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October 2015

Blu-ray Review - Mannequin Two: On the Move


When "Mannequin" debuted in 1987, little was expected of the romantic comedy. Leading with the charms of stars Andrew McCarthy and Kim Cattrall, and riding on the wave of a hit theme song in Starship's "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now," the feature managed to beat the competition and becoming one of the top-grossing pictures of the year. Of course a sequel was going to happen, but just how could there be a second chapter to the story of a window dresser falling in love with his enchanted mannequin? Well, there isn't one. Instead of expanding the original saga, the producers go the remake route, simply reviving the original plot with a new pair of lovers, only investing in the return of Meshach Taylor as Hollywood Montrose, who revives his flamboyant ways to act as the bridge between the movies. 1991's "Mannequin Two: On the Move" (titled simply "Mannequin: On the Move" during the main titles) is a production that certainly isn't difficult to understand from a financial point of view, but creatively, it's a mess, shamelessly rehashing the original film with a new round of magic, montages, and cartoon villainy. Read the rest at

Film Review - Freaks of Nature


Three weeks ago, “Freaks of Nature” was just another picture on Sony’s shelf gathering dust. Missing a few release dates over the last year, the feature was left for dead, about to miss another Halloween season. And then, without warning, the studio suddenly issued a trailer mid-October, promising a hasty limited release for a project that was previously titled “Kitchen Sink.” If there’s any box office potential for the film, it’ll be due to curiosity, with Sony offering movie fanatics an opportunity to see why “Freaks of Nature” is basically being dumped over the holiday weekend, sentenced to a future of late night basic cable immortality. The short answer? There’s a reason why the effort’s been ignored for so long. Read the rest at


Film Review - Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse


“Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse” has an amusing title and a ripe premise, pitting socially awkward teens against a horde of the undead. There’s enough there to fuel an agreeable romp through horror extremes and wild comedy, yet the picture doesn’t quite live up to its potential. Director Christopher Landon desires to whip up a fury of gore and slapstick, and select moments do hit their mark, delivering some last-minute ick for the scary season. Overall, “Scouts Guide” isn’t nearly as tight or funny as it could be, content to stage easy lay-up bodily function gags and wheezy non-sequiturs instead of digging into the premise with both hands. Read the rest at

Film Review - Room


“Room” emerges as an impossible movie to embrace, offering a subject matter that demands the audience sit through unbearable acts of cruelty and despair before the emotional framework of the film begins to take shape. The feature may seem imposing from the outside looking in, but “Room” soon reveals an enormous heart and ability to communicate subtle behaviors as it works through challenging tonality. It’s a stunning effort from director Lenny Abrahamson and screenwriter Emma Donoghue (who adapts her own best-selling novel), who achieve a significant sense of humanity and drama with the picture, managing simplicity of suspense and sophisticated feelings with startling care. Read the rest at

Film Review - Truth


As a screenwriter, James Vanderbilt won acclaim for his work on 2007’s “Zodiac.” Vanderbilt also wrote “Darkness Falls,” “White House Down,” and “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” His track record leans toward moviegoing misery, and now he makes his directorial debut with “Truth,” trying to shake off his reputation as a genre man by dramatizing the brouhaha surrounding the Killian Documents Controversy and the firing of Dan Rather from the “CBS Evening News.” Ideas on journalism ethics, the inherently manipulative nature of reporting, and the uncomfortable marriage between greed and daily news are pushed aside so Vanderbilt can make a cloying, dreadfully acted melodrama, ignoring the juicy details of the event to play as broadly as possible with little to no actual thematic goals. Read the rest at

Film Review - Our Brand Is Crisis


There’s no arguing the merits of “Our Brand Is Crisis,” which is a fictional take on the 2005 documentary of the same name. It’s competently acted by a wide range of talent, featuring a compelling lead turn by star Sandra Bullock as a messy, brilliant political strategist. It’s a tale of awakening, identifying politics is a poison the world doesn’t deserve. It also has farcical touches that help alleviate the inherent heaviness of the story, trying to transform culture-crashing insanity into a big screen show. And yet, “Our Brand Is Crisis” doesn’t contain much dynamism, and its reach for profundity is half-hearted at best. In director David Gordon Green’s care, the feature doesn’t add up to much, pretending to be a subversive offering of backstage exploration instead of truly becoming one. Read the rest at

Film Review - Meadowland


“Meadowland” is quite possibly the saddest movie of the 2015 film year. It’s not just a simple, dismissible downer, but a profound psychological breach that touches the bottom when it comes to exploring abyssal parental fears and painful self-destruction. And yet, it’s unmissable cinema. Writer Chris Rossi and director Reed Morano aren’t visiting the sunny side of the street with this picture, but their interest in primal emotions results in a fascinating exploration of a nervous breakdown, with Olivia Wilde truly tested as an actress for the first time in her career. “Meadowland” is raw and almost unbearable, but its quest to understand the stages of grief is powerfully rendered with a great degree of authenticity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Burnt


“Burnt” was once featured on the Black List, an insider collection of the “most liked” unproduced screenplays in Hollywood, endeavoring to shine a light on quality work that’s had difficulty making the leap to the big screen. It’s also another reminder that the Black List is most likely a self-serving sham organized by desperate agents. “Burnt” is heavy with formula and predictable beats of redemption, making a mess out of what should be a straightforward tale of a ruined chef fuming while on a path to perfection. With last year’s “Chef,” Jon Favreau captured a wonderful marriage of foodie delights, technique, and heartfelt drama. “Burnt” is a crudely illustrated flip-book of conflict with unappealing characters, dipping substantially in quality every time it leaves the kitchen. Read the rest at

Film Review - Taxi


“Taxi” is both a celebration and critique of life in Iran, hosted by director Jafar Panahi, whose own complex history with censorship and imprisonment informs the picture’s sense of secrecy and thinly veiled commentary. Blurring the line between drama and realism, “Taxi” doesn’t chase a gimmick. Instead, it pursues a conversational tone that’s open to explore personalities and politics, trying to establish a human perspective to Iranian hustle, with Panahi offering a slice of life look at everyday business and the citizens trying to make their way through an oppressive culture. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Malone


After years of B-movies and supporting roles, Burt Reynolds finally achieved global stardom in the 1970s with beloved efforts such as "Smokey and the Bandit." The 1980s, at least the latter half of the decade, were less kind to the actor. Struggling to sustain his box office dominance, Reynolds elected to replace his mischievous screen presence with a harder, unflinching action hero pose, working through enforcer/authority pictures such as "Heat" and "Stick." 1987's "Malone" is a prime example of the career fatigue that shadowed Reynolds, participating in a formulaic revenge movie that preserves heavy western influences. While initial moments promise a capable but predictable thriller, "Malone" doesn't maintain appeal for very long, quickly dissolving into stupidity as director Harley Cokliss and screenwriter Christopher Frank shave down the source material (The novel "Shotgun," by William P. Wingate) to a series of violent encounters featuring thinly-sketched personalities. It's all about Reynolds here, and if you look close enough, you can see the thin little toothpicks propping his eyes open as he sleepwalks through the adventure. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Manos: The Hands of Fate


Like thousands of movie maniacs, I came across 1966's "Manos: The Hands of Fate" when it appeared on brilliant television series, "Mystery Science Theater 3000," where writer/director/star Harold P. Warren's tattered vision for an exploitation endeavor provided ideal fodder for comic riffing, instantly making it one of their finest episodes. However, jokes are no longer attached to the new Blu-ray edition of "Manos," which presents the effort in its initial state, trying to reclaim the no-budget charms of the production on its own terms, without ace comedians making the viewing experience passable. It's a dangerous, sobering proposition, but there's something intriguing about the distraction-free picture, revealing Warren's ambition to make junk food cinema through hasty experimentation. This very well may be one of the worst movies ever made, but here, on the Blu-ray, the viewer is now free to study what was originally intended and, in some cases, actually achieved. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Indian Summers


In its tireless quest to find a suitable replacement for "Downton Abbey" (now entering its final season), British television comes up with "Indian Summers," which touches on a similar situation of class divide and familial disruption. It's simplistic to dismiss the program for its similarities to the Julian Fellowes juggernaut, but it's hard to ignore how carefully the show walks in established footprints (also mirroring 1984's "The Jewel in the Crown"). Fans of historical dramas will likely find much to love about this ten-episode overview of the waning days of British rule in India, but there's also another, more soap opera-esque side to the program that's not nearly as appealing as the production would like to think. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Mosquito


Doing his part to revive the giant bug subgenre of the 1950s, co-writer/director Gary Jones submits 1995's "Mosquito" for approval, giving nature's most diligent pest its time in the monster movie sun. While armed with a limited budget, Jones generally makes the most of what he's got for the feature, which offers a healthy amount of gore and humor as it details the wrath of mutant insects. The basics are covered here, making for an entertaining sit, though, as with most of these productions, a little goes a long way when it comes to broad characterizations, finding the effort's addiction to padding throttling the celebration of B-movie hysterics Jones is aiming to provide. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Life of David Gale


Alan Parker enjoyed a tremendous directorial career during his time behind the camera, handling difficult projects such as "Pink Floyd: The Wall," "Evita," and "Fame" with proper verve, while guiding more sensitive movies like "Shoot the Moon" and "The Commitments" with a secure vision. It's a shame that his final film would be 2003's "The Life of David Gale," a bafflingly mishandled take on capital punishment, housed in a dim thriller that nurtures melodramatic performances to communicate its general silliness. The material contains murder, intrigue, and feverish journalism, but Parker doesn't trust subtlety, going full throttle on this bizarre valentine to liberal extremism. Instead of spinning death penalty horrors, "The Life of David Gale" mostly encourages exhaustion with its topsy-turvy take on sacrifice. Read the rest at

Film Review - Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension


“Paranormal Activity” was intended to be a no-budget calling card for director Oren Peli, who employed crude haunted house-style scares and an atmosphere of realism to frighten his audience. The gimmick worked for the feature, which became a massive moneymaker as well as popularizing the found footage subgenre. However, the simple possession story wasn’t built to become a franchise. “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension” is the sixth installment of the series, and possibly its last. Let’s hope the rumor is true, as the latest installment is quite possibly the worst, offering unrepentant creative bankruptcy and a shocking disregard for viewer intelligence. Once again, things go bump in the night, but this time, there's not a single reason to care about anything the brand name has to offer. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jem and the Holograms


Having found success with his sequel to “G.I. Joe,” director Jon M. Chu (“Step Up 3D,” “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never”) returns to the Hasbro toy vaults to revive “Jem and the Holograms,” an adaptation of the popular cartoon series that ran in the late 1980s. The show celebrated style, fantasy, music, and relationships. Chu’s take decidedly less excitable, trying to mute a flamboyant creation into a tender feature that values buzzy ideas on the unification of social media over personality. “Jem and the Holograms” has almost nothing in common with its inspiration, merely lifting names and labels as it weaves together a flaccid tale of personal corruption and female empowerment, laboring to protect positivity as it gradually loses all hope for identity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bone Tomahawk


It’s difficult to decide what’s more horrific about the opening of “Bone Tomahawk”: that it displays a throat-slitting in close-up or introduces David Arquette in a major supporting role. Turns out, violence trumps all in this vivid production, which showcases all kinds of butchery as it explores the uneasy marriage between western and horror interests. Writer/director S. Craig Zahler makes a unique debut with this unpredictable picture, which alternates between extended conversations and aggression, with its raw, unblinking attitude toward the destruction of men sold with surprising authority for a helming debut. “Bone Tomahawk” is specialized work, requiring a special level of patience and endurance to embrace the nightmare Zahler has created. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Last Witch Hunter


To keep himself busy between “Fast & Furious” sequels, star Vin Diesel has been on the prowl for a franchise to call his own lately. Turning “Pitch Black” into series didn’t quite work out as planned, overestimating the appeal of the glum lead character, Riddick. Now there’s “The Last Witch Hunter,” which is Diesel’s version of a Marvel Comics movie, merging exaggerated superhero antics with a darker tone of supernatural awakening. There are witches galore here, but very little excitement, as director Breck Eisner is too infatuated with his elaborate CGI designs to realize that the screenplay (credited to three writers) is nothing more than one long spewing of exposition. Sure, Diesel’s character wields a flaming sword, but it’s a visual better suited for a feature that knows how to appropriately exploit such delicious absurdity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Rock the Kasbah


“Rock the Kasbah” is reminiscent of the horrible 2006 comedy, “American Dreamz,” which attempted to blend jazz-hands satire with profound Middle Eastern war zone woes, ending up shrill and disastrously unfunny. “Rock the Kasbah” isn’t as broad, but it shares a fruitless determination to turn a volatile region into big screen joy, trying to overcome real-world threat without actually thinking tonality through. It’s a mess of a movie, overlong and undercooked, almost entirely reliant on star Bill Murray to crank up his cocktail-hour charms and save the day while the production slumps from one scene to the next. Read the rest at