DVD/BLU-RAY

Blu-ray Review - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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It's the most famous of the Spaghetti Westerns, the picture that shot Clint Eastwood to worldwide fame, and remains arguably the finest movie Sergio Leone ever directed. In 1966, he unleashed "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," and westerns were forever changed, not to mention the industry itself. A power play among three morally dubious characters remains at the heart of the feature, all chasing the elusive promise of gold, but the effort is really more of a showcase for Leone's inimitable style, which becomes an unstoppable force as the endeavor unfolds. There have been many imitators, but there's only one Leone, and his guiding force, backed by Ennio Morricone's legendary score, is the true star of "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," capping his "Dollars Trilogy" with a humdinger of an epic conclusion. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Clambake

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1967's "Clambake" is not one of Elvis Presley's most beloved movies. It's often the subject of mild mockery, with even Tom Hanks getting in a few shots on talk shows when his love for Elvis comes up in the conversation. Indeed, in the grand scheme of things, this is not the King's finest hour on film, but with lowered expectations and perhaps a great need for escapism, and "Clambake" can be entertaining, offering a jovial party and sporting mood that's helped along by a lively supporting cast, who do their best to keep a snoozy, woozy Elvis from completely checking out of the production. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Blu-ray Review - Beggars of Life

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1928's "Beggars of Life" is largely considered to be one of Louise Brooks's finest motion pictures. The material asks quite a lot of the actress, portraying a haunted character in the midst of interstate travel and personal turmoil, facing threat from all sides. Brooks gives the role all she's got, and effort is appreciated, adding a rich sense of emotion to the production, which winds through elements of murder, abuse, and law enforcement pursuit, requiring a little softness to balance out all the edge that's served up during the run time.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Gumby: The Movie

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I suppose there should be a club for those who saw "Gumby: The Movie" during its initial theatrical release. Or perhaps a therapy group. Interested in strange moviegoing experiences, I attended a matinee showing in September, 1995 (at the now demolished Brookdale 8 Cinemas, for the Minnesota readers), not really understanding what I was about to witness. My awareness of the Gumby character at the time was limited to occasional syndication encounters and "Saturday Night Live" razzing, lacking a doctorate in all things Art Clokey. While a few brave parents decided to share the wonders of stop-motion animation (then a rare multiplex event) with their children, I was the lone adult there willingly, and my mind was about to be blown. For the next 90 minutes, "Gumby: The Movie" offered sights and sounds so bizarre, I was worried about a possible gas leak in the shoebox theater. It provided a viewing experience that was impossible to describe to others, and the feature tanked so completely, it was out of theaters before I could process just what happened. And here we are 22 years later, and while I still haven't taken the deep sea dive into the Gumby archives, his one and only big screen endeavor remains as potently nutso as I remember, giving family audiences everything they could want: brightly colored characters, slapstick antics, and harsh lessons on the dangers of predatory home mortgage loans. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Blu-ray Review - Frankie and Johnny

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Arriving at the midway point in Elvis Presley's career as a Hollywood leading man, 1966's "Frankie and Johnny" is sadly emblematic of the legendary singer's film achievements. It's not a bad movie, far from it, but carries a distinct programmed feel, with the production getting its star up, acting, and singing before he's on to the next project, keeping the gravy train rolling along.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Good Son

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It's interesting to watch "The Good Son" today, 24 years after its original theatrical release, which was pushed primarily as an opportunity to watch Macaulay Culkin, the cherubic star of "Home Alone," play a villain at the tender age of 12. There's no doubt curiosity fueled the feature's so-so box office gross, and likely influenced many reviews at the time that highlighted the movie's somewhat distasteful interest in the torment of children. Decades later, with Culkin permanently erased from pop culture consciousness, "The Good Son" lacks its most shocking element, emerging from the savagery of time as a tepid chiller with very little depth and a tedious concentration menacing faces from Culkin, who's way out of his range with the teeny-weeny serial killer role. It would certainly make a fascinating double bill with "Home Alone," but on its own, the effort is shallow and unremarkable.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Devil's Brigade

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It's easy to dismiss 1968's "The Devil's Brigade" as a knock-off of 1967's "The Dirty Dozen," being one of the first productions to swoop in a sweep up any remaining audience interest in the adventures of mismatched military men. There's certainly a "Dozen" charge to the picture, but "The Devil's Brigade" manages to be its own thing, taking a look at the formation, training, and early missions of the 1st Special Service Force, which brought together American and Canadian forces, also offering a chance for film producers to populate the movie with a flavorful cast of character actors.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Obit

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In 2011, director Andrew Rossi brought viewers into the offices of the New York Times for "Page One," a documentary exploring the daily experience of journalism in its highest form, making note of writers and challenges that go into the creation of news. It was a fascinating look at the mechanics and personalities that make up the newspaper, and "Obit" returns to the same location, only this time director Vanessa Gould takes a deeper dive into a specific type of coverage for the New York Times, examining the construction and care of the obituary department. Like "Page One," "Obit" is a fascinating inspection of 9-5 work, highlighting the research, writing, and personal touches of the obituary section, with its staff trying to make their assignments something special, continuing a prized tradition of the paper.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Hack-o-Lantern

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Horror is synonymous with Halloween, but a few productions tend to take the connection literally. 1988's "Hack-O-Lantern" (a.k.a. "Halloween Night") is one of many slasher experiences set during the famous night of evildoing, and it makes an honest attempt to embrace the atmosphere of the evening with occult interests and the piling of dead bodies, looking to give fans a pleasing ride of creepy, campy encounters and some bloodshed. "Hack-O-Lantern" isn't always the most professionally crafted picture, but director Jag Mundhra (who passed away in 2011) has his heart in the right place, building a chiller that's full of diseased characters, Satanic panic (all the rage in the 1980s), and a climatic Halloween party, setting up a rudimentary but appropriately distracting genre offering. I don't think anyone will walk away from a viewing with a feeling of awe, but the movie is charmingly goofy and eventful.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - No Man's Land

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The Charlie Sheen that existed before "Platoon" was a very different Charlie Sheen than what we have today. Once a hungry actor trying to make something of himself while stuck in the shadow of his thespian father, Martin, Charlie jumped from role to role, trying his hand at comedy ("Ferris Bueller's Day Off"), action ("Red Dawn"), and…whatever ("The Wraith"). 1987's "No Man's Land" was in production when "Platoon" dominated pop culture after its late 1986 release, and it showcases a growing confidence within the actor, who floated along for another year ("Three for the Road") before ascending to larger industry opportunities, such as "Wall Street," "Eight Men Out," and "Major League." Sheen's magnetism is undeniable in "No Man's Land," and he's a good reason to remain with the feature, which offers a routine but stylish take on an undercover cop saga, with director Peter Werner doing what he can to jazz up the effort with smash-em-up car chases, shootouts, and assorted criminal activity. It's not the freshest endeavor, but it does provide a look at the birth of Prime Sheen, smoking and wisecracking his way through a fairly unchallenging part.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Night People

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It takes someone as commanding as Gregory Peck to keep 1954's "Night People" as compelling as it can be. It's a story of political and military maneuvering, but doesn't inspire a level of suspense normally associated with post-war troubles, with writer/director Nunnally Johnson electing a more theatrical approach for his directorial debut. "Night People" isn't gripping, but it holds attention thanks to Peck and co-star Broderick Crawford, who deliver pained, agitated work to keep a weirdly knotted tale moving along. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Variete

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The story of "Variete" offers broad swings of drama and disaster, and it's only fitting that the filmmaking follows suit. The 1925 silent picture is directed by Ewald Andre Dupont, and he puts in an energetic effort to help articulate the moods of the feature, with his camera playing a key role in the tale. However, there's more than cinematographic tricks in play here, with "Variete" also making room for star Emil Jannings, who delivers powerful work as a haunted man sabotaged by his own impulses.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Shalako

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1968 was a very special year for Sean Connery. After the release of "You Only Live Twice," he quit the James Bond franchise, freeing himself from the role that was already defining his career. And what better way to shed the 007 skin than to star in "Shalako," an adaptation of a Louis L'Amour novel, allowing Connery to trade suits and gadgets for a horse and the open range, continuing work on the construction of a varied career that would allow him the chance to play different types of roles. The feature explains his European flair (opening with a crawl that lists global influences on the American west), but classic Connery remains, giving a hearty performance in an engaging western, and one that feasts on a meat and potatoes genre experience. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Silkwood

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Fear of all things nuclear dominated the late 1970s and early 1980s, inspired by global hostilities and the success of 1979's "The China Syndrome," with its theatrical release eerily occurring mere weeks before the Three Mile Island meltdown, inspiring greater skepticism over the benefits of nuclear power. Many productions jumped at the chance to cash-in on the movie's unexpected success, but few productions could reach the same raw nerve of suspense and horror. 1983's "Silkwood" isn't interested in winding viewers up, but it traffics in the same big business vs. the world mentality, this time bringing fears and suspicions down to a more human scale, recounting a short amount of time in the life of Karen Silkwood, who died in the midst of exposing suspicious business and safety practices at the Kerr-McGee Cimarron Fuel Fabrication Site in Oklahoma. While it's based on a true story, writers Nora Ephron and Alice Arden, and director Mike Nichols, are tasked with finding the drama and heart underneath the headlines, giving the endeavor the tension of a proper nuclear intimidation chiller while keeping the caution of a newly-awakened life spinning out of control.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - My Chauffeur

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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.com


Blu-ray Review - Star Crystal

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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.com


Blu-ray Review - Matinee Idol

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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 Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Freeway

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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.com


Blu-ray Review - Star Slammer

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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.com


Blu-ray Review - The Hunting Party

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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.com