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September 2015

Blu-ray Review - Sweet Young Foxes


Bob Chinn's "Sweet Young Foxes" is the polar opposite of his work on "The Young Like It Hot." Instead of lighthearted fun, the feature goes dramatic, exploring a particularly illuminating summer for college freshman Laura (Hyapatia Lee), who tries to make sense of the world without her boyfriend, bickering with her mother, Julie (Kay Parker, who earned an award for her solid performance), and seeking comfort with friends (Cara Lott and Cindy Carver). Displaying surprising solemnity, "Sweet Young Foxes" struggles to manage the extremity of penetration with the intimacy of wounded feelings. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Young Like it Hot


While 1983's "The Young Like It Hot" is an adult film with certain amorous priorities, it's also a workplace comedy of sorts, bringing viewers into a California telephone operator station that's about replace its staff with a computerized system. While pleasures of the flesh are lovingly detailed, there's actually a sense of tension and mischief to the Bob Chinn feature that gifts "The Young Like It Hot" some entertainment value beyond bedroom encounters. Or perhaps office encounters is more accurate description here. Read the rest at

Film Review - Cooties


Zombie cinema gets especially dark with “Cooties,” which is best described as “Dawn of the Dead” set inside an elementary school. Little kids are pure evil in the picture, with screenwriters Leigh Whannell and Ian Brennan attempting to disrupt expectations by taking on a taboo subject. The good news is that “Cooties” isn’t offensive, managing to support its special brand of insanity with generous helpings of silly business, always out to score laughs. While the feature doesn’t always land its jokes, it remains spirited work from directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion, who make their helming debut with this impish, incredibly gory romp through a realm filled with the prepubescent undead. Read the rest at

Film Review - Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials


Last year, “The Maze Runner” managed to break away from the grind of YA adaptations, emerging as an energetic take on post-apocalyptic scheming and survival, boosted by impressive visuals and breathless performances. Now there’s “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials,” a quickie sequel that’s looking to maintain franchise momentum after the previous picture concluded with a significant cliffhanger. What was semi-fresh and inviting about the original film is mostly gone from the follow-up, with returning director Wes Ball forgoing the construction of an enticing tale to stage repetitive chase sequences and encourage overacting, while the screenplay by T.S. Nowlin is weirdly determined to avoid any similarities to the source material. For all the running that goes on in “The Scorch Trials,” the continuation is strangely inert. Read the rest at

Film Review - Captive


“Captive” is a movie without suspense and clearly defined meaning. It’s a faith-based feature that doesn’t really share much about God, but it’s also a psychological thriller of sorts, with intensity communicated through long stares. It’s based on a true story, giving it room to explore the intricacies of the moment, watching two characters feel each other out during a uniquely emotional morning. “Captive” has something to share about belief and the troubles of man, but when it comes time to sharpen itself into a fine point of soulful release, the material is nowhere to be found, primarily infatuated with panicked, quivering reactions, not substantive interactions. Read the rest at

Film Review - Everest


There have been books, documentaries, and television productions about the 1996 Mount Everest Disaster, but nothing can touch “Everest” in terms of sheer you-are-there intensity. While the fates of those involved in the event have been known for almost two decades now, director Baltasar Kormakur finds a way to refresh the suspense of the moment, building a large-scale disaster movie that’s impressively executed, generating all the nail-biting sequences an endeavor like this requires. This isn’t a particularly uplifting tale of a doomed climb, but “Everest” captures the physical effort of mountaineering, the bustle of mountain life, and the futility of rescue, skillfully creating intimacy in the midst of complete chaos. Read the rest at

Film Review - Black Mass


Gangster cinema pumps the brakes with “Black Mass,” a periodically effective offering of criminal activity and tough guy encounters. It tells the story of James “Whitey” Bulger, a South Boston crime lord who joined forces with the F.B.I. for informational purposes, building an empire with almost no outside interference. “Black Mass” is based on a true story (an adaptation of a 2001 book by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill), but it plays almost too softly, with director Scott Cooper striving to construct a sprawling saga of corruption, only to end up with a few terrific scenes and a lot of dead air. The movie initially promises something more kinetic than it ultimately delivers, often caught up in the community of thugs and feds that surrounded Bulger on a daily basis. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sleeping with Other People


A few years ago, Leslye Headland made her directorial debut with “Bachelorette,” a raucous comedy that attempted to secure a female perspective on crude antics typically found in male-driven endeavors. It was a lousy picture, but there was hope that Headland could evolve from dim-wit humor, locating genuine (possibly even likable) characters and sharpening her slack timing. “Sleeping with Other People” is more of a lateral move for the helmer, who trades broad antics for breathless improvisation, turning what appears to be a sweet reworking of “When Harry Met Sally” into a borderline insufferable session of joke skeet shooting. Read the rest at

Film Review - War Pigs


“War Pigs” is an attempt to revive a classic, meat-on-the-bones approach to a World War II story, focusing on crusty, cynical men as they do battle with Nazis and their own secret reservoirs of combat shock. It’s a broad picture from director Ryan Little (“Forever Strong”), with nearly enough B-movie ambition to power its vision for a war film, working to generate enough leathery performances and entertaining training montages to help fog the reality that the production is spending next to nothing on anything besides costumes and digital effects. “War Pigs” is a cheap effort, but not without a few charms. It just takes a little too much work to locate the positives as Little stages action in what appears to be his backyard. Read the rest at

Film Review - Rosenwald


We now live in a time when stories of harmony and support are needed, providing reassurance that when the moment arrives, human beings are capable of more than just rampantly selfish and destructive behavior. “Rosenwald” is the latest documentary from filmmaker Aviva Kempner, who continues her exploration of the Jewish experience in America after scoring successes with “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg” and “Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg.” For her latest work, Kempner examines a tale of philanthropy and compassion, bringing the saga of Julius Rosenwald and his personal mission of support to the screen with an affectionate and exhaustive feature that’s greatly informative about the man and his life of habitual service. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Reivew - The Reivers


1969's "The Reivers" is based on a William Faulkner novel, with director Mark Rydell doing a serviceable job trying retain the project's literary origins. An episodic feature concerning a coming-of-age journey, "The Reivers" is best appreciated for its atmosphere, as the production creates an enjoyable turn-of-the-century mood with fading innocence and industrial influence, giving viewers a pleasurable time machine viewing experience that helps to digest the periodic tedium of the plot. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Play Motel


1979's "Play Motel" is a confusing picture from director Mario Gariazzo, with its focus mixing the terror of a traditional giallo endeavor with the sleaze of soft-core pornography. Somewhere in the mix is a story, though any level of dramatic engagement is cast aside for exploitation highlights. There blood and bare skin in "Play Motel," which struggles to build momentum as a chiller, stopping every ten minutes to assess the visual potency of naked women. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Visit


The last decade has been rough on filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan. After making a mess out of big-budget endeavors (“After Earth,” “The Last Airbender”) and personal projects (“Lady in the Water”), Shyamalan elects to return to his roots with “The Visit,” a found footage production that doesn’t require stars or cinematic razzle-dazzle, demanding only a jittery frame and random frights. “The Visit” isn’t a return to form for the helmer, but it retains a modest punch, with Shyamalan trying to blend devastating psychological issues with cheap scares, emerging with an intermittently clear vision for trauma that’s almost completely undone by desperate third act developments. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Perfect Guy


Exploitation needs a certain level of disease to come alive. It’s difficult to pull off sleaze with a PG-13 rating, especially with a story that involves heavy amounts of sex and violence. “The Perfect Guy” has a host of problems preventing it from achieving desired levels of excitement, but its primary misstep is blandness, watching what should be a swirl of bedroom heat and aggressive acts of intimidation diluted by a production that wants to open its doors to all audiences. “The Perfect Guy” has a few capable performances and an enormous amount of potential, but this reworking of the “Fatal Attraction”/“Play Misty for Me” formula doesn’t have the energy to put up a decent fight. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Troma's War


After finding success with "The Toxic Avenger" and "Class of Nuke 'Em High," Troma Entertainment decided to get serious with 1988's "Troma's War." At least as serious as director Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz are willing to get while still clinging to fart jokes. Attempting to simulate political commentary in the midst of Troma-branded slapstick carnage, "Troma's War" emerges as a particularly confused production, lost somewhere between a need to play the entire movie as broadly as possible and a desire to communicate the fallibility of the military-minded 1980s, with Kaufman and Herz manufacturing a response to Regan's America that never gels as imagined. A loud, bloody, unfunny display of tastelessness, the picture has its moments of Troma-stamped shenanigans, but the overall effort is missing clarity of plot and a more devious display of satire. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Navajo Joe


1966's 'Navajo Joe" is a straightforward revenge picture questing to create an icon out of the titular character, portrayed by Burt Reynolds. Produced by Dino De Laurentiis and directed by Sergio Corbucci, "Navajo Joe" is all action and intimidation, striving to generate an agitated tone of boiling rage as it details failed heists and southwestern chases, emerging as a wonderfully entertaining adventure that's Quentin Tarantino approved, with the filmmaker lifting sections of Ennio Morricone's wily, anthemic score to breathe a special cinematic life into his masterpiece, "Kill Bill." Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die


A variation on "The Dirty Dozen" set during the Civil War, 1972's "A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die" is an admirable attempt to launch an adventure starring a cast full of grizzled, beefy men, each scripted with quirks and a secretive history. While James Coburn takes top billing, the feature makes room for its ensemble, making up for a lack of action by emphasizing juicy personalities colliding in a spaghetti western-style production. Read the rest at

Film Review - Queen of Earth


Writer/director Alex Ross Perry doesn’t make easy films. His last effort, “Listen Up Philip,” submitted one of the most unpleasant lead characters in recent memory. His latest, “Queen of Earth,” explores the abyss of mental illness. He’s not the cheery type, but Perry has a way of making these dramatic explorations worthwhile, with periodic blips of profundity. Carried by a wonderfully ragged lead performance from Elisabeth Moss, “Queen of Earth” steps away from a clinical understanding of depression to go semi-Polanski, treating the fractured experience of a complete unraveling with a full immersion into paranoia and hopelessness, emerging with a secure study of friendship and phobia that feels organically communicated yet sharply cinematic. Read the rest at

Film Review - Coming Home


Chinese director Zhang Yimou has enjoyed quite a varied career, but his most famous cinematic achievements remain in the realm of action spectacles, with “Hero,” “House of Flying Daggers,” and “Curse of the Golden Flower” reaching a wider international audience. However, the helmer’s finest work is often found in his intimate dramas, with efforts such as “Raise the Red Lantern,” “Ju Dou,” and “The Road Home” delivering on atmosphere and emotion in a primal manner, while big screen style remains. “Coming Home” is a melodrama, but it’s an accomplished one, reflecting a time and place with minimal moves, yet sustaining a feel of heartache that’s engaging, even when it offers decidedly bittersweet moments. Read the rest at