frightfully prolific filmmaker take on the 1990s. "Killer Barbys" is a 1996 effort that's meant to give Franco some appeal to younger audiences, merging his interests in gothic horror with the wicked musical and sexual appetites of punk band traveling across Europe. As with most Franco endeavors, it's all borderline unwatchable, but I recognize the man has his fans. I just need them to explain his appeal to me, because "Killer Barbys" is a complete mess of ideas aching for proper direction. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hostiles


Writer/director Scott Cooper doesn’t take it easy on his characters. He’s sustained a fascination with guilt and punishment with efforts such as “Crazy Heart,” “Out of the Furnace,” and his last endeavor, the middling “Black Mass,” exploring violence in all its forms, saving some specialized aggression for his climaxes. While he’s flirted with western motifs before, he goes all in on the genre for “Hostiles,” which doesn’t take the challenge of mounting a western expansion drama in 2018 lightly. It’s a graphic feature, with a few exchanges of brutality that will likely turn off some viewers, but Cooper doesn’t lose sight of his narrative and atmospheric goals, handling “Hostiles” with the muscularity it needs to power through its inspection of personal corruption and seeds of salvation in the still-wild west. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Polka King


His career choices have been a little unsteady in recent years, but “The Polka King” is a great reminder that with the right material, Jack Black is capable of wonderful things. The feature is an adaptation of a 2009 documentary (“The Man Who Would Be Polka King”), delivering a glossy overview of Jan Lewan, a Polish polka musician and odd-job guy who elected to set a musical empire on a foundation of fraud, dancing, singing, and hustling his way to financial freedom while believing in the power of the American Dream. Black is unleashed on the man and the material, filling the frame with such undeniable energy, giving co-writer/director Maya Forbes (“Infinitely Polar Bear”) much to work with as she details the unbelievable experience of a polka-slinging crook who couldn’t help himself.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Road Movie


I’ve seen some pretty flimsy film concepts in my day, but “The Road Movie” should win some type of award for simplicity. In an age where everything is available online, director Dmitrii Kalashnikov has elected to curate only the finest in Russian dash cam footage, weaving together a fantasia of accidents, speed, and surprises that highlight the pure insanity casually recorded during seemingly average rides across the country. Of course, one can find this stuff anywhere at any time, but the beauty of “The Road Movie” is how it generates a thrill ride atmosphere of horror and humor, with Kalashnikov delivering a vivid viewing experience with his highlight reel of disasters and near-misses. It’s 3D without the glasses.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Den of Thieves


It’s been about 22 years since the release of Michael Mann’s “Heat,” and the producers of “Den of Thieves” have decided it’s time for a remake. However, it’s not easy to create another “Heat,” a feature beloved in cineaste circles, often hailed as one of the best of the 1990s. Instead of outdoing Mann’s movie, screenwriters Paul Scheuring and Christian Gudegast (who also directs) go the inferior route, trying to toughen up their sprawling L.A. crime saga with enough testosterone and violence to make the audience forget they’ve already seen the picture. “Den of Thieves” isn’t the first film to sneak a few bites off the 1995 endeavor, but it’s definitely chewing the loudest, with Gudegast perhaps aiming for reverence, but comes up with mimicry instead, making for a particularly long 140-minute-long sit, especially without De Niro and Pacino around.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Mom and Dad


Brian Taylor made his directing debut (joined by Mark Neveldine) with 2006’s “Crank,” a low-budget endeavor that reveled in anarchy, finding a cult following that celebrated the feature’s maniac style and pitch-black sense of humor. “Crank” made a little bit of money. 2009’s “Crank: High Voltage” made considerably less, suggest audience fatigue with the duo’s scattergun cinema style, but they remained committed to the cause, making “Crank”-style movies with “Gamer” and “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance,” and both efforts were met with a collective shrug from filmgoers. Making his solo helming debut, Taylor once again goes to the “Crank” well for “Mom and Dad,” a predictably berserk creation that plays like a cross between “Parenthood” and “Dawn of the Dead,” chock full of the needlessly quaking camerawork, random editing, and screaming performances Taylor once required a partner to master.  Read the rest at