Blu-ray Review - Silent Night, Deadly Night


There's a slasher film for every star in the sky, and every now and then, one of these productions manages to upset a lot of people. 1984's "Silent Night, Deadly Night" was intended to become another holiday horror staple, joining the ranks of "Halloween" and "My Bloody Valentine" as a perennial moneymaker. Instead, the Christmas-themed endeavor from director Charles E. Sellier, Jr. was immediately condemned by parents and family organizations, objecting the use of a maniacal, murderous Santa Claus in marketing materials, moving on to destroy the movie itself as protests were assembled during the feature's theatrical run. Even Siskel and Ebert went to town on "Silent Night, Deadly Night," decrying its sleazy content and ill-advised use of an ax-clutching Santa on the poster. The picture didn't have much luck during its initial release, but like everything that's branded taboo and hated by parents, it managed to find a second life on home video, giving horror fans a chance to spy what's actually a fairly clumsy, amateurish, tonal disaster that strives to be cheeky fun, but offers more than enough repellent content to fully stifle whatever yuletide joy ride the producers were intending to make. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - They Call Me Bruce?


"They Call Me Bruce?" is a difficult film to understand, and perhaps it helps to be reminded that the production is from 1982, where stereotype-based humor was in its waning years, finding audiences growing tired of jokes that reinforced ugly ideas about race and foreign cultures. The screenplay strives to get in a few final hits before the window of opportunity closes, with director Elliot Hung seemingly have a ball staging this action comedy, which emerges as a purely cartoon understanding of East meets West clichés, striving to add a serious dollop of Looney Tunes to an already manic creation. "They Call Me Bruce?" isn't a movie that's ideal for a casual viewing, demanding an understanding of the time and place in which it was created, but for those capable of leaping over the effort's questionable taste in jokes, perhaps there's a wily creation in here somewhere that supplies sufficient entertainment value.  Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Kill and Kill Again


Technically, 1981's "Kill and Kill Again" is a sequel to 1980's "Kill or Be Killed," but the productions have little in common besides star James Ryan, who's not even playing the same character. However, hindsight is apparent throughout the picture, as it takes what worked before and amplifies the actioner attitude of the follow-up, with director Ivan Hall (returning for duty) creating a bigger adventure that's filled with martial arts demonstrations and meaty threats, but escalates the whole thing into a James Bond-style spy extravaganza set in South Africa, only without a grand budget.  Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - The Untamed


After exploring a real-world nightmare in "Heli," co-writer/director Amat Escalante returns with something sinister from outer space for "The Untamed," though the effort is far from a traditional alien terror extravaganza. The helmer goes for unease with this study of relationships and profound sexual experiences, with Escalante working a more metaphorical route to disturbing behavior, locating unusual suspense as he achieves a clear view of domestic dysfunction.  Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Strangers: Prey at Night


A decade is an eternity when it comes to the wait for a sequel. That’s an entire generation, and horror franchises generally keep puffing along when chapters are issued annually, maintaining whatever freshness was there originally that beguiled audiences. 2008’s “The Strangers” was a low-budget success, securing a certain future of follow-ups, but they never arrived until today, with “The Strangers: Prey at Night” taking on the unwelcome challenge of connecting to the original feature and showcasing a sense of renewed purpose to appeal to a younger audience. “Prey at Night” remains stuck with some editorial issues, and there’s the dead-end premise to grind things to a halt, but the newest celebration of nihilism and chart-topping hits from the 1980s is actually quite effective when it wants to be, finding signs of life in a brand name that was on its way to the morgue. Read the rest at 

Film Review - A Wrinkle in Time


Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 book, “A Wrinkle in Time,” is a beloved “science fantasy” novel that’s often been described as impossible to adapt for the screen. There was a 2003 television movie that attempted to bring the author’s rich imagination to life, and now director Ava DuVernay tries her hand at interpretation, armed with a substantial budget and a bit of star power. Of course, DuVernay isn’t a seasoned filmmaker, previously working on smaller scale pictures such as “Selma,” and her inexperience riding the bucking bronco of CGI, whimsy, and world-building is evident from the first frame. “A Wrinkle in Time” doesn’t work, and while the helmer struggles to transform the complex material into the starting line for a fresh Disney franchise, she often comes up short, finding the feature too stiff and underdeveloped to connect as an awe-inspiring tribute to the power of science and love.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Hurricane Heist


There’s no fighting Rob Cohen’s directorial style, which is meant to simulate a jackhammer to the senses. He’s a crude architect of mainstream entertainment, unwilling to make something special when he can just blow something up, and “The Hurricane Heist” is exactly the type of movie he does repeatedly and poorly. After bottoming out with the worst Mummy sequel (2008’s “Tomb of the Dragon Emperor”), the unwatchable “The Boy Next Door,” and the strangely mean-spirited “Alex Cross,” Cohen remains revved up for this mix of “Twister” and “Hard Rain.” It’s meant to be spectacle, but the helmer only knows noise, offering a 100-minute-long cluster of puzzling action, dreadful performances, and a loose understanding of how Mother Nature works. Not that “The Hurricane Heist” needs to be a documentary, but a little meteorological authenticity would’ve been a fine distraction from all the bottom shelf creative decisions peppered around this dud -- the latest addition to a particularly odious filmography.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Gringo


2008’s “The Square” marked the feature-length directorial debut for Nash Edgerton, who crafted a wonderful homage to Coen Brothers cinema while stoking his own interests in macabre turns of plot and damaged characters. Weirdly, he never produced an immediate follow-up, spending time in television and creating shorts, but now Edgerton has returned to the big screen with “Gringo,” which carries a few of the same mischievous impulses that made “The Square” such a winner. Sadly, the effort as a whole is a let-down, watching the helmer take on too much characterization as he masterminds a cat’s cradle of combustible personalities trying to control aspects of Mexico, with some hoping to make it out alive. “Gringo” is a misfire, and a periodically painful one too, almost unwilling to come together with any sort of welcome ferocity, watching Edgerton spend too much time on narrative dead-ends and not enough on an end game for all this widescreen bustle.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Thoroughbreds


Writer/director Cory Finley is a playwright making a transition to film, but he doesn’t leave behind the theater in full. “Thoroughbreds” is his helming debut, and it plays very much like a theatrical piece, focusing on the construction of personalities through tightly considered dialogue, not screen movement or cinematic escalation. It’s something to be shared inside an intimate space with talented actors, and as a movie, “Thoroughbreds” lacks vigor, especially with a static finale. Despite some issues with widescreen urgency, the feature certainly isn’t short on commitment, with stars Anya Taylor-Joy, Olivia Cooke, and Anton Yelchin doing a fantastic job getting into Finley’s writing, finding character beats worth savoring as the effort as a whole fights to remain on its feet without act breaks. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Death of Stalin


Armando Iannucci has a long history with improvised comedy, and a reputation for intelligent satire, previously masterminding such productions as “The Thick of It,” “Veep,” and his last big screen directorial endeavor, “In the Loop.” Continuing his interest in political bickering, panic, and ambition, Iannucci takes on the Soviet Union with “The Death of Stalin,” an ominous title for a movie that periodically shows interest in wacky behavior. An adaptation of a graphic novel, the feature remains in line with other Iannucci efforts, with the helmer putting his faith in behavioral extremity and thespian excitement, coming up with a lively but overlong examination of behind-the-scenes unrest after the loss of a feared leader. It plays to expectations, but it also offers some unusual tonal choices that keep it unpredictable.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Beast of Burden


It’s been fascinating to watch the developing career of Daniel Radcliffe. The once and future Harry Potter has been trying to make interesting career decisions, picking roles that take him far away from the Boy Wizard, eschewing fantasy for the hard edges of reality. “Beast of Burden” isn’t a particularly exhausting psychological thriller, but it does merge Radcliffe’s love of the theater with his big screen endeavors, offering him the chance to command a movie basically all by himself. It’s just Radcliffe and an airplane for most of “Beast of Burden,” resembling a higher altitude “Locke” as the actor is tasked with communicating a heightened emotional range, portraying a character dealing with professional, criminal, and domestic pressures while high in the sky.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Wrong Guy


After achieve fame as part of the sketch comedy group The Kids in the Hall, actor Dave Foley tries on leading man moves with "The Wrong Guy." He's not exactly testing his thespian skills in the 1997 effort, but Foley is permitted a frame all to himself, playing a man on the run in this Hitchcockian comedy, primarily in charge of depicting hysterics and executing straight man reactions to the weirdness and extremity the screenplay (written by Foley, Dave Higgins, and Jay Kogen) has to offer. "The Wrong Guy" is silly endeavor, and a consistent one under the guidance of director David Steinberg, who packs a surprising amount of sight gags and goofiness into the picture, while Foley remains in command of reactions, adding his special sense of humor to the mix while running all over the frame.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Woman in Red


It's easy to root for 1984's "The Woman in Red." It's written and directed by Gene Wilder, who also takes the starring role in this remake of the French comedy, "Pardon Mon Affaire." Wilder has increased the odds of laughter by securing such a fine supporting cast, including Charles Grodin, Joseph Bologna, and Gilda Radner. He's gifted the world the sight of Kelly LeBrock, who makes her acting debut as the titular object of desire. There are San Francisco locations to enjoy, and a lively soundtrack is largely supported by Stevie Wonder songs, including the once omnipresent smash hit, "I Just Called to Say I Love You." There's so much to enjoy here that it hurts the heart to realize the feature doesn't quite come together as substantially as Wilder envisions. He's got the tone and the cast, but "The Woman in Red" is something of a mess, with aborted subplots, random encounters, and strange technical choices conspiring to wear down the natural rhythms of the effort. It's easy to see what Wilder had in mind for the semi-farce, but it's difficult to watch him fumble scenes and lose concentration on connective tissue.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Sect


After achieving success with 1989’s “The Church,” co-writer/director Michele Soavi (best known for 1994’s “Cemetery Man”) takes on a smaller enemy for 1991’s “The Sect,” retreating the wilds of the mind for this horror endeavor. Strange water and nightmare realms define the slow-burn shocker, with Soavi taking his time building trouble for his lead character, asking the audience to sit patiently while the material works around some narrative dead ends and lengthy scenes of investigation. “The Sect” isn’t pulse-pounding entertainment, in dire need of another editorial pass, but the helmer scores with certain macabre visuals, offering wild, invasive camerawork and a game cast to conjure a cult disturbance.

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Blu-ray Review - The Man Who Died Twice


There's nothing particularly special about 1958's "The Man Who Died Twice," but it delivers a meat-and-potatoes crime story with relative ease. Directed by Joseph Kane ("The Yellow Rose of Texas"), the picture offers viewers time with very bad people and a mystery involving murder, drugs, and deception. And there's a little feline torment in there as well. "The Man Who Died Twice" is pulpy entertainment with a limited scope, but Kane understands what's expected of him, handling the screenplay's acts of intimidation and burgeoning violence well. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Brothers of the Night


"Brothers of the Night" is often classified as a documentary, but it's difficult to understand where the line between fiction and non-fiction remains. The picture tells the story of young Bulgarian men who've come to Vienna to establish a new life and make money, with some of them ending up as "gay for pay" prostitutes, collecting cash to send back home to family and spouses. Director Patric Chiha has an unusual topic to explore with his feature, but the blend of interview footage and nightlife recreation takes some time to get used to, with "Brothers of the Night" often resembling a reality show, not a deep dive into the wilds of identity. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Death Wish (2018)


The timing of the theatrical release of “Death Wish” couldn’t possibly be worse. In America, the subject of guns and the lunatics who possess them is headline news, and has been for the better part of 2018. And here comes a film that celebrates the destructive wonders of firearms and the value of reaching beyond the legal system to set things rights. All this would be incredibly distasteful if “Death Wish” was a passably provocative feature, but this remake of a 1974 Charles Bronson chiller is directed by Eli Roth, who has yet to fashion a moviegoing experience that didn’t involve the repeated rolling of eyes. Roth goes all Roth on the material, trying to turn the complexity of vigilante violence into a modern exploitation picture, keeping his take on aged material tone-deaf and painfully dim. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Party


Without opening titles and end credits, “The Party” is roughly 65 minutes long. In this day and age of bloated run times and overly plotted wipeouts, it’s refreshing to encounter a film that’s bravely short and to the point, giving audiences a direct shot of drama that’s all about the moment, not the aftermath. It also helps that “The Party” is a wicked little wrestling match of wits that’s darkly hilarious and expertly timed. Writer/director Sally Potter serves up a lean, mean machine of a feature, reveling in social discomfort and the possibility of violence, using a setting of celebration to release the art-house Kraken of suppressed hostilities, giving gifted actors a chance to run wild with pure emotional escalation. 65 minutes is just right for this dip into domestic chaos.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Red Sparrow


Director Frances Lawrence and actress Jennifer Lawrence previously worked together on the last three “Hunger Games” installments, likely forming a creative bond that was cushioned by the brand name’s Teflon appeal. Now they trade Panem for Russia, reteaming for the Cold War-style spy game, “Red Sparrow,” which once again situates Jennifer Lawrence in a position of pained resignation, playing another character battling against an oppressive government, doing anything she can to survive. “Red Sparrow” also has something else in common with the “Hunger Games” saga: an unwillingness to end. Two Lawrences fail to find anything approaching suspense in the thriller, which spend 139 minutes in extended conversations, trading deflated threats. Frances Lawrence appears to be under the impression he’s making opera, but all he’s doing is brewing a pot of Sleepytime Tea.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Mohawk


Co-writer/director Ted Geoghegan made his debut with 2015’s “We Are Still Here,” an effective horror effort that celebrated malevolent ghosts and cinematic tension. He pulled off an impressive B-movie with limited funds and locations, showcasing a love of the genre that helped to patch a few creative potholes. Interestingly, Geoghegan goes a different direction for his follow-up, and while he remains invested in gory events and shock value, “Mohawk” emerges as a period chase picture, with the production turning to the 19th century for inspiration. A sort of low-budget take on “Last of the Mohicans”-style adventuring, “Mohawk” has the right idea for suspense and mood, offering a propulsive pace and deep synth to support a tale of woodsy survival and bloodthirsty revenge.  Read the rest at