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May 2015

Film Review - Pound of Flesh

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“Pound of Flesh” has an encouraging premise, essentially pitting Jean-Claude Van Damme against an underground network of organ thieves. The very thought of the famous action star setting out to retrieve his kidney on the streets of Manila is enticing. Unfortunately, viewer imagination is far more compelling than anything “Pound of Flesh” has to offer. Dreary, underlit, and straining for meaning with a stilted script by Joshua James, the feature goes through the motions in terms of Van Damme and action, but director Ernie Barbarash doesn’t bother with momentum, often stopping the film entirely to tend to worthless dramatics and tedious performances. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Every Secret Thing

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Documentarian Amy L. Berg makes fiction filmmaking debut with “Every Secret Thing.” After taking on the Catholic Church in “Deliver Us From Evil,” the West Memphis Three in “West of Memphis,” and Hollywood’s history of sexual abuse in “An Open Secret,” it should come as no surprise to find Berg drawn to the themes of “Every Secret Thing,” which touches on criminal activity and psychological erosion, exploring the lives of broken people. Adapted from the 2004 novel by Laura Lippman, the picture retains powerful examinations of denial, but it seldom pieces together smoothly, often resembling four features running at the same time. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Secret Invasion

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While working on his Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, director Roger Corman found time to make his first major studio feature with 1964's "The Secret Invasion," a WWII men-on-a-mission film that took the helmer out of literary fantasy and stuck him in the middle of history. Boasting a diverse cast that includes Stewart Granger, Mickey Rooney, and Edd Byrnes, "The Secret Invasion" attempts to marry the cold realities of life with excitable conflicts, making an effort to ground matinee adventure with a certain level of emotional gravity. Most of the picture feels like filler, yet Corman deserves credit for stretching, struggling to craft a movie that can play as a distraction and still land a few psychological gut-punches along the way. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Madman

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Created during a fertile period in slasher film distribution, 1982's "Madman" takes a slightly different route than the average kill-all-the-campers genre offering. Rooted in urban legend idolatry and executed with the slow-burn build of a campfire tale, the feature hopes to creep out audiences with prolonged silences and extended stalking sequences. Patience levels are periodically tested during the run time, but as the effort unfolds, there's an appreciation for frights and atmosphere that keeps the picture interesting when it stops being engaging. Perhaps it doesn't reach the iconic highs of "Friday the 13th," but "Madman" has its simple pleasures, including attention to character and an unusual interest in music to help secure its creepy intent. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo

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Keeping the celebration going, "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo" made its theatrical debut only seven months after the release of the original film. Not that a breakdance movie is particularly difficult to piece together in a short amount of time, but during an era of three-year-long waits between franchise chapters, the speed of this release was alarming, clearly signaling that Cannon Films wasn't about to leave money on the table. If the kids wanted a second helping of Kelly, Turbo, and Ozone, Yoram Globus and Manahem Golan were more than happy to provide it, once again stymieing the competition during the curiously dance-feature-heavy year of 1984. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Breakin'

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Never one to let a trend slip through his fingers, producer Menahem Golan quickly jumped on the opportunity to make a movie based on the breakdancing craze that swept across the nation in the 1980s. Golan's Cannon Films sprinted to the finish line with 1984's "Breakin'" with hopes to beat the competition, "Beat Street" (which took a more sobering look at hip hop culture), to the punch. Cannon won the war, transforming the feature into a sizable hit (keep in mind that the movie outgrossed "The Terminator" that year). While such production determination is interesting, "Breakin'" certainly has its issues, struggling with dramatic concerns as it spends most of its energy on musical numbers and street dance choreography. However, technical and emotional limitations aside, the picture has a certain spirit that's hard to deny, providing a look at bodies in motion as they quake, roll, and spin their way around the frame, keeping the feature's batteries charged long enough to make the effort easily digestible and, at times, terrific escapism. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Area 51

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After experiencing distribution rejection around Hollywood, 2007’s “Paranormal Activity” finally found a home with Paramount Pictures. Electing to experiment with a word-of-mouth publicity campaign, the studio carefully expanded the feature into theaters during the 2009 Halloween season, creating a low-budget, slow-burn blockbuster out of next to nothing, transforming director Oren Peli into the next big thing. “Area 51” is his long-awaited follow-up to “Paranormal Activity,” though its road to the big screen has been bumpy. Shot in 2009, the film is finally seeing the light of day, finally offering fans a chance to catch what Peli has been up to for the last six years. Turns out, he’s been fine-tuning a clunker, with “Area 51” a shameless rehash of the found-footage formula that gifted him a helming career. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Felix and Meira

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As understated romances go, “Felix and Meira” has the advantage of religious divide. An unusual story of hesitation and self-expression, the French-Canadian production manages to preserve a sense of restraint, delivering characterization through looks instead of melodrama. While it features a few bizarre touches, “Felix and Meira” is strongly detailed by co-writer/director Maxime Giroux, who uses the limited space he’s created to examine intimacy that rarely carries over to demonstration. It’s a refreshing change of pace in a measured movie, with emotion pushing through silences as the plot seeks to understand personal need, not itemize the high and lows of human connection. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Absolution

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It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Steven Seagal take on a starring role in a feature film. There’s was a supporting turn in 2010’s “Machete,” but little of his output receives much attention these days, sticking to the DTV market to pump out actioners with nondescript titles such as “Urban Justice” and “A Dangerous Man.” He was once an excitingly intimidating screen presence in the early 1990s, but Seagal isn’t interested in making an effort anymore. “Absolution” is his latest thriller, a sequel to 2013’s “Force of Execution” and 2014’s “A Good Man,” though one could hardly tell from the general programmed feel of the picture. Returning to his comfort zone of bulky costuming and easily defeated baddies, the new Seagal production is much like the other Seagal productions, with the mumbly, iron-fisted star barely paying attention while the movie carries on around him. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Mad Max: Fury Road

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It’s been 30 years since the release of “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,” the last installment of the George Miller franchise to star Mel Gibson as a titular post-apocalyptic survivor. Having gone on to create some memorable cinema (“The Witches of Eastwick,” “Lorenzo’s Oil”) and a few creative question marks (“Babe: Pig in the City,” “Happy Feet Two”), it seems Miller is itching to return to the open road, craving some automobile mayhem. Fitting star Tom Hardy for the famous boots and protective gear, Miller revs up a new generation of hero for “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which pumps the core battle between man and machine up to an epic size, while losing none of the delightful idiosyncrasy the helmer has turned into a fingerprint. It’s enormous, destructive, and largely indescribable. It’s also a gleefully barnstorming actioner that’s going to be difficult to top this year. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story

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Following in the footsteps of “Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey,” “I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story” tells the tale of an icon underneath an icon. Spinney is the performer of characters Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on “Sesame Street,” dividing his time between two of the most popular puppets in the history of the globally revered public television program. Spinney is also one of the few left who was there at the very beginning, spending over 40 years entertaining children with puppetry that places tremendous demand on his body. It seems appropriate that Spinney should have a moment in spotlight, with directors Dave LaMattina and Chad Walker securing the performer’s legacy with this fascinating documentary. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Pitch Perfect 2

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2012’s “Pitch Perfect” was a type of sleeper hit Hollywood doesn’t experience much anymore. Without stars to sell, the featured used music as a way to entice its audience, and once those ticket-buyers where lassoed into the theater, they were sold a smorgasbord of stereotype humor and vomit jokes. But the music remained, helping the picture score big with its primary demographic, spawning a hit single in Anna Kendrick’s “Cups.” Of course a sequel was ordered, only little thought has been put into the continuing adventures of the Barden Bellas, with director Elizabeth Banks returning to the comfort of songs and broad performances, declining to do anything original with chapter two. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Iris

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Iris Apfel is an original. Sharp, funny, and in possession of a worldly knowledge of fashion and art, Iris has made a name for herself through collecting, filling an apartment and storage units with diverse clothing, accessories, and tchotchkes. It’s no wonder director Albert Maysles elected to make a documentary about her life and philosophy. In fact, Maysels, a legendary documentarian (“Gimme Shelter,” “Grey Gardens”), almost becomes a part of the feature, joining Iris as she visits her favorite places, displays her authority and instinct, and carries on with everyday business, leaving the filmmaker to create his own moments of cinematic focus. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Preggoland

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Screenwriter/star Sonja Bennett has the right idea with “Preggoland.” Confronting the cult of mommydom and assorted issues of maturity, Bennett creates a comedy that reaches a few honest points of repulsion, dealing with real emotions surrounding the peer pressure to reproduce. There are also numerous sitcom touches to the writing that derail Bennett’s themes, with “Preggoland” caught pulling a few punches. Despite a few ill-advised detours into predictability, the feature generally remains on task, constructing a compelling, periodically amusing look at conformity and misunderstanding, finding some fresh material to mine with a plot that’s already informed a wide range of comedy projects. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Man of Violence

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1971's "Man of Violence" (billed on the print as "Moon") represents co-writer/director Pete Walker's continuing exploration of the gangster genre, arriving soon after "The Big Switch." Acquiring a slightly larger budget and considerably more ambition, Walker expands his scope with "Man of Violence," trying to achieve a crisscrossing sense of antagonism and sexuality, using the dying light of Swinging London to his advantage, allowing for a darker but still unbearably paced picture that struggles to fill its permissive 109 minute run time. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Big Switch

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Working his way out of the nudie movie business, 1968's "The Big Switch" represents writer/director Peter Walker's effort to redirect his career, trying to make a down and dirty impression with this British gangster picture. With its emphasis on violence and nudity, it's easy to see what Walker was after with "The Big Switch," hoping to tantalize audiences with exploitative elements he spent his early years perfecting. Missing from the film is any type of pace and conflict, lumbering along, waiting for the periodic burst of aggression to snap it awake. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Mr. Selfridge: Season 3

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What began life as a "Downton Abbey" knockoff has built a home of its own. ITV's "Mr. Selfridge" graduates to its third season, with the mission for this year becoming one of separation. Initially conceived as a drama about the inner workings of the world's most famous department store, the series has decided to jump ahead five years (avoiding expensive World War I recreation demands), branching out with established characters, most not even involved with the business anymore. In short: there's little store in the show about a store. It's a bold creative leap for what's been a punishingly mediocre effort for two seasons, trying to stimulate ratings by changing the view. New supporting players add some spice to the bland concoction, but "Season 3" doesn't reveal a level of ambition necessary to take the program seriously. In fact, it indulges a soap opera atmosphere with renewed determination, keeping "Mr. Selfridge" simple, overcooked, and, at times, dismally performed. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Dancing on the Edge

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I don't have concrete proof that the Golden Globes are a rigged awards ceremony, but when Jacqueline Bisset took home a statue in 2014 for her supporting performance in "Dancing on the Edge" (where the actress was subjected to an obstacle course on her way to the stage), it was clear that something had to move the needle on a program that barely received attention during its original broadcast in 2013. Bisset doesn't deliver subpar work in the series, but she's barely memorable, blending in with the rest of this bland and overlong show, which wheezes through six episodes. Created by playwright and screenwriter Stephen Poliakoff, "Dancing on the Edge" aims to combine murder mystery suspense with period restraint, yet the writing is more consumed with stretching simple ideas, employing flimsy characterization and a leaden pace to pass for regality. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com