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May 2015

Blu-ray Review - Revenge of the Ninja


1981's "Enter the Ninja" represented Cannon Films trying to bring their spin to the martial arts genre, using ninjutsu to jumpstart a new round of action pictures. The plan worked, but the franchise required a few changes. Losing star Franco Nero, supporting actor Sho Kosugi was handed the lead role, and the adventure was moved to America, losing the cockfighting chaos of Manila. 1983's "Revenge of the Ninja" really isn't a sequel, sharing no story points or characters from the earlier effort, merely continuing down the path of exploitation cinema, milking the ninja craze for another round of bloodshed and tests of honor. Director Sam Firstenberg doesn't bother with tasteful mayhem, filling "Revenge of the Ninja" with harsh deaths, sexual violence, and shredded faces, trying to grab attention with excess. The amplification works to a certain degree, with the movie generally indulging silliness as it stages big action and deadly showdowns. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Enter the Ninja


"Enter the Ninja" is widely credited as one of the first wave of martial art movies in the 1980s to bring the deadly world of ninjutsu to the screen. Igniting an exploitation cinema craze, producer/director Menahem Golan and his Cannon Films would go on to stoke the fire with sequels and spin-offs, but 1981's "Enter the Ninja" was their first born, and it's easy to see why the production was so eager to keep up with the secret society of cloaked warriors. Certainly rough around the edges, the picture is wise to commit to the plot with a relatively straight face. Delivering acceptable action and encouraging acts of intimidation, the feature largely succeeds as a sufficiently violent and masculine study of the ninja way, from a decidedly Western perspective. It's goofy at times, yet, in the heat in the moment, "Enter the Ninja" achieves an atmosphere of bottom shelf escapism that's hard to resist. Read the rest at

Film Review - Survivor

SURVIVOR Pierce Brosnan

“Survivor” wants to be accepted as a serious study of global terrorism and the everyday heroes who fight the bad guys through investigative measures. It’s a fine idea for a movie, but the script from Philip Shelby would rather play with broad chase sequences and laborious exposition than dig into the authenticity of office-bound defenders. Director James McTeigue (“V for Vendetta,” “The Raven”) does surprisingly little with “Survivor,” staging mundane action and guiding blank performances as the picture quickly grows into a basic DTV thriller, only missing a supporting appearance from Steven Seagal. Aiming to be pulse-pounding entertainment, the feature is barely able to keep itself awake. Read the rest at

Film Review - Aloha

ALOHA Bradley Cooper Rachael McAdams

Cameron Crowe used to make wonderful movies. They were pictures filled with humanity, warmth, and humor, dissecting the challenges of everyday life with tonal precision. While many single out 2005’s “Elizabethtown” as the first misstep in Crowe’s career, 2011’s “We Bought a Zoo” is a more defined fault line for the creative quake to come, with the feature resembling a parody of a Crowe film, not the real thing. “Aloha” is his latest big screen effort and likely his last for quite some time. A staggering mess of characters and plot, “Aloha” runs on autopilot, finding Crowe completely mystified by his own work, returning to tried-and-true scenes of cutesy idiosyncrasy and dewy romanticism without a basic understanding of what he’s doing. Read the rest at

Film Review - San Andreas

SAN ANDREAS Dwayne Johnson Carla Gugino

The disaster movie genre isn’t quite the powerhouse it once was. Think 2009’s profoundly goofy “2012,” which attempted to destroy the world one tuneless scene at a time. And now there’s cheap parody entertainment flooding pop culture, with the likes of 2013’s “Sharknado” and its lunch money budget defining screen catastrophe these days. “San Andreas” isn’t going to win any awards for originality, but its solemnity is a gift, returning a little horror and pain to mass destruction, delivering an end-of-the-world tone with a firm handle on panic. It’s hokey at times, definitely too long for such a thin premise, but “San Andreas” is never jokey, displaying an endearing determination to take catastrophe with the passable seriousness. Read the rest at

Film Review - Gemma Bovery

GEMMA BOVERY Gemma Arterton

“Gemma Bovery” gives the impression that it’s going to be an exhaustively intellectual experience, demanding audiences come to the picture with knowledge of author Gustave Flaubert and his greatest success, the 1856 story, “Madame Bovary.” Thankfully, “Gemma Bovery” isn’t a rigid foray into literary analysis, but a slightly cheekier examination of obsession with an interesting handle on tragedy. Adapted from a 1999 graphic novel by Posy Simmonds and directed by Anne Fontaine (“Adore,” “Coco Before Chanel”), the feature manages to tackle grim events with a certain lightness, while paying tribute to Flaubert’s work in a most unusual manner. Read the rest at

Film Review - Barely Lethal

BARELY LETHAL Hailee Steinfeld

“Barely Lethal” doesn’t know what type of film it wants to be. Opening as a satire of spy movies and teen cinema, the picture eventually gives in to cliché, becoming the very thing it was previously looking to lampoon. Director Kyle Newman gets caught up in the frivolity, concentrating on surface details and visual gags to such a degree, he forgets there’s a story to tend to. While it promises a clever pantsing, “Barely Lethal” ends up sleepover material, losing its bite and focus as it slowly becomes a tiresome Disney Channel-style production. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sunshine Superman


BASE jumping (Building, Antenna, Span, and Earth) is difficult to understand. Not the actual mechanics of the sport, but the mindset required to leap from impossibly high urban and rural areas without clearance from local authorities and often without warning. “Sunshine Superman” is a documentary about Carl Boenish, the man who essentially originated the pastime, tracking his development into a “freefall cinematographer” and focal point for the BASE movement. Director Marah Strauch has a lot of respect for Boenish, and this passion glows throughout “Sunshine Superman.” However, as an inspection of daredevil antics colliding with quasi-religious release, there are surprisingly few details about the man that contribute to a meaningful profile. Read the rest at

Film Review - Walking on Sunshine


There are knock-offs of “Mamma Mia,” and then there’s “Walking on Sunshine,” a British jukebox musical that sets out to replicate the sun-and-song formula to fuel another blockbuster success. Directors Max Giwa and Dania Pasquini aren’t fooling around here, actively looking to reheat “Mamma Mia” for a slightly younger audience, eschewing ABBA hits to mine the depths of pop music from the 1980s, creating a mix tape-style experience that merges singing, dancing, and easily digestible conflicts, while the whole thing is drenched in sun and colored with tanned skin. The laziness of the effort is remarkable to watch at times, even when its cast works diligently to put on a big show, making “Walking on Sunshine” amiable but frequently insufferable. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Barquero

Lee Van Cleef Barquero

Shaping his reputation as the hardest of the hard men of the west, Lee Van Cleef signs up for defense duty in 1970's "Barquero." A cowboy saga about bitter, unflinching men, the picture benefits from its star's customary domination, with Van Cleef using acting tools of intimidation and impatience to give the feature a decidedly masculine position, matched well with Warren Oates as the maniac baddie. "Barquero" is raw, with surprising violence for the era, but it's also an appealing standoff tale, using its surroundings inventively as two brutes battle over a barge along a wide, rushing river. Some weird ideas on sexual bargaining and insect threat remains, and the effort is a good 20 minutes too long, but for Van Cleef completists, the movie is brawny, aggressive, and entertaining in fits, joining the screen legend's long roster of meaty cinematic accomplishments. Read the rest at


Blu-ray Review - Class of Nuke 'Em High II: Subhumanoid Meltdown


Instead of following up 1986's "Class of Nuke 'Em High" with a straightforward sequel, Troma Entertainment reworks the premise to fit a new generation of radiated bedlam, stomping into a new decade with 1991's "Class of Nuke 'Em High 2: Subhumanoid Meltdown." It's actually surprising to see the sequel disregard its predecessor to this degree, with director Eric Louzil determined to make the follow-up his own, doing away with high school antics to concentrate on more monster-based mayhem. Keeping the Troma sense of humor, "Subhumanoid Meltdown" also pays tribute to the company's addiction to incoherence, with most of the feature a grab bag of ideas, gore zone visits, and topless actresses, with Louzil obviously overwhelmed by the demands of a low-budget comedic shocker. Its manic spirit is overwhelming, but there are choice moments of Z-grade insanity to feast on, with the continuation/remake abandoning storytelling to make a self-aware mess, and one that's fun in small doses. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Class of Nuke 'Em High


Attempting to outwit and outrun their 1984 cult hit, "The Toxic Avenger," co-directors Richard W. Haines and Lloyd Kaufman (billed here as "Samuel Weil") return to the dregs of humanity with 1986's "Class of Nuke 'Em High," which turns out to be the next logical step of splatter stupidity for Troma Entertainment. Instead of defining the origin story of a reluctant superhero, the production settles on absolute chaos, braiding a tribute to teen cinema of the 1950s with a gore zone spectacle of the 1980s. It's wild work, exploring a premise with surprising potential, but like most Troma endeavors, it doesn't know when to quit, gradually working from a cheeky serving of carnage to noisy bedlam, losing a balance between creepy and silly that aids digestion of the feature's first two acts. "Class of Nuke 'Em High" is only fun in the build-up to pandemonium, not when the effort finally reaches its orgy of graphic violence and aggressive slapstick, making the climax strangely anticlimactic. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence)


When writer/director Tom Six unleashed “The Human Centipede” on the world in 2009, I doubt he had any expectations beyond cult notice. His vision for horror was graphic and cruel, yet somehow the picture became a punchline in film nerd circles, while newcomers treated the feature as the ultimate dare. With extremity comes notoriety and profits soon follow, and now audiences are faced with “The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence),” which turns what was once intended to be a shocking and soul-crushing saga into a particularly violent “Funny or Die” sketch, leaving Six grasping to find a way to keep his cash cow sufficiently nourished for another installment of surgery and madness. Read the rest at

Film Review - Poltergeist


1982’s “Poltergeist” was a rare event in horror filmmaking. Unleashed during an especially virile year for movie releases, the picture was a diamond in a particularly frustrating genre, with producer/co-writer (some say he directed as well) Steven Spielberg conjuring an epic haunted house tale, complete with ghoulish visions of death and decomposition, backed by substantial special effects wizardry. It was weird, darkly humorous, and terrifying. Although Hollywood took its time, the “Poltergeist” remake is finally here, but instead of creating a new generation of suburban fears, the reheat simply mimics the original in a stunningly lifeless manner. That the 2015 version isn’t as riveting as the 1982 feature isn’t really a problem. But the new “Poltergeist” doesn’t even best 1988’s “Poltergeist III.” That’s cause for concern. Read the rest at

Film Review - In the Name of My Daughter


“In the Name of My Daughter” is deceptive in the way it concocts an intimate family drama concerning power plays and psychological unraveling, only to gradually emerge as a true crime saga. It’s the latest work from writer/director Andre Techine (“Wild Reeds,” “The Girl on the Train,” and “Thieves”), who provides a taste of disorder to help backdrop what eventually becomes a case of possible murder, paying close attention to moments of betrayal and discomfort that gradually funnel into accusation. Although it’s disjointed, “In the Name of My Daughter” is gripping, with enough troubling turns of plot to help forgive its awkward conclusion. Read the rest at

Film Review - Tomorrowland


There’s a call to arms concerning the future of the planet buried within the surprisingly leaden “Tomorrowland.” Director Brad Bird has his heart in the right place with this sci-fi adventure, hoping to stimulate minds with a story that celebrates imagination, intelligence, and effort, working to build an appropriately exciting blockbuster to ease concentration on all the homework. “Tomorrowland” is a curious creation with a bold visual design that’s erected with care. However, as pure drama, it’s inert, struggling to shift smoothly between wonder and enlightenment, offering manic performances that fail to inspire screen velocity. It’s certainly an interesting picture when it wants to be. Unfortunately, Bird doesn’t always want it to be. Read the rest at

Film Review - Slow West


“Slow West” isn’t a traditional western. Sure, outlaws appear, six-guns are brandished, and the long crawl of horse-based travel is felt. Writer/director John Maclean embraces important elements of the genre, but he’s after a more intimate space of dark comedy and conflicted men. “Slow West” is a special film, eschewing a more grandstanding show of force to cherry pick strange and sincere moments, carrying an idiosyncratic vibe that Maclean’s manages well, even when he can’t fill up an already brief movie. It’s not a hard-charging effort, but something softly strange, which is quite an achievement in this day and age of cinematic sameness. Read the rest at

Film Review - Good Kill


After making his directorial debut with 1997’s “Gattaca,” Andrew Niccol embarked on a troubling career of interesting failures (“Lord of War”) and outright disasters (“In Time,” “The Host,” “Simone”). Each film attempted to articulate the human experience, with attention paid to the manipulation of body and soul, but, more often than not, Niccol was caught delivering speeches when suspense was needed. “Good Kill” is an unexpected return to form for the helmer, who finds a sophisticated subject in drone warfare, with its troubling moral questions and military demands. Guided by a strong performance from Ethan Hawke, “Good Kill” manages to find a balance between demonstration and debate, allowing Niccol to indulge his beloved sermonizing while providing substantive characterization. Read the rest at

Film Review - Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman


As an actor, Paul Newman tried to lead a normal life, finding the big spotlight of fame uncomfortable when it couldn’t be used to his advantage. Building an iconic career in film and television, Newman had difficulty finding balance to his life, with soulful clarity found in a most unlikely place: car racing. “Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman” is a highly informative and loving tribute to the star’s “secret” life, striving to indentify a thirst for competition and speed that drove him to seek pleasure on the race track, where his marquee name couldn’t provide an advantage when strapped in behind a wheel. Read the rest at