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September 2014

Blu-ray Review - Seizure

SEIZURE Herve Villechaize

Before Oliver Stone was OLIVER STONE, he was oliver stone: aspiring film director. 1974's "Seizure" was his grand debut, storming the industry with a bizarre chiller inspired by nightmare imagery and the poisonous depths of the subconscious mind. It's also a fittingly nutty grindhouse offering that favors suffering, shock value, and unusual sights, including an appearance by Herve Villechaize as a knife-wielding ghoul wearing tights and a bone necklace. For that alone, "Seizure" deserves a look. It's just a shame the rest of the movie isn't nearly as captivatingly bonkers. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Meteor

METEOR Sean Connery

At the tail end of the disaster movie craze of the 1970s, "Meteor" landed with a thud. The 1979 picture boasts an incredible cast led by Sean Connery (also including Natalie Wood, Brian Keith, Karl Malden, Martin Landau, Richard Dysart, and Henry Fonda), and a dependable premise of Earth-threatening doom that permits panic on a global scale, yet "Meteor," for all its bluster and smorgasbord of iffy special effects (okay, they're awful), is merely entertaining, rarely hitting the nail-biting highs the subgenre is known for. The all-star cast can only do so much to liven up the proceedings, with director Ronald Neame gradually losing tension as the film drags out the obvious for far too long. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Cotton Comes to Harlem


Ossie Davis (who passed away in 2005) was a respected actor, but little is shared about his brief career as a film director. 1970's "Cotton Comes to Harlem" was his second movie, but it's an important feature when it comes to the growth of blacksploitation cinema, helping to define what the decade would eventually offer in defiant, gritty entertainment. It's also something of a supercop picture, always a delightful subgenre, bringing the exploits of Gravedigger Jones (Godfrey Cambridge) and Coffin Ed Johnson (Raymond St. Jacques) to the big screen, with the pair of no-nonsense cops scouring NYC to locate a missing bale of cotton containing a small fortune and nail a crooked preacher for his considerable crimes. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hector and the Search for Happiness


Something happened to “Hector and the Search for Happiness” during the adaptation process, something that took a novel by psychiatrist Francois Lelord and turned it into a touchy-feely British film with no sense of timing, tenderness, and character. All over the map tonally, with surprisingly little shame, the feature is a complete mess that carries on as a cinematic band-aid offered to moviegoers probably wondering why they’re expected to cry when they had nothing to do with the creation of this picture. “Hector and the Search for Happiness” is aching to be sweet syrup for the masses, but it never once does it stop and question how it’s setting out to achieve such universal love. The message has clearly been prioritized over the plot. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Two Faces of January

TWO FACES OF JANUARY Viggo Mortensen Kirsten Dunst

When producers arrive to adapt the works of author Patricia Highsmith, they gravitate toward her Tom Ripley series, which has spawned numerous movie and television iterations, exhaustively documenting the world of the tentative serial killer. “The Two Faces of January” heads a different direction, and while the menu here still includes death and panic, there’s a fresh sense of paranoia to mine. Writer/director Hossein Amini spins a convincing tale of suspicion with “The Two Faces of January,” generating an inviting level of suspense while preserving the spare details of the crime, utilizing his cast superbly as he feels around the corners of this moody, sneaky psychological thriller. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Equalizer

EQUALIZER Denzel Washington

Something has happened to director Antoine Fuqua in recent years. Something that’s made him a very angry man. His filmography has been peppered with extreme violence, with “Shooter” and “Training Day” not shy about sharing graphic content. Last year’s wretched “Olympus Has Fallen” delivered a more malicious Fuqua, with the helmer overseeing a relentlessly, needlessly brutal feature that reveled in its shock value. “The Equalizer” follows the same path to pain, again dishing up scenes of suffering and gore that’s more off-putting than celebratory, turning what should be a thrilling revenge story with an everyday hero into cinematic punishment. A highly ridiculous, extremely unpleasant picture, “The Equalizer” keeps Fuqua foaming at the mouth. Read the rest at

Film Review - Tracks


“Tracks” has a secret weapon in its outback locations. Bringing the true-life tale of Robyn Davidson and her amazing trek across Australia to the big screen, director John Curran wisely emphasizes the natural expanse and danger of the land, with glorious shots of nature in motion, alternating between punishment and salvation for the lead character. “Tracks” has its share of spirituality and wonderful detail, but it’s often a movie that’s best without dialogue, appreciating the hardship facing Davidson as she embarked on an incredible journey. That’s not to suggest the film doesn’t have dramatic value, but it’s most comfortable covering the daily business of survival in a seemingly inhospitable land. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jimi: All Is by My Side


When it comes to the challenge of bringing the story of Jimi Hendrix to the screen, writer/director John Ridley (who won an Academy Award for scripting “12 Years a Slave”) certainly didn’t have it easy. Denied use of Hendrix’s music to help populate “Jimi: All Is by My Side” with album hits, Ridley cooks up another approach, filling the film with the blues to help inspect the artist’s influences and personal groove. There’s also an amazing performance from Andre Benjamin to hold attention. Even without a familiar sonic presence to provide reassurance, “Jimi: All Is by My Side” gets under the skin of its subject, braiding bio-pic convention and considered editorial work to share a sample of Hendrix during his rise to glory. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Boxtrolls


Following up their work on the hits “Coraline” and “ParaNorman,” animation studio Laika returns with yet another darkly comic vision in “The Boxtrolls,” an adaptation of the book “Here Be Monsters!” Keeping to studio standards, the picture is a bizarre mix of the broad and the terrifying, handed a distinct English tilt this time around to perfect its dry sense of humor. As with everything Laika works on, “The Boxtrolls” is visually striking and intermittently amusing, but a little of this unusual world goes a long way, with pacing and story issues crippling an otherwise enjoyable romp through cheese worship and creature idiosyncrasies. Read the rest at

Film Review - Plastic

PLASTIC Emma Rigby

The “Ocean’s 11” template hits a new low with “Plastic,” a British import hoping to present itself as joyride of thievery, sex appeal, and turns of plot. Unfortunately, co-writer/director Julian Gilbey (“Rise of the Footsoldier”) has difficulty working out the tone of his movie, submitting wretched acts of life-destroying villainy, only to suggest that these ghouls are the good guys. Derivative and weirdly sleazy, the picture is completely cross-eyed, watching Gilbey work overtime to generate a slick offering of escapism, only to stumble with every ridiculous scene. “Plastic” doesn’t simply describe the method of fraud employed by the characters, but the level of cinematic craftsmanship as well. Read the rest at

Film Review - Lilting


Although “Lilting” is executed with a quiet dignity, the story concerns all the gut-rot guilt people carry around every day, unable to purge their deepest fears and largest regrets. It’s sensitive work from writer/director Hong Khaou (making his feature-length debut), who captures a specific feeling of anxiety that’s boosted here by communication issues and cultural differences. It’s an impressive effort from Khaou, who secures profound emotions without resorting to melodrama, taking the audience on a strange journey of confession that’s heartbreaking at times, showing a rich appreciation for the complication of love and the subtle urges of emotional needs. Read the rest at

Film Review - Take Me to the River


Since the advent of digital filmmaking, music documentaries have flooded the marketplace, each production savoring a slice of the industry by sharing anecdotes and showcasing performances. Over the last few years alone, pictures such as “Sound City,” “Muscle Shoals,” and “A Band Called Death” have explored unique stories of adversity and creativity, each blessed with an invigorating soundtrack of flavorful tunes. “Take Me to the River” is the latest effort to deliver musical history to the wider audience, and it’s teeming with legends and memories. Unfortunately, while the work is joyous and respectful, the movie is poorly directed, frequently decimating pure musicianship to spotlight banal conversations that add little to the overall flow of the feature. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Prom Night

PROM NIGHT Jamie Lee Curtis

1980's "Prom Night" holds a peculiar place in the slasher film spectrum. Created to cash in on the wild success of 1978's "Halloween," the movie arrived just before standards for this type of horror dipped into pure financial calculation. It's a tad slower than its brethren, offers limited violence, and submits a noticeable effort with editing and performances, making it quite interesting if not entirely triumphant. It's a mixed bag of delights, but "Prom Night" retains appeal through its unusual tone and care with motivation, adding just a hint of real-world torment to ground the masked killer shenanigans. Also adding to the picture's appeal is its era-specific setting, eschewing timelessness to whip up a disco inferno, gifting the feature a bewitching time capsule-style allure. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Roosevelts: An Initmate History

Roosevelts An Intimate History

In American politics, there have been many dynasties, but few have represented the nation's spirit of determination and authority quite like the Roosevelts. Enter celebrated documentarian Ken Burns, who undertakes an exhaustive exploration of the family with "The Roosevelts: An Intimate History," spotlighting the trials and triumphs of Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Eleanor Roosevelt. In typical Burns fashion, historical fixation results in television gold, devoting 14 hours to the understanding of motivation, hubris, and compassion, while reinforcing a criminally outdated concept of near-selfless public service that helped to secure the longevity of the family name. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Across 110th Street

ACROSS 110th STREET Anthony Quinn

1972's "Across 110th Street" is often labeled a blacksploitation picture, and while parts of the movie fit into such a classification, this cops-and-criminals saga appears to have more in common with "The French Connection." Gritty and mindful of perspective, the feature is a bruising examination of power and desperation, filled with energetic chases and fiery confrontations. And while the picture deals with race and prejudice, it's more interested in dissecting character, creating a community of hotheads after one another for numerous reasons. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Walk Among the Tombstones


It’s been a busy year for Liam Neeson, with “A Walk Among the Tombstones” his fifth picture of 2014. After his marquee value exploded with the release of 2009’s “Taken,” it’s been interesting to see the type of material Neeson has gravitated to, selecting a steady stream of blockbuster entertainment (“Clash of the Titans,” “The A-Team”) and downbeat indies (“Chloe,” “Third Person”). “A Walk Among the Tombstones” mixes both interests into one deflated soufflé, with writer/director Scott Frank’s serial killer thriller struggling to inject excitement into a mopey, overly stylized tale of no-nonsense do-goodery. While Neeson commits to the flawed hero routine with grace, the rest of the movie fails to acknowledge its low battery signal during a dismal second half. Read the rest at

Film Review - Tusk

TUSK Justin Long

After bottoming out with 2010’s “Cop Out,” his stab at a mainstream comedy with broad jokes and big stars, writer/director Kevin Smith stepped back from the movie business, reevaluating just what filmmaking meant to him. He found salvation in a bong and a podcast, returning to screens with 2011’s “Red State,” an interesting misfire that swapped his noted sense of humor for something far more sinister, trying to disturb his audience instead of tickle them. Continuing to mine his revived creative drive, Smith returns with “Tusk,” another demented micro-budget endeavor, only for this round, the horrors aren’t heavenly but frighteningly fleshy, mixing his love for conversation with a newfound interest in the macabre, producing a creature feature that’s original while retaining all the Smith-isms fans love. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Maze Runner


“The Maze Runner” is the latest entrant into the YA box office sweepstakes. While it shares a dystopia setting like its brethren “Divergent” and “The Hunger Games,” this story veers off in a slightly different direction, refusing the rise of the heroine path to play up paranoia and man vs. monster action. The change is refreshing, but “The Maze Runner” is beholden to an adaptation challenge that not only needs constant exposition, but also makes room for a crummy ending that’s not content to give ticket buyers their money’s worth, but demand they immediately save up for sequel. Perhaps a little more thought could’ve been put into the initial installment before a continuation is considered. Read the rest at