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December 2015

Blu-ray Review - Robbers' Roost


Gunslingers and revenge dominates 1955's "Robbers' Roost," a steely western that inspects a methodical path to vengeance. George Montgomery stars as a cowboy on a special mission, finding himself tangled up with cattle rustlers, encountering a companion in one dubious individual (Richard Boone), while another (Peter Graves) is outright antagonistic, complicating the hunt for the heartbroken hero. "Robbers' Roost" isn't a complex genre effort, satisfied with the basics in intimidation and roughhouse behavior, keeping shootouts and fisticuffs coming as director Sidney Salkow manages tension capably. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Fort Massacre


1958's "Fort Massacre" is a survival movie that's disguised as a western, tracking the efforts of U.S. Cavalry officers as they experience environmental, native, and internal pressures during a trek through the southwest. Starring Joel McCrea, Forrest Tucker, and John Russell, the feature serves up a buffet of meaty performances dealing with escalations in violence and paranoia, periodically indulging the genre routine with battle scenes and horse chases through gorgeous New Mexico shooting locations. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Twice-Told Tales


During a horror movie craze that revived the works of Edgar Allan Poe for the big screen, producers scrambled to locate another wellspring of ghoulish activity to exploit, finding hope in author Nathaniel Hawthorne. Adapting selected works to form an omnibus event, 1963's "Twice-Told Tales" attempts to find terror in strange stories of obsession, murder, and perversions of science. Bringing in star Vincent Price to act and host the effort is a step in the right direction, but director Sidney Salkow isn't the finest judge of pacing, dragging out intriguing situations of torment past their expiration date. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Queen of Blood


It's no secret that producer Roger Corman likes to keep costs down on his productions. He's actually famous because of it, but 1966's "Queen of Blood" goes beyond his habitual frugality, working out a plan to transform two Russian movies into a sci-fi distraction for American audiences. Writer/director Curtis Harrington pulls off an impressive bit of editorial puzzling with "Queen of Blood," and while he can't completely hide the seams between Russian and American footage, he manages to overcome budgetary limitations with healthy amounts of style and an endearing commitment to genre highlights. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The City of Lost Children


After wowing audiences with 1991's "Delicatessen," co-directors Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet revive their blazing idiosyncrasies with 1995's "The City of Los Children," which attempts to top their previous collaboration with a new wave of Terry Gilliam-inspired oddity and extremity that's meticulously designed, with the production absolutely determined to create a screen space crowded with nightmares and misadventures, tilted with defined French style. Read the rest at

Film Review - Extraction


Bruce Willis was once one of the biggest movies stars in the world, and now he’s playing second banana to Kellan Lutz. “Extraction” is the latest in a growing number of paycheck roles for Willis, who simply doesn’t care about his professional reputation anymore, content to sleepwalk through VOD actioners. Thankfully, Lutz is a little more animated in the picture, which is as routine as they come, watching secret agents battle through nondescript locations, with director Steven C. Miller more interested in the fight sequences than building any type of story. “Extraction” is an exhaustively paint-by-numbers affair, and nobody is more bored with it than Willis. Read the rest at

Film Review - Star Wars: The Force Awakens


It’s been a decade since the release of the last “Star Wars” film (2005’s “Revenge of the Sith”), but the “The Force Awakens” isn’t very interested in the George Lucas prequels. Instead, the new picture is a continuation of the Original Trilogy, attempting to pick up where 1983’s “Return of the Jedi” left off, hoping to rekindle a bit of the old big screen magic with familiar characters and dramatic situations. Co-writer/director J.J. Abrams embarks on a daunting challenge of nostalgia and world-building with the feature, and he’s wildly successful with his revival efforts, triumphantly jump-starting the franchise for a fresh round of sequels and spin-offs that hope to play to all ages and degrees of fandom. As a series starter pistol, “The Force Awakens” packs substantial firepower. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sisters


It’s the pairing of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler that’s immensely appealing about “Sisters.” There doesn’t even really need to be a movie to support the co-stars, as the very idea of shenanigans hosted by two of the top comedians working today is enough to satisfy. However, there is a feature to go along with the billing, and “Sisters” is a modestly successful one, dedicated to showcasing various levels of silliness from Fey and Poehler, who were last seen together in 2007’s “Baby Mama.” While it ends up overstaying its welcome, perhaps mirroring the house party crisis at the center of the story, the film is entertaining, often content to sit back and let the actresses weave their special brand of absurdity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip


If you think it’s crazy that we’re up to four “Alvin and the Chipmunk” movies, imagine being Jason Lee, who probably signed on for the original 2007 picture as a lark, doing one for the kids while collecting an easy paycheck. Eight years later, and he’s still scolding CGI critters. “The Road Chip” returns the famous singing rodents to the screen after a four year break, and the act hasn’t changed since 2011’s “Chipwrecked,” with the latest adventure covering all the family film basics, including heartwarming brotherly bonding, mild thrills, and bathroom humor. “The Road Chip” is a drag, just like the rest of the franchise, but director Walt Becker at least attempts to liven up the PG-rated banality with oddity, looking to entertain all ages with this unnecessary sequel. Read the rest at

Film Review - Christmas Eve


A seasonal mood attempts to survive “Christmas Eve,” a strange multi-character dramedy that’s interested in dissecting the meaning of faith while also providing fart jokes. Writer/director Mitch Davis (who adapts a screenplay by Tyler McKeller) has his heart in the right place with the effort, which strives to put personalities first, enjoying the combustibility of strangers forced into a pressurized situation. If only “Christmas Eve” were funnier, faster, and more profound, with the results playing like an anemic television movie that’s more concerned with filling the time period than extracting the ideal amount of tension. Read the rest at

Film Review - Trumbo


The life and times of Dalton Trumbo is a sufficient start for any cinematic exploration, but “Trumbo” focuses on the writer’s professional fight during the 1950s, where the proud Communist and successful screenwriter watched as his life was shredded by politics and betrayal, robbing him of his identity during his prime creative years. “Trumbo” isn’t interested is anything beyond the wreckage, while director Jay Roach slips into melodramatic mode once too often. The feature is professionally acted and compelling in bite-sized portions, but the overall arc of suffering is treated like a cartoon in Roach’s hands. He isn’t making a picture about a period, he’s making a period picture, diluting key moments of emotional devastation. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Pitfall


The plot of 1948's "Pitfall" concerns a challenge to martial stability, with a bored man taking a chance on a dangerous woman, only to encounter unexpected repercussions. It's a tale that's not unfamiliar to the world of film noir, arriving with suitable levels of temptation, threat, and guilt, but director Andre De Toth handles routine with some imagination, keeping "Pitfall" low to the ground as it explores various levels of intimidation. This patience results in the more refined effort, but one that's not afraid to bloody its knuckles on occasion. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - A Child is Waiting


1963's "A Child Is Waiting" has its heart in the right place. A drama concerning the efforts of teachers at a state institution dealing with special needs children and their confused, frightened parents, the picture seeks to destigmatize the mentally challenged, with director John Cassavetes striving to infuse a sense of realism into an otherwise formulaic but effective feature. "A Child Is Waiting" isn't profound, but for a film of its era, it challenges the viewer with unusual community spirit, while stars Burt Lancaster and Judy Garland (in one of her final performances) handle emotional throttling well, keeping the movie steely enough to avoid a few maudlin temptations. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Shock 'Em Dead


It's widely noted that Nirvana's 1991 masterpiece, "Nevermind," was the album that killed off interest in hair metal. But maybe, just maybe, the release of "Shock 'Em Dead" that very same year also contributed to the cause. Horror meets killer licks in the genre extravaganza, which looks to dazzle viewers with driving music, topless women, and demonic acts of survival, riding a dying musical movement into Valhalla as it shares the pleasures of ornate guitars and towering hair. Admittedly, there's the distraction of Traci Lords to keep things interesting, but as goofy B-movies blasting past their expiration date go, "Shock 'Em Dead" is a surprisingly leaden effort, losing the war with coherence and passable acting as it fights to maintain utter absurdity. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Mask


"The Mask" is an exercise in strangeness, but only in spurts. The 1961 Canadian production is a frustrating sit, alternating between static dramatic passages teeming with banal exposition and visits to a nightmare realm brought on by the wearing of a special cursed mask. Surreal horror meets television procedural in the mediocre feature, which carries an abundance of eeriness, encountered through the display of some truly unsettling visuals. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Catch My Soul


"Catch My Soul" was originally conceived for the stage, where the spare qualities of a theater setting could emphasize the intimacy of this take on William Shakespeare's "Othello." At one point, Jerry Lee Lewis was part of the cast, securing a certain live energy that helps viewers work through the inherent sluggishness of modernized Shakespeare. In 1973, a film adaptation arrived, and one directed by Patrick McGoohan, making his feature-length helming debut after years of triumphant television work, including a lead role on "The Prisoner." Trading the stage for the expanse of New Mexico, a substantial amount of liveliness is lost in the open air, finding McGoohan struggling to keep this odd take on Othello and Iago's battle of manipulation alert enough to connect as a rock opera. Music is prominent, and there's plenty of passion to spread around, but "Catch My Soul" never ignites as intended, always just short of a good idea or a powerful performance. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Ridiculous Six


Taking his act to the small screen, Adam Sandler attempts to revive career momentum on Netflix, with “The Ridiculous Six” the first of a batch of Happy Madison productions due to be released on the streaming service over the next few years. It’s a smart move for the mogul, and with the burden of box office performance removed, perhaps there’s a chance the old Sandler will reemerge to restore his once mighty reputation as a master of meat-headery. Unfortunately, hope will have to wait for the next effort, as “The Ridiculous Six” offers the same lazy humor that’s plagued Sandler’s career as of late, though the jesting is supported by a handsome, star-studded western extravaganza, but one that never plays as inventively as it could. Read the rest at

Film Review - Don Verdean


After suffering the professional humiliation of having his last movie, 2009’s “Gentlemen Broncos,” endure a canceled national release due to low box office, writer/director Jared Hess finally returns to theaters with “Don Verdean.” Reconnecting to his vast reservoir of quirk, Hess (who scripts with Jerusha Hess) takes on religious charlatans with his latest release, reuniting with “Broncos” star Sam Rockwell to pants the world of make-believe miracles, mixing satire with his established interests in goofball behavior. “Don Verdean” has originality and an appreciation for snowballing incident, and while the effort is entertaining, it’s strange that the film isn’t funnier, unable to carry a more muscular sense of humor befitting a premise that explores fanaticism and fraud. Read the rest at