Blu-ray Review - The Mayo Clinic: Faith, Hope, Science

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While he's taken on the vast subjects of baseball, the Vietnam and Civil War, and jazz, documentarian Ken Burns goes very specific for "The Mayo Clinic: Faith, Hope, Science." Joined by co-directors Christopher Loren Ewers and Erik Ewers, Burns delves into the history and philosophy of the "miracle in the corn field," creating a two-hour-long understanding of perhaps the most celebrated medical institution in the world, which sits in small town Minnesota. "The Mayo Clinic" is as professionally assembled as the rest of Burns's work, deftly piecing together an overview of the hospital and its influence on the medical community, but it's also a profound summary of human potential and compassion. Burns isn't providing a cold read of facts, instead weaving together the particulars of progress while reinforcing what makes the facility so respected and successful, sending the work out into the world to remind the viewing audience that something other than a complete submission to profit can work in the healthcare industry. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Strait-Jacket

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1962's "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" reignited interest in Joan Crawford's career, also giving the world the rise of "Hagsploitation," where older actresses could dominate screens once again with material that plays to their aging appearances. Jumping on the chance to use a newly in- demand Crawford is William Castle, noted architect of "ballyhoo" cinema, and a man who knew exactly how to bring in an audience using the art of the gimmick. For 1964's "Strait-Jacket," the pull would be Crawford, who's tasked with creating a dimensional character out of an ax murderer. Castle uses the inherent ugliness of beheading to prime the creative pump, but the majority of "Strait-Jacket" belongs to Crawford, who huffs and puffs her way throughout the picture, giving it a rhythm of intensity it needs as it plows through Robert Bloch's screenplay, which isn't completely convinced that maniac mode is the best way to make it from start to finish. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Lowlife

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To help make his directorial debut emerge as something special, Ryan Prows (who also scripts with four other people) tries to make something very upsetting. "Lowlife" is a tribute to underworld crime films, especially one with Tarantinio-esque zigs and zags, with the movie explored in a distinctly non-linear fashion, opening opportunities for Prows to surprise. Viewers have been here before, but "Lowlife" does retain a certain oddity as it dips a few toes into the pooled sweat of Luchador cinema, while its quest to remain unpredictable for the first hour is laudable, before the whole things starts to feel like a chore to watch. Prows has the right inspiration, but stamina is difficult to come by in this knotted thriller, which is filled with grotesqueries and despair, hoping to make a dent in a subgenre that's been fully exhausted over the last 25 years. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Summer of 84

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The helming team of Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell is known as RKSS, and a few years ago, they reached into the past to inspire their post-apocalyptic adventure "Turbo Kid." A cheeky ode to VHS entertainment from the 1980s, video games, and teen cinema, "Turbo Kid" presented a valentine and a lampoon, building an enchanting low-budget world with exaggerated retro flair. RKSS returns to their childhood with "Summer of 84," with this round skipping silliness to delve into a murder mystery of sorts, staying in the warm bath of adolescent entanglements, but pushing the mood into something more threatening. There's a lot of sleuthing going in "Summer of 84," and while the title suggests a nostalgic romp around one of the best moviegoing seasons of the 1980s, RKSS actually dials down cutesiness for something darker and slower. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Film Review - Close

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At first glance, “Close” seems to be trying to push Noomi Rapace into Liam Neeson territory, taking on a role that turns the talented actress into one-woman-army mode, confronting a series of villains in her own action vehicle. If co-writer/director Vicky Jewson was interested in something that simplistic, perhaps the picture would’ve gotten by on sheer force alone. Unfortunately, “Close” isn’t a bruiser bonanza, but something tamer with occasional blasts of gunplay and broken bones. Jewson endeavors to comment on the state of corporate greed and stock price fixation with the screenplay (co-scripted by Rupert Whitaker), leaving actual violence to intermittent flashes of rage. The rest of the feature plays out with all the urgency of a cable news special report, missing a shot at genre indulgence as the production chases meaning I doubt few viewers will care about. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Film Review - Glass

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The big reveal of 2016’s “Split” was its position as a sequel to 2000’s “Unbreakable.” It played like a Hail Mary pass from writer/director M. Night Shyamalan, presenting a treat to his fanbase after they’ve years spent wishing for a proper continuation to his unusual take on iconic comic book formula. “Split” surprised many by becoming a sizable hit, managing to restore Shyamalan’s helming career in the process, and he’s spending his comeback bucks on “Glass,” which is, without disguise, the next chapter in the “Unbreakable” saga. However, Shyamalan isn’t one to give his audience exactly what they want, and “Glass” seems to exist solely to deny expectations. This isn’t a superhero blow-out paying off painstaking character mythos and pages of exposition, but another talky, low-energy endeavor that slowly stitches together the worlds of the previous chapters, with Shyamalan unwilling to do anything more with this universe than portion it out in small bites. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Film Review - The Bouncer

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Jean-Claude Van Damme has played his share of heroes and villains, but rarely does the action star receive a chance to play an average fellow. At least a normal guy with the ability to clear entire rooms filled with armed goons. “The Bouncer” is Van Damme’s attempt at a sobering study of parental sacrifice and protection, trying to remain as small as possible on screen to play a character whose primary goal in life is not to be noticed. There are no superhuman feats of strength and no splits. There’s not even a wisecrack or a wink. “The Bouncer” keeps Van Damme restrained, which makes him a credible guardian and a decent threat in the feature, with director Julien Leclercq trying to showcase a different side to the veteran bruiser, presenting him with an acting challenge that doesn’t require the lead to reach beyond his grasp. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Fyre

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If there was ever a ripe subject for a documentary, it would be the 2017 Fyre Festival debacle. It was meant to be a concert experience with primary attention paid to lifestyle adventures for the social media age, welcoming guests to a Bahamian paradise to experience pure luxury and time with celebrities of dubious value. It was the dream of co-founders Billy McFarland and “hip hop mogul” Ja Rule, who promised the world to ticket-buyers, trying to establish the Fyre brand name as a new force on the scene. However, what really occurred during the spring of 2017 was a complete disaster concerning false promises, poor planning, and outright fraud. Director Chris Smith (“American Movie,” “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond”) is right there to put together a puzzle of bewilderment and blame, emerging with “Fyre,” a superbly detailed overview of hubris and desperation that’s absolutely riveting to watch unfold. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - All These Small Moments

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For her feature-length debut as a writer/director, Melissa Miller Costanzo selects a coming-of-age story to feel out her cinematic vision. She’s not reinventing the wheel here, offering a snapshot of New York City inhabitants working through troubled relationships and their own insecurities while they process the ups and downs of love, but there’s passion for the project, which helps to patch a few narrative potholes along the way. “All These Small Moments” lives up to its title, sharing private time with characters trying to understand how to communicate with one another, with Costanzo focusing on short, poetic events that fuel self-inspection. It’s graceful work and heartfelt, fighting back cliché to concentrate on universal feelings and primal needs, making it all wonderfully human. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The Saint Bernard Syndicate

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What a strange comedy “The Saint Bernard Syndicate” is. I’m not sure it’s even supposed to be funny, submitting a darkly humorous take on business dealings in a foreign land, also focusing on a growing medical crisis for one character, who’s experiencing the trip of a lifetime as he nears his expiration date. It’s all sold with a dry wit by director Mads Brugger (“The Ambassador”), with the Danish helmer using workplace comedy dysfunction and documentary-style visual touches to sell the random collisions of culture and personality that fill Laerke Sanderhoff’s screenplay. “The Saint Bernard Syndicate” is very funny at times, but also chilling and always interested in weirdness, giving it a unique take on familiar rhythms of improvisational acting and snowballing scenes of discomfort. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The Last Laugh

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Writer/director Greg Pritikin has the brave idea to cast Chevy Chase and Richard Dreyfuss in a comedy, pairing two stars with a lengthy history of cantankerous behind-the-scenes behavior in what’s supposed to be a funny movie about funny business. I look forward to reading Pritikin’s book on the making of this feature one day, but for now, “The Last Laugh” does a reasonably fine job keeping Chase and Dreyfuss on target, unleashed on R-rated material that gives the actors sauciness to stir and punchlines to devour, using their own established personalities to boost the endeavor’s potential for unpredictability. Pritikin needs this element of surprise, as his screenplay often leans on cliché to get by, with hopes to make something heartfelt concerning the trials of aging and loneliness with two men who’d rather be launching insults than dealing with sincerity. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The Standoff at Sparrow Creek

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“The Standoff at Sparrow Creek” is basically an offering of filmed theater, but it wields its spare construction effectively, coming up with a novel way to rehash the Men with Guns subgenre. Writer/director Henry Dunham takes inspiration from Ringo Lam’s “City on Fire” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” to fashion his own take on loquacious criminal behavior located in a single space, and while he comes up short with punchy dialogue, the helmer has a sharp sense of mood, creating a dark space for paranoia and anger to grow. “The Standoff at Sparrow Creek” isn’t exactly the armrest-gripper Dunham has in mind, but it comes alive in fits, finding a way to make monologuing and dead stares compelling as connections between characters are discovered. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - An Acceptable Loss

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Directorial careers can be a strange thing, and Joe Chappelle has experienced a wild one. He made his first real mainstream impression with 1995’s “Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers,” and segued into 1998’s “Phantoms.” The genre launch pad didn’t ignite a hunger for his services, ending up helming “The Skulls II” before retreating from features all together, slipping into television to pay the bills. However, Chappelle managed to join shows such as “Fringe” and “The Wire,” sharpening his talents with quality programs, and now he’s back in theaters with “An Acceptable Loss,” working from his own screenplay. Newly empowered to make a timely tale of political deception, Chappelle puts in a noticeable effort with the movie, which makes it halfway to thematic clarity before formula kicks in. Still, some elements do connect as intended in “An Acceptable Loss,” displaying storytelling clarity where there wasn’t much before. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Stan & Ollie

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There’s really no need to recount the entire career of Laurel & Hardy, the premiere screen comedians who helped to define the possibilities of early Hollywood comedies with their practiced silliness and divine timing. Screenwriter Jeff Pope (“Philomena”) doesn’t even try, instead focusing on the twilight of their time together, moving away from the bustle of their most fertile years to examine a relationship breaking apart while strengthening at the same time. “Stan & Ollie” has nothing but reverence for Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, and such affection pours a sticky glaze all over the picture, which is impressively performed and paced, but also too schmaltzy to truly explore the duo and their unusual relationship of creative harmony and professional divide. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Memories Within Miss Aggie

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Director Gerard Damiano enjoys toying with taboos. While achieving his greatest success in adult cinema ("Deep Throat"), the helmer has never actually seemed like he enjoys his work, often attempting to break down eroticism to its most pained points of submission and madness. Attempting to follow a second hit ("The Devil in Miss Jones") with another brain-bleeder, Damiano touches on isolation and insanity with "Memories Within Miss Aggie," which isn't even remotely sensual despite multiple sequences of sexual activity. It's more of psychological horror movie, and one can feel Damiano's eyes rolling when he has to deal with hardcore couplings, showing far more interest in chills and shocks while building a "Psycho"-esque story of one woman's gradual disconnect from reality. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Cabin Boy

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While Chris Elliott developed a cult following during his years as the resident weirdo on "Late Night with David Letterman," there was no guarantee his audience was going to follow him once he left the beloved talk show. There was the problematic run of the Fox comedy, "Get a Life," but 1994's "Cabin Boy" was the real test of Elliott's lasting appeal, challenging fans to actually make a trip to the multiplex and spend money on his alt-comedy antics, with co-producer Tim Burton adding some creative legitimacy to the Disney production. "Cabin Boy" was a spectacular bomb 24 years ago, becoming an industry punchline, and it's easy to see why the movie failed to entice anyone beyond the completely devoted into theaters. It's not that the picture is lazy, it certainly isn't, but it's entirely dependent on Elliott's ability to be the center of attention, which isn't the best use of his particular sense of humor. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The House on Tombstone Hill

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First and foremost, 1989's "The House on Tombstone Hill" has a bit of trouble with titles. It was shot as "The Road," and presented on Blu-ray as "The Dead Come Home." The feature was ultimately sold to the video market as "Dead Dudes in the House," with Troma Films electing to entice renters not paying close attention to the details of the picture by pushing the effort as a hip-hop comedy, with title font that resembles a UPN pilot. It's a wild, wacky world of identification for the endeavor, with "The House on Tombstone Hill" the most accurate description of the material, which plays like a slasher version of an HGTV show, pitting home rehabbers against a ghostly opponent who enjoys killing those with big plans for her house. Writer/director James Riffel aims to please with a low-budget chiller, and while the movie has pacing and overcrowding issues, the helmer understands gore zone needs, keeping the feature excitable with violent encounters and panicking characters, offering a simple ride of single location terror. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Western

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In an interesting creative quest, writer/director Valeska Grisebach takes the mood, characters, and conventions of the American western movie and replants them near Eastern Europe. She keeps the attitude and the bulging masculinity, but the setting has changed, finding that most of what's used in American cinema applies everywhere with a little finesse. "Western" sustains such experimentation throughout its run time, with Grisebach crafting an effective experiment that eventually becomes its own dramatic creation, and one that's deepened with unusual, pained characters and a Bulgarian setting that's not normally associated with cowboy adventures. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Replicas

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Keanu Reeves has enjoyed a very tricky relationship with sci-fi entertainment. Of course there’s “The Matrix” and its towering influence on the genre, but Reeves also has titles such as “Johnny Mnemonic” on his resume, bringing down his batting average when it comes to wild stabs at futuristic complications. “Replicas” falls somewhere in the middle of his achievements, offering a mostly engrossing story of harrowing ethical choices and rash decisions before the whole things gives up and becomes a standard chase picture. It’s important to focus on the set-up of Chad St. John’s screenplay, which offers Reeves a meaty role of mad science panic, and also follows through on the complications that arise when the natural order of life is disturbed. “Replicas” finds its way early, which is almost enough to carry the entire endeavor, even when it plunges into silliness. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Pledge

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The experience of pledging a fraternity has been used to power many tales of discomfort, horror, and humiliation. It’s a setting that permits numerous opportunities for excess and exploitation, encouraging a high level of screen chaos to accurately represent hellacious behavior from problematic personalities. In recent years, dramatic offerings such as “Goat” and “Burning Sands” have dissected the psychological fracture of hazing, examining the blurred lines of brotherhood, but “Pledge” doesn’t share the same delicate understanding of need. It’s a horror experience from director Daniel Robbins and screenwriter Zack Weiner, and one that delivers all types of torturous actions and survival panic. It’s a refreshingly short, straightforward nightmare that benefits from simplicity, generating a visceral viewing event that’s periodically interrupted by cartoonish extremes. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com