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October 2015

Blu-ray Review - Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV


Eager to horrify audiences with all new depths of depravity, Troma Entertain reaches, quite intentionally, a specific low point with 2000's "Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV," their final installment in the weirdly enduring franchise. Director/co-writer Lloyd Kaufman throws everything he can into this sequel, working up a sweat to transform the picture into the most offensive movie in the history of the company, swerving wildly as the production makes fun of school shootings, the mentally challenged, lynching, and abortion. Granted, Troma isn't one to play nice, always begging for attention, but there are limits to how much odious behavior one can take from a helmer who can't even conquer basic camera focus issues. At 109 minutes, "Citizen Toxie" feels like it runs an entire decade, with grotesque shenanigans and strident performances losing their appeal after 109 seconds. The Superhero from New Jersey is back for his fourth adventure, but perhaps three of these things were enough. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Man with the Gun


1955's "Man with the Gun" doesn't waste a moment when establishing the villain of the piece. The brute manages to shoot a barking dog in the opening minutes of the movie, setting an ominous tone for the picture that keeps it on edge. Directed by Richard Wilson ("Invitation to a Gunfighter") and starring Robert Mitchum, "Man with the Gun" never quite tops its harrowing introduction, but it sustains a nervous energy as it explores traditional western formula, periodically interrupted with some real emotion. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Billy Two Hats


1974's "Billy Two Hats" is a western that's primarily focused on the evolution of its characters, refusing most genre habits to retain dramatic intensity with three-dimensional personalities. Director Ted Kotcheff has a vision for the picture, sticking close to charged encounters and long stares, braiding hostilities with serene Israeli locations to give the effort considerable cinematic weight. "Billy Two Hats" looks terrific (shot wonderfully by Brian West) and it has all the ambition in the world to be the rare western that's interested in intimate encounters, yet Kotcheff can't find a pace to the feature that rewards time invested, making the movie feel endless when it actually quests to be profound. Read the rest at

Film Review - Knock Knock


Eli Roth doesn’t direct very often, but when he does he makes the same movie over and over again. The man loves his horror with a side of humor, playing up darkly comic adventures with hapless characters, trying to diffuse unspeakable acts of violence with jokes. It’s difficult to understand why Roth feels the need to undermine himself at every turn, but it’s his method, and he doesn’t apply it with any regularity. Last month saw the release of his long-delayed cannibal picture “The Green Inferno,” and now Roth takes on the home invasion thriller with “Knock Knock,” blending scenes of steamy seduction with torture-minded aggressions. What should be nail-chewing entertainment is rendered flaccid in Roth’s hands, who once again goes goofball with a sobering plot. Read the rest at

Film Review - Pan


Director Joe Wright dented an otherwise inspiring filmmaking career with 2012’s “Anna Karenina,” a visually stunning but DOA adaption of Leo Tolstoy’s celebrated novel. Remaining in a literary mood, Wright (along with screenwriter Jason Fuchs) goes after J.M. Barrie’s world of fairies, lost boys, and pirates with “Pan,” which acts as prequel to “Peter Pan,” providing an origin story because there’s really nothing left to say about Neverland. Gifted an enormous budget, Wright suits up for the biggest feature of his career, and “Pan” certainly looks like a production that spent every penny on spectacle. Big, noisy, and luridly campy, the picture offers no boundaries for Wright’s vision, but the wide open space confuses the talented helmer. This isn’t a bad movie, it’s merely a punishingly permissive one. Read the rest at

Film Review - Goodnight Mommy


“Goodnight Mommy” arrives in the tradition of punishing Euro horror, where discomfort is king and torment is the battery that powers the production. Although it’s not as raw as pictures such as “Dogtooth” or “Nothing Bad Can Happen,” “Goodnight Mommy” has more than its share of skin-crawling moments, even while it mostly avoids overt terror scenarios. Writer/directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala have pieced together a riveting nightmare, using charmingly unraveled performances and sharp cinematographic style to construct a downward slide into madness. The feature is tricky and requires some patience, but the effort eventually settles into a hypnotic rhythm of behavioral disease. Read the rest at

Film Review - Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon


Today, the National Lampoon is a brand name, and a tattered one at best. Tarnished over the years by dreadful movies (including “Dorm Daze,” “Transylmania,” and “RoboDoc”) and creative stagnancy, the label is largely responsible for padding Redbox line-ups, but there was once a time when National Lampoon ruled the comedy universe, using their subversive, take-no-prisoners wit to rock young minds and change the face of satire during an era when such dark humor was a necessity. “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon” is a slick documentary, and a vital reminder of the power the magazine once held as it welcomed comedic geniuses and lovable miscreants to help create monthly doses of lethal mischief. Read the rest at

Film Review - Trash


It’s difficult to avoid making comparisons between “Trash” and Fernando Meirelles’s 2002 breakthrough feature, “City of God.” They both examine the hardscrabble life for young people existing inside Rio’s impoverished areas, but “Trash” doesn’t share the same grit and awareness of the landscape. It’s the latest from director Stephen Daldry, who stepped on a career landmine with 2011’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” His new effort isn’t a return to form for the helmer of “The Hours” and “Billy Elliot,” but it certainly revives his interest in more natural human behavior. Filled with chases and characters, the picture creates a whirlwind of events, but it only rarely achieves authority, as Daldry has trouble balancing the endeavor’s restless cinematic interests and its sticky cultural pleas. Read the rest at

Film Review - Big Stone Gap


“Big Stone Gap” is an offering of Southern comfort, infused with a community spirit vibe that’s pleasant enough to carry the effort until the plot gets in the way. The feature marks the directorial debut of Adriana Trigiani, who adapts her own novel for the screen, shooting on location in the actual Big Stone Gap, Virginia to capture small-town flavors and familiarity. There’s nothing particularly challenging about the picture, which invests in prickly, oddball behavior and a series of mild shocks. Trigiani doesn’t push the material into any energetic directions, but she does capture the sway of the town, better with atmosphere than dramatics. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - House of the Long Shadows


In the early 1980s, Cannon Films was looking for a fright picture to vary their line-up of genre and exploitation releases. Producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus sought out Pete Walker to concoct a particular horror brew for 1983, pulling the B-movie helmer ("House of Whipcord," "Frightmare," "The Flesh and Blood Show") out of retirement to craft an ode to the scary features of yesteryear, where dark corners and fiendish intentions were the trends of the day. "House of the Long Shadows" is throwback entertainment from Cannon, collecting a rogues' gallery of horror stars, bringing in Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and John Carradine to flavor up a tale of mystery, murder, and mild parody, bringing with them decades of experience and unparalleled professionalism. Walker's lucky to have them, as "House of the Long Shadows" isn't much of a pulse-pounder, with a draggy, expositional mood that dilutes chills and even comedy, with the production often caught stargazing instead of tightening moments of suspense. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Unforgettable


By 1996, director John Dahl had developed a reputation for smart, stylish thrillers, guiding such pictures as "Red Rock West" and "The Last Seduction." For his big studio debut, the helmer selected "Unforgettable," a project (scripted by Bill Geddie) that played to his strengths, offering a tale of mystery and violence on a grander budget, opening up the cinematic possibilities of Dahl's vision. Instead of a beautiful marriage of indie films sensibility and monetary opportunity, "Unforgettable," after a decent start, sinks like a stone, quickly resembling hundreds of crudely managed mysteries that always seem to bite off more than they can chew. It's a messy movie, but one that's deceptively competent in its first hour, welcoming viewers into a semi-sci-fi playground of missing memories and near-misses. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Defiance


1980's "Defiance" is a B-movie that doesn't aspire to be much more than a basic vigilante drama, with New York City its playground as it explores tensions between a neighborhood of decent folks trying to survive against a roving gang of violent thugs. It's not an especially accomplished film, but director John Flynn ("Rolling Thunder," "Lock Up") works hard to create streetwise tension, paying attention to character and motivation to the best of his ability. Not helping the cause is star Jan-Michael Vincent, who sleepwalks through the feature, putting pressure on his charismatic co-stars to deliver some sense of life. Still, the basic ingredients of aggression remain vivid in "Defiance," helping the movie achieve entertainment value that nears campiness, endeavoring to position Vincent as an urban superhero, taking on the scum of the Earth in this obvious "Death Wish" knockoff. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hornets' Nest


It's the children of Italy vs. the Nazis in 1970's "Hornets' Nest," a bizarre war picture that puts star Rock Hudson in command of the "Red Dawn" Wolverines. There's an enormous amount of trauma passing through the feature, but all the deep-seated psychology of premise is pushed aside to become a Men on a Mission effort, trusting in Hudson to bring the brawn while a cast of younger actors scrambles in the background. Unsure if it wants to be the saddest film ever made or the loudest, "Hornets' Nest" only captivates in small doses, especially when the long road to combat hell transforms into a therapy session. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hidden Agenda


1990's "Hidden Agenda" is a rare film from director Ken Loach that's driven by an almost traditional escalation of suspense. That's not to suggest the picture has been dumbed down in any way, remaining in line with Loach's interests in political and social issues, but it carries a toxic mood that's reminiscent of the conspiracy subgenre of the 1970s, using paranoia as a powerful cinematic weapon. Loach rarely works this conventional, but he wears the focus well, achieving a surprising balance between dramatic tension and community woes as he once again details the volatility of Great Britain. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sicario


Director Denis Villeneuve generally makes one type of movie. With “Prisoners,” “Enemy,” and “Incendies,” the helmer has displayed a fascination with the darkness of human behavior, exploring cruelties and lies with surgical precision, but also maintaining his distance from drama, which doesn’t always result in the most engrossing storytelling. “Sicario” doesn’t alter his modus operandi, with the director once again reaching into the void to observe the death of spirit. What “Sicario” has that separates it from the rest of Villeneuve’s work is a merciless script by Taylor Sheridan, which clears away most of the director’s interest in stasis, paying attention to thriller cinema basics before returning to long takes of silent contemplation. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Martian


Space movies appear to be all the rage these days, with the one-two punch of “Gravity” and “Interstellar” making it safe for features about exploration and survival to compete with superhero adventures. “The Martian” is a fine addition to the trend, forging its own path of suspense, science, and humor to grasp the extremes of isolation and the fever of NASA brainstorming. A kissing cousin to “Apollo 13,” “The Martian” comes alive thanks to director Ridley Scott, who wisely steps out of the picture’s way and allows the pressurized environment of Andy Weir’s best-selling novel to take command, assembling a technically marvelous and emotionally gripping tale of a special rescue mission that demands years of planning and execution. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Walk


Any active moviegoer in recent years may have already heard of “Man on Wire,” a documentary dedicated to Philippe Petit’s 1974’s high-wire walk across the tops of the Twin Towers in New York City. Such a specialized but high-profile release (winning an Oscar for Best Documentary) easily threatens the elements of surprise in “The Walk,” director Robert Zemeckis’s dramatization of the daredevil event. However, leave it to the man behind “Back to the Future,” “Forrest Gump,” and “The Polar Express” to sustain suspense, taking a known experience and making it feel like front page news again, helped in great part by stunning visual effects that put the viewer on the wire with Petit, taking in the expanse of the city. Read the rest at

Film Review - Deathgasm


Horror and heavy metal are natural companions, with their shared interest in demonic events lending itself to perverse genre interests. The New Zealand production “Deathgasm” takes a more comedic route to blood-soaked events, but it manages to stay respectful of the wilds of extreme music and the wonders of cinematic hellraising. A Cannibal Corpse album cover come to life, “Deathgasm” is a wily creation from writer/director Jason Lei Howden (a visual effects artist making his helming debut) that’s teeming with humor and gore, generating a sufficient ordeal of Satanic bedlam while tending to the nuances of life as a metalhead. It’s extreme, but the movie is undeniably fun -- absolute cat nip for those who demand their dark adventures cover the limb-tearing basics. Read the rest at

Film Review - This Is Happening


“This Is Happening” takes on a substantial amount of confused emotions while it maintains life as a stoner comedy. It’s an odd bouillabaisse of feelings and tonal shifts, overseen by writer/director Ryan Jaffe, who makes his helming debut with the effort. “This Is Happening” takes some bizarre detours, and perhaps the overall psychological thickness proves a bit too difficult for the script to manage, but the feature finds clarity more often than not. It’s bright work from Jaffe, who oversees a lively cast and an authentic rendering of a combative sibling relationship, while dumping in dollops of pathos and slapstick to keep the road trip offered here as unexpected as possible. Read the rest at