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September 2015

Blu-ray Review - The Flash: The Complete First Season


"Smallville" was the canary in a coal mine. The 2001 show about Superman's early years before the suit and cape arrived during the infancy of the superhero cinema explosion as we know it today, with WB execs hoping that a comic book property could thrive on the small screen in a manner that bested similar attempts throughout the years. "Smallville" ended up running for a decade, establishing a youth-demo formula the CW would routinely recycle to kickstart potential new franchises (including failures "Birds of Prey" and "Aquaman"). They found their way back to DC Comics-branded dominance with "Arrow" in 2012, which soon crossed over to the debut of 2014's "The Flash," with producers making sure that everything fans found appealing about the original program is going to be embedded in the new series. While the shows are joined at the hip, "The Flash" works to define its own identity, taking on the challenge of humanizing a hero with super-speed, using comic inspiration to create a community of nuanced supporting characters and a setting dense enough to support 23 episodes. Against all odds, the program manages its minutiae with satisfactory enthusiasm. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Nightmare Weekend


1986's "Nightmare Weekend" doesn't even try to make sense. It's a French production directed by Henri Sala (one of his final efforts) that tries to cash-in on mid-'80s horror trends, assembling a mixture of slasher and sci-fi cinema, ornamented with mild aerobics, multiple visits to a video game arcade, and squishy make-up achievements. However, somewhere during the production's journey, an actual story was dismissed, resulting in a feature that merely chases whims, especially ones involving nudity and bloodshed. There's a green-haired puppet and a supercomputer involved in the mayhem as well. Hilariously bizarre but oddly mindful of exploitation basics, "Nightmare Weekend" is riveting mess for B-movie fanatics, especially those who appreciate the value of an endeavor that's holding on for dear life. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Vigilante Force


Drive-in cinema receives another thorough workout in 1976's "Vigilante Force," which submits a combination of fisticuffs, scowling, and limited drama, trying to hand its audience the basics in big screen violence. Directed by George Armitage ("Miami Blues" and the brilliant "Grosse Pointe Blank"), the feature is intended to be a rough-and-ready exploitation movie that wears its production year like a badge of honor, but a few things are lost in translation, finding the finished film missing large portions of motivation and smooth editing as it pares down a bigger picture of corruption and family divide to a more comfortable to-do list of mid-70s intimidation tactics. "Vigilante Force" is certainly diverting work, especially when it winds up the stunt team, setting them loose on busy streets and backlots. Anyone expecting anything more than a loosely defined tale of bare-knuckle brawling and vague sibling rivalry is going to walk away from the feature sorely disappointed. The effort is merely interested in basic thrills. Engaging conflict has not been permitted to cross county lines. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Honey Pot


Absorbing influences from plays and novels, legendary director Joseph L. Mankiewicz sets out to create a particularly knotted game of love and allegiance with "The Honey Pot." The 1967 picture is one of his last productions, but it still bears the fingerprints of an invested filmmaker with an interest in razor-sharp banter and unusual motivations, laboring to define a collection of troublesome personalities as they struggle with the devil itself, greed. The feature isn't always an easy sit, but when it comes alive, it does so with tremendously refined performances and a streak of mischief that powers the effort for a great deal of its indulgent run time. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hotel Transylvania 2


Endeavoring to bring a world of monsters to the CGI-animated realm, 2012’s “Hotel Transylvania” conjured a horror-comedy atmosphere of slapstick, scares, and overall tomfoolery. And there was plenty of bathroom humor to keep younger audiences engaged. Instead of trusting the inherent madness of the plot, director Genndy Tartakovsky elected to keep things crude, souring an otherwise promising Halloween-season adventure with classic ghouls. “Hotel Transylvania 2” is the inevitable sequel, and while it suffers from major structural problems, the effort has dialed down the poo-poo, pee-pee gags, trying to engage audiences with a tale of grandfatherly love, trading fart jokes for cute kids and more manic monster shenanigans. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Intern


Nancy Meyers makes comfort food cinema. It’s a particular skill few share in the industry, but she’s forged a career blending domestic fantasy with tender emotions, guiding efforts such as “It’s Complicated,” “The Holiday,” and “Something’s Gotta Give.” She does one thing and she does it relatively well, always at her best when character comes before contrivance. “The Intern” enjoys a rough tonality of high comedy and grim drama, but Meyers steadies the picture with an enjoyable script that’s most interesting when playful, while lead performances from Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway are lively and open for inspection. “The Intern” gets a little strange at times, but it’s a sturdy creation that carries a little more personality than many might be expecting. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mississippi Grind


“Mississippi Grind” is a story about gambling, but it’s careful not to glamorize the potentially destructive pastime. Instead of taking in the thrill of horse racing and casino action, the feature carries an ominous tone of self-destruction, essentially updating James Toback’s 1974 screenplay for “The Gambler.” Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck keep their effort low to the ground, picking up on behaviors and “tells” as they explore the corrosive nature of addiction, taking a long journey with two wayward characters as they experience the thrilling highs and desperate lows of gambling. Whatever “Mississippi Grind” lacks in efficiency, it makes up for it in pure observation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Stonewall


The director of “Independence Day,” “2012,” and “White House Down” is trying to grow up. Roland Emmerich made an attempt for art-house legitimacy with 2011’s “Anonymous,” hoping some intrigue surrounding Shakespeare’s creative origins might stimulate a career detour into more respectable projects featuring real characters, not just cartoon creations battling heavy CGI. It failed to attract much attention, inspiring Emmerich to capture the zeitgeist with “Stonewall,” a tale of gay rights wrapped up in an historical event that triggered a revolution of pride. Well-intentioned but frighteningly tone deaf, “Stonewall” (already the subject of numerous documentaries and books) doesn’t inspire hope and awareness, it simply pushes dreary formula and torturous melodrama, with Emmerich failing to create a single moment of humanity as cliché and stereotype run rampant. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ashby


After restoring his professional reputation with 2008’s “The Wrestler,” star Mickey Rourke encountered difficulty maintaining the momentum, following up his award-winning work with forgettable B-movies such as “The Courier,” “Java Heat,” and “Black November.” “Ashby” brings Rourke back to the realm of thespian possibility, once again playing a vulnerable old soul in a leathered profession, required to display intricate feelings as the screenplay mixes in some tough guy antics as well. He’s low-key but effective in the picture, which periodically struggles to make sense of itself, showing more skill with comedy than penetrating drama as it attempts to manage a quirky plot with a degree of emotional authenticity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Pay the Ghost


To flavor his unpredictable filmography, Nicolas Cage heads toward horror with “Pay the Ghost.” While initial moments suggest a kidnapping drama featuring a determined dad, the movie eventually reveals a supernatural side, trying for frights instead of thrills. A mix of “The Wicker Man” (not the Cage version) and “Mama,” “Pay the Ghost” only connects through its star, who gives a passably haunted performance to help boost the lackluster screenplay. The picture is absurd and low-budget, but Cage holds up his end of the bargain, making sure turns of plot find their intended emotion, while helping to sell the urgency of the unfolding ghost story. Read the rest at

Film Review - Meet the Patels


The search for love drives the direction of the documentary “Meet the Patels,” but the feature is truly about the influence of family when negotiating any outside relationships. Starring and co-directed by actor Ravi Patel, the effort is a charming, agreeably unsettled look at the quest for a mate, viewed through the prism of the Indian matchmaking machine -- a system of data and personal judgment that’s eye-opening to watch come to life. “Meet the Patels” has the potential to lose itself in cutesy shenanigans, but Ravi, along with co-star/co-director and sister Geeta, secures a necessary level of honesty about the odyssey as they explore the steps to domestic contentment. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Keeping Room


The soullessness of war is examined in “The Keeping Room,” a Civil War-set thriller that’s gorgeously photographed, sturdily acted, and fiercely concentrated, but lacks any substantial chills. Scripted by Julia Hart and directed by Daniel Barber (“Harry Brown”), “The Keeping Room” is aimed at viewers in a meditative mood, taking in the pitiless extremes of human behavior during an era of remorseless violence. It’s out to shock, but the feature is missing raw nerve appeal, often caught up in ponderous monologuing as a way to beef up sparse plotting, though when push comes to shove, Barber knows how to properly manipulate with this askew take on a home invasion nail-biter. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Cut


“The Cut” can be approached several different ways. For some audiences, the film paints a portrait of the Armenian Genocide, focusing on the agony of detainment and separation during an especially grim stretch of world history. Director Fatih Akin also concocts a mournful but motivated adventure story, with western influences driving a plot that finds a father looking to reunite with his twin daughters, crossing the world one step at a time. Simplicity is the picture’s best friend, with Akin wisely electing more visceral events to help encourage audience interest, all the while trying to add some morsels of education to the mix. However, “The Cut” is primarily driven by emotion and suspense, putting cinematic interests first. Read the rest at

Film Review - The New Girlfriend


Director Francois Ozon specializes in dreamy, cheeky, unusual cinema, but rarely has he made a movie as human as “The New Girlfriend.” Tapping into the zeitgeist to explore the evolution of a transgender character gradually revealing herself to the world, Ozon (adapting a short story by Ruth Rendell) constructs a gentle mystery of gender, grief, and friendship, tapping into intimate thoughts and troubled lives with a plan to explore personalities, not just reinforce external appearances. It’s an oddly sweet film, gentle and genuine, but it’s also aware of murky psychological spaces, pushing focus on clearing confusion, not sensationalizing the obvious. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Extreme Jukebox


"Extreme Jukebox" is an Italian production that's positively in love with horror movies. The feature has comedic aspects reminiscent of a Troma production (the effort's U.S. distributor), but screenwriters Alberto Bogo (who also directs) and Andrea Lionetti sample from a wide range of influences, with their passion obvious throughout the 80 minute picture. Ambition gets "Extreme Jukebox" only so far, with genuine production polish lacking as it conducts scary business, finding Bogo a lackluster helmer with limited ideas for fright sequences, while the story itself is a confusing jumble of characters and references that grows tiresome long before the endeavor has a chance to sort itself out. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Arthur & George


"Arthur & George" presents a plateful of comfort food for the "Masterpiece Mystery" crowd, imagining a time when "Sherlock Holmes" author Arthur Conan Doyle (Martin Clunes), growing fatigued with his legacy as a mystery writer, elects to crack a real life case of murder to recharge his creative batteries and snap out of depression. "Arthur & George" (adapted from a 2005 novel by Julian Barnes) tracks his experience in the wild, joined by butler Alfred (Charles Edwards), with the pair venturing into the unknown to help George (Arsher Ali), a potentially innocent man, clear his name. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Revengers


1972's "The Revengers" is an uneven film, but it wisely commences with all the energy it can possibly muster. A dark tale of vengeance from director Daniel Mann ("Willard," "Our Man Flint"), the first half of the picture launches with shock and rage, establishing a rhythm of determination and planning that stands up this "Wild Bunch" reminder with purpose and identity, also permitting star William Holden a chance to embrace western conventions with pure screen authority, leading the charge as "The Revengers" embarks on a long road of violence and barbed camaraderie. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Epic of Everest


While mountaineering movies are the norm these days, 1924's "The Epic of Everest" was an event. John Noel's documentary about the 1924 British Mount Everest Expedition (featuring George Mallory and Andrew Irvine) is an eye-opening journey into the then-unknown, offering sensational footage of a perilous journey that revealed cultures and dangers few could witness before, shot with startling clarity that follows the mission up the mountain, where explorer glory and profound danger awaited the men. Read the rest at