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June 2014

Blu-ray Review - Screamers

SCREAMERS Barbara Bach

"Screamers" is an entertaining adventure/horror picture, but its behind-the-scenes saga is even better. Produced in 1979, the Italian release was titled "Island of the Fishmen," offering mild thrills for younger audiences craving a monster movie without the pressure of extreme violence and other R-rated pursuits. Roger Corman purchased the distribution rights for America, ordering director Miller Drake to spruce up the effort with extreme gore, playing more directly to drive-in customer appetites. Drake created an epilogue starring Cameron Mitchell as a sea captain who escorts a couple (played by Mel Ferrer and Eunice Bolt) to a forbidden island, aiding their search for treasure, only to be gobbled up by ghoulish mutant fishmen. When this cut of the film, now titled "Something Waits in the Dark" didn't go over well, Corman's crew (primarily Jim Wynorski) cooked up a trailer that emphasized a cinematic centerpiece featuring a human turned inside out. Of course, no such scene existed in the movie, but nobody comes between Roger Corman and a dollar, with the refreshed advertising pushing the newly retitled "Screamers" into profit, eventually incurring the wrath of angry ticket buyers. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - House of Mortal Sin

House of Mortal Sin Pete Walker

In an attempt to rile up religious forces, director Pete Walker fumbles the basics of suspense cinema in 1976's "House of Mortal Sin" (a.k.a. "The Confessional"). It's not that the picture is a disaster, far from it, but the helmer is clearly out to provoke with this story of sin and murder, turning a respected Catholic priest into a stone-cold killer. Walker is begging for publicity with this one, but the movie doesn't earn is rabble-rousing intent, moving forward as a thriller that features some inventive violence, strong performances, and a perfectly acceptable message on human nature, only to lose potency with painful overlength and a bizarre choice to identify the antagonist right away, thus abandoning any hope for a proper mystery. In the end, there are more pros than con with "House of Mortal Sin," but Walker feels constipated with this effort, unsure if he wants to court controversy or make a cracking chiller. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Cousin Jules


"Cousin Jules" is a staunchly observational feature. It's the only credited work from writer/director Dominique Benicheti, who poured five years of his life into the making of the documentary, emerging from the thick of production in 1973 with a portrait of man and a woman and the farm they tend to on a daily basis. It's difficult to understand what Benicheti was hoping to achieve with "Cousin Jules," but his commitment to this epic display of rustic minutiae is something to behold, filmed in CinemaScope to bring out visual depth, even for the most mundane of tasks. And believe me, the tasks are mundane. It's a simple picture, but beautifully symbolic and endlessly fascinated with its subjects, looking to impart an appreciation for routine and its rhythmic elements, questing to manufacture screen poetry along the way. Read the rest at

Film Review - They Came Together

THEY CAME TOGETHER Paul Rudd Amy Poehler

Making fun of the romantic comedy genre isn’t difficult, and with most productions gladly gobbling down the same clichés, they already approach satire without knowing it. “They Came Together” has the advantage of actually trying to pants the formula, with “Wet Hot American Summer” and “Role Models” co-writer/director David Wain masterminding a blissfully silly effort that has fun with screen conventions, shredding such repetition with a joyful sense of humor that’s always on the hunt for insanity. Hilarious and rarely interested in mean-spirited evisceration, “They Came Together” is a wonderfully scattered picture, also reinstating hope that someone out there actually understands what a parody film is supposed to look and sound like. Read the rest at

Film Review - Transformers: Age of Extinction


Well, at least we don’t have to deal with Shia LeBeouf anymore, right? “Transformers: Age of Extinction” is an attempt to reboot the series, introducing new characters and goals to refresh what was completely exhausted at the end of 2011’s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” Reboot probably isn’t the right term for this sequel, the fourth in the series. Readjustment is a more accurate description, as little has changed when it comes to the velocity of the performances and the ear-bleed, eye-melt interests of the action. It’s typical slam-bang-upskirt work from director Michael Bay, who activates his autopilot and pretends that “Age of Extinction” is breaking new ground in the franchise just because it finds a way to introduce the Dinobots. Much like the other installments, if you leave the theater without a headache, you’ve disappointed the producers. Read the rest at

Film Review - Cabin Fever: Patient Zero


When Eli Roth’s “Cabin Fever” was released in 2002, audiences weren’t particularly interested in its blend of comedy and horror. The movie was shuffled in and out of theaters fairly quickly, but the picture’s reputation blossomed on home video, finding its cult audience a little more easily. Strangely, no major continuation was mounted, with 2009’s “Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever” a botched production nobody in creative circles seems interested in claiming. And now there’s “Cabin Fever: Patient Zero,” a second sequel that’s more of a franchise reboot, abandoning all ties to Roth’s creation as it sets out to rework the persistent spread of a flesh-eating virus to fit an even lower-budgeted series of follow-ups. It’s not the most ideal situation for director Kaare Andrews, but he makes the most out of a deflating position, crafting not an exceptionally memorable horror film, but at least an entertaining one. Read the rest at

Film Review - Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon


Since he’s given up on acting, perhaps directing documentaries is the next best thing for Mike Myers. The reclusive star (who hasn’t been seen in a film since 2009’s “Inglourious Basterds”) picks up a camera and sticks Shep Gordon in front of it, who’s not really famous, isn’t in need, or plays an important part of history (traditional documentary subjects). He’s just an entertainment manager who possesses some of the best stories around, rubbing elbows with the rich and famous for decades, helping to build some of the biggest stars in music and food. Gordon also comes off as a fairly nice guy, inspiring Myers to recount his life and times, hoping impart an old-fashioned message of loyalty and kindness in an industry known for merciless and reckless behavior. Read the rest at

Film Review - Nothing Bad Can Happen


“Nothing Bad Can Happen” is grim and brutal, but might very well be the rare screen depiction of Christianity that carries beyond simple cinematic reinforcement for the already converted. A German production, the movie seeks to understand the power of faith and how it’s often tested by gale force sin, loosely adapting the story of Jesus to isolate punishment as a test of will and belief. It’s “The Passion of the German Runaway,” but devoid of sermonizing and exclusion, embarking on a vicious journey for the lead character as his devout ways are challenged by those out solely to harm. Read the rest at

Film Review - Violette


“Violette” has a darkness about it that isn’t always easy to process, but it does achieve the striking sensation of a writer striving to find her voice. It’s the hunched-over, furious fingers pose that co-writer/director Martin Provost masters throughout the picture, acquiring a special intimacy with the subject and her vast appreciation for traumatic incident. Perhaps “Violette” overindulges with its run time (130 minutes), but the reward for such excess is a profound appreciation for a woman who struggled with sexism, self-doubt, and a troubled life to create something pure on paper, seeking salvation in the creative process, which is beautifully rendered in this film. Read the rest at

Film Review - Radio Free Albemuth


During my experience in moviegoing, I’ve observed that it isn’t easy to bring a Philip K. Dick novel or short story to the big screen. A sophisticated sci-fi writer, Dick’s material needs special care when translated to a screenplay, while a few of his ideas are truly resistant to the cinematic realm, better served in the expansive canvas of imagination literature provides. “Radio Free Albemuth” is the latest attempt to bring a headrush of exposition and ideas into theaters, and while it’s ambitious work, writer/director John Alan Simon is in way over his head with this enormous narrative that connects an alien empire to a Los Angeles record executive, fiddling with fascist government interests, a chart-topping song of revolution, and marital dissolution along the way. It’s a story meant to be consumed in small bites, but Simon attempts to swallow it all at once. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Coffee in Berlin


There have been numerous Woody Allen knockoffs created over the last four decades, but the German production, “A Coffee in Berlin,” has the right ambiance, just not the same neuroses and interest in wit. Writer/director Jan Ole Gerster (making his feature-length helming debut) has the right idea to mount a tribute of some type, but in trying to make his own mark with this somber material, he misses the connection between visual jazz and downbeat dramatics, creating a movie that always seems like it’s reaching for a laugh, only to reveal some type of grim behavior. “A Coffee in Berlin” does have its moments, and Gerster knows how to milk a running gag, but it’s difficult to accept this picture as anything besides confused, no matter how well intentioned it is. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Signal


“The Signal” is a brain-bleeder with surprising accessibility. This is a tricky review to write, as much of the film’s power comes from its secrets and reveals, with a deliberate leisurely pace to help accentuate moments of paranoia and an overall sense of psychological disturbance. Co-writer/director William Eubank conjures elements of “The Twilight Zone” and superhero cinema to help shape this odd but striking effort, and while the young helmer doesn’t have the tightest command of pace, Eubank makes up for occasional cinematic stasis with a convincingly mysterious viewing experience that successfully sustains interest all the way to the final frame. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Home Before Midnight


The concept of the meet cute takes a creepy turn in "Home Before Midnight." When we meet our lead characters, Ginny is hitchhiking down a quiet road, soon stopped by Mike, who's driving along in his car. He offers her a lift, she naturally hesitates, concerned with the prospect of riding with a single man. Mike, in his infinite wisdom, cracks a rape joke to lighten the mood. Ginny responds not with a crescent kick to the throat, but with a laugh, and quickly slips into the car. This is true love, folks, at least the 1979 British kind from director Pete Walker, who attempts to step away from his routine of terror films to make a sensitive drama about the trials and tribulations of romancing an underage girl. In a way, Walker remains in the horror genre, but instead of displaying blood and guts, "Home Before Midnight" traffics in lies and urges, asking the audience to judge these characters alongside the rest of their community. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Runaway Nightmare


There's no possible way to describe "Runaway Nightmare" to the average viewer. It's wild, weird bottom shelf production from writer/director Mike Cartel that seems like it was a struggle to finish. The 1982 feature appears to have an interest in comedy, action, and suspense, but no real clue how to achieve its goals, hampered by budget problems and a strange cinematic constipation from Cartel when it comes to the delivery of excitement or titillation. "Runaway Nightmare" is certainly intriguing as a surreal, Ed Wood-esque romp, but don't sit down with it expecting anything more than B-movie shenanigans. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Escape Artist

Escape Artist David Tennant

It's difficult to tell if "The Escape Artist" is meant to be a singular three-episode event or the pilot for a series to come. Either way, the program has its appeal, embarking on an extended arc of suspicion and revenge that teases stiff legal reasoning, only to give in to traditional thriller mechanics. It's a courtroom thriller with a side of respectable rage, and it mostly works, thanks to a superb lead performance from David Tennant, who holds "The Escape Artist" together when it occasionally rides off the rails, giving in to obvious performances and screwy plot turns. At the very least, it would be fun to see Tennant inhabit this character to solve a crime every year, with this introduction creating a credibly broken character whose fight for justice emerges from a rattled headspace, not an intellectual need to dominate the legal system. Read the rest at

Film Review - Think Like a Man Too


The whole point of 2012’s “Think Like a Man” was to celebrate the words of wisdom shared by comedian Steve Harvey. Adapting his 2009 book, “Think Like a Man, Act Like a Lady,” the feature embarked on a study of coupling, clashing personalities, and gender solidarity. It wasn’t a good film, but it was a box office hit, with audiences eager to absorb relationship advice from the host of “Family Feud.” For “Think Like a Man Too,” everything that defined the original picture has been wiped away, replaced with straightforward shenanigans, taking the celebration of dysfunction to Las Vegas, where, despite ample evidence of the contrary on television, anything goes. If the first movie was an irritating, poorly managed tale of people in love, “Think Like a Man Too” is straight-up obnoxious. Read the rest at

Film Review - We Are the Best!


After a stunning early career with such pictures as “Show Me Love,” “Together,” and “Lilya 4-Ever,” writer/director Lukas Moodysson has spent the last decade floundering with artful, symbolic, but often unsuccessful efforts, trying to reclaim his voice through chaos and strained drama. “We Are the Best!” (his first film since 2009’s “Mammoth”) restores some of Moodysson’s lost mojo, helming a loose, buzzing dramedy about musical ambition and personal expression. Although the movie often goes cross-eyed trying to figure out how to slip out of scenes, it retains joy and a rich sense of curiosity, brought to life through three terrific lead performances Moodysson manages with palpable glee. It’s great to have him back on two feet again. Read the rest at

Film Review - Venus in Fur

VENUS IN FUR Emmanuel Seigner

With his last film, 2011’s “Carnage,” director Roman Polanski guided an adaptation of a play. With “Venus in Fur,” the helmer returns cinema back to the stage, exploring the theatrical possibilities of David Ives’s play. It’s a minor boomerang effect that’s enlivened Polanski’s creative side, presenting him with the challenge of summoning tension in tight spaces. However, “Venus in Fur” takes more than a few unusual directions, evolving from a tale of persistence into a full-scale dissection of submission, boosted by two outstanding performances from Mathieu Amalric and Emmanuelle Seigner, who communicate quite a range of reactions to provocative situations, while Polanski, ever the mischievous one, amplifies deceptively casual combativeness into an engrossing psychological flaying. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jersey Boys


“Jersey Boys” was a sensation on Broadway, charming audiences and even winning a few Tony Awards in a run that continues to this day. It’s a show known for its lively energy, its toe-tapping hit songs, and meaty East Coast attitude. So why is the big screen incarnation such a joyless, tuneless slog? Perhaps most of the blame can be placed on director Clint Eastwood, who doesn’t possess the right kind of rhythm to make the material stand up and sing as it should. There’s also the legacy of Frankie Valli, the star of the show and a man treated so preciously, he’s practically fitted for a halo. Whatever magic was created onstage is missing from the movie, which spends more time mourning The Four Seasons than celebrating what made them a massive group to begin with. Read the rest at