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February 2016

Blu-ray Review - Pieces


"Pieces" is a tale of murder and the assembly of a particularly macabre puzzle, offering filmmaking that's just as challenging to put together. It's a weird, wild effort from 1982, with director Juan Piquer trying to both pants and celebrate the slasher genre, using giallo training to create a suspenseful journey into absurdity, with a black-gloved killer the star of this lively show. "Pieces" isn't cohesive, more about chasing whims than telling a story, but it's undeniably fun, with patient genre fanatics rewarded with another gory chainsaw massacre, and one built with intriguing self-awareness, knowingly making a screen mess with familiar cinematic elements. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Delirious


A towering talent and beloved personality, John Candy was a special screen presence. An expert with timing and temper, Candy contributed to some of the finest comedic works during his media reign, with projects such as "SCTV," "Stripes," "Uncle Buck," and "Planes, Trains & Automobiles" just a few of his achievements. He was the best, but there's a painful truth to Candy's legacy: he wasn't always a good judge of quality when picking jobs. He never gave a bad performance, but he toplined more than a few stinkers, with gigs like "Armed and Dangerous," "Summer Rental," and "Wagons East" helping to temper enthusiasm for Candy's filmography. 1991's "Delirious" is one of those lesser Candy offerings, though it never lacks in sheer velocity. Director Tom Mankiewicz certainly has a vision for a romp through soap opera clichés, but there's very little successful humor in the feature, which usually doesn't have the writing to back up the satire. It's broad work, never boring, but "Delirious" periodically comes across winded and unprepared, stranding Candy in the middle of a farce that never catches fire, dependent on its star to handle much of the silly business. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Edge of Seventeen


As much as "Edge of Seventeen" appears like a standard coming-of-age movie, it carries itself in a different, more dignified manner. Dealing with issues of identity and freedom, the picture uses its cheery 1984 setting to dig deeper into character concerns, with director David Moreton and screenwriter Todd Stephens taking their time with the emotional needs of the participants, working through moments of sexuality and shattered trust with unusual care. Although it has every opportunity to devolve into a screamy, pouty melodrama, "Edge of Seventeen" keeps itself together through fine performances and good taste, trying to make sense of a special conflict without torching the entire production. Its restraint is remarkable at times, investing in sensitivities instead of volume and cynicism. Read the rest at

Film Review - Gods of Egypt


Alex Proyas doesn’t direct very often, and when he does, it’s usually a disappointment. Building a reputation with his work on “The Crow” and “Dark City,” Proyas suddenly turned around and pursued mediocrity with “Garage Days,” “I, Robot,” and “Knowing.” It’s not an encouraging batting average, taking another percentage dip with “Gods of Egypt,” a garish attempt to explore ancient myth with video game sensibilities, with Proyas blasting the screen with enough CGI to make a “Transformers” sequel blush. Misfiring on multiple levels and hard on the senses, “Gods of Egypt” crashes quickly after takeoff, with Proyas using excess to numb his audience, mistakenly believing that he’s entertaining the stuffing out of ticket-buyers. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jack of the Red Hearts


In 2011, writer/director Janet Grillo made her feature-length directorial debut with “Fly Away.” A harrowing but sensitive study of autism and parental challenges, the picture was unexpectedly illuminating and sensationally performed, identifying Grillo as a talent with a unique point of view. She returns with “Jack of the Red Hearts,” and while this project is allowed a little more room to breathe, it remains an intense overview of the neurodevelopment disorder, inserted into a formulaic but convincing tale of desperation and fraud. Grillo is one of the few filmmakers out there who possesses an understanding of autism and the drain of personal care, and she once again uses this knowledge to deepen material, giving it a perspective few productions dare to offer. Read the rest at

Film Review - Triple 9


Director John Hillcoat earned considerable industry and film enthusiast respect with his previous features, “The Proposition,” “The Road,” and “Lawless.” He’s enamored with the illness of life, its dark corners and tests of allegiance, creating a trilogy of sorts that celebrate suffering, finding soulfulness in the strangest of places. Growing a little tired of grind, Hillcoat takes command of “Triple 9,” trying a corrupt cop drama on for size, looking to play on a more Hollywood-ized playground of gunfire and puffed-chest confrontations. While still dire to keep Hillcoat engaged, “Triple 9” is also woefully formulaic and strangely performed, with fans of Michael Mann, Antoine Fuqua, and numerous other crime movie architects sure to feel déjŕ vu while watching this limp shoot-em-up. Read the rest at

Film Review - Eddie the Eagle


“Eddie the Eagle” wants to be the premiere feel-good movie of 2016. It’s an underdog story, already loaded with broad sweeps of melodrama and misfortune, but director Dexter Fletcher isn’t content to get by on the basics of triumph and failure. He wants everyone inside the theater to stand up and cheer by the end credits, tears streaming down faces. Violent in its need to please and only marginally successful as inspirational cinema, “Eddie the Eagle” doesn’t waste a moment on nuance, charging ahead as a bio-pic that only has a slight interest in the inner workings of its subject, preferring to celebrate vague sporting achievements and personal accomplishment in a frightfully superficial manner. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Club


In 2012’s “No,” writer/director Pablo Larrain delivered an original take on political commentary, using technical creativity and dramatic passion to articulate a specific moment in time, lightened to a degree by the intricacies of creating propaganda. “The Club” emerges with a far more sobering reality, sinking its teeth into the plague of corrupt Catholic priests and church officials who refuse to take responsibility for unpardonable sins. It’s powerful work, with richly detailed performances that cover a full range of insidious behavior. “The Club,” while not without serious pacing problems, also reinforces Larrain’s unique vision and his ability to understand disease in subtle forms. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Country Called Home


“A Country Called Home” attempts to be a genuine take on the estranged family formula, with co-writer/director Anna Axster filling the picture with all kinds of ache and wounded behavior, spread across a collection of idiosyncratic characters. Most of it borders on quirky, but the effort is much too dour to be any fun. Somber and stilted, “A Country Called Home” is undone by miscalculated performances and screenwriting that doesn’t value the truth of the moment. Axster strives to create an introspective mood, but the feature isn’t especially deep, often resorting to painful cliché to piece the whole thing together. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Pretty Peaches 3


The tour of tattered innocence continues in 1989's "Pretty Peaches 3," with director Alex de Renzy recruiting star Keisha to portray the titular temptress, a nymph who once again is in search of a bad education. Slowly leaving the adult film aesthetic of the 1980s behind, the helmer builds a more confident and plot-loaded "Pretty Peaches" event with the second sequel, sending his heroine into a world populated with questionable people looking to exploit and contain the wonder of a sexually eager young woman. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Pretty Peaches 2


1987's "Pretty Peaches 2" is technically a sequel to the 1978 Alex de Renzy adult movie, but the helmer isn't connecting the dots with this follow-up. It's more of a thematic continuation, once again retuning to a cartoonish depiction of innocence to explore sexual experimentation and awakening. It's episodic, but de Renzy certainly has a vision for his title character, creating a strange collection of opportunists and accidents that brings out pleasing mischief during this surprisingly eventful feature. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Gorp


When "National Lampoon's Animal House" destroyed the box office competition in 1978, a string of knockoffs were all but guaranteed. One of the strangest to emerge from the mist remains 1980's "Gorp," a summer camp festival of sophomoric behavior that strains to ape "Animal House" tomfoolery in every way. Director Joseph Ruben ("Sleeping with the Enemy," "The Stepfather") and screenwriter Jeffrey Konvitz largely invest in chaos to bring the strangely titled "Gorp" to life, believing that noise and aggressively odious behavior is the key to acquiring audience approval. Unable to land a single joke, the feature quickly transforms into an endurance test with painfully exaggerated characters and dispiritingly desperate attempts at juvenile humor. There's not even a plot to help tie it all together, rendering the effort a highlight reel of unimaginative monkey business that often feels like it's never going to end. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Up the Creek


The producers of "Up the Creek" were smart. Instead of trying to mimic "Animal House" and "Porky's" with a group of nobodies, they went out and hired the actors partially responsible for the success of those films. Playing into trends of the era, 1984's "Up the Creek" is quite open about its creative pilfering, arranging a playful rafting chase that barely pays attention to the water, more consumed with pranks, bare breasts, and frat-house shenanigans, looking to become the next big thing in beer-stained, sophomoric entertainment. It's refreshing to find a picture that's honest about its intentions, but clarity of direction doesn't make the feature any funnier. Strangely designed to avoid the one element of the plot that gives the effort a distinct personality, "Up the Creek" is a winded affair that's always one step behind punchlines and sight gags, far too obsessed with other movies in the marketplace to land an inspired moment. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance


The best cult films don't know they're cult films. It's difficult to manufacture oddity; it truly has to come from the heart, with complete incompetence instinctual. 1991's "Samurai Cop" has built a reputation as a B-movie wonder over the years, charming audiences with its earnest goofballery, born from the mind of writer/director Amir Shervan. Sadly, the helmer passed away a decade ago, but his legacy continues (via crowdfunding) with "Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance," a follow-up that tries to hit all the same low-budget, no-talent beats as the original effort, only here the extravaganza is served up with a towering side of self-awareness. Die-hard fans may rejoice at the prospect of revisiting the "Samurai Cop" universe 25 years later, but it's clear from the start that the production isn't interested in building the potential of the brand name, content to replicate its severe limitations with a noticeable dip in enthusiasm. Read the rest at

Film Review - A War


A few years ago, writer/director Tobias Lindholm entered the international film scene with “A Hijacking.” A sensational examination of terror and the weight of power, the feature solidified Lindholm as a helmer to watch, finding a single picture managing to detail complete directorial clarity. Lindholm returns to screens with “A War,” continuing his interest in the aftermath of decisions, this time taking pressure points to Afghanistan to inspect soldiers ordered to balance survival instinct with the intricacies of diplomacy. Again, Lindholm guides tremendous performances and establishes a strong thematic presence, with the questions “A War” raises forcing the viewer to confront painful realities of combat and the cost of military service. Read the rest at

Film Review - Race


It comes with some relief to find that “Race” isn’t an extensive biographical examination of the life and times of athlete Jesse Owens. The production doesn’t show much interest in anything beyond his skin color and speed, keeping the movie to the basics of competition and confidence. Director Stephen Hopkins (“Lost in Space,” “Predator 2”) isn’t out to change the world with his vision of a sporting world icon, treating Owens and his battle with adversity with kid gloves, trying to make the most palatable and accessible feature for the widest possible audience. “Race” has limited depth and its depiction of evil belongs in a cartoon, but there’s charisma to embrace with star Stephen James, and the sheer skill of Owens is vividly recreated, generating decent highlights in a largely unadventurous, sanitized picture. Read the rest at

Film Review - Risen


Released during a particularly holy season, “Risen” looks to remind audiences about the suffering and benevolence of Jesus Christ, only it begins where most movies end. The picture also has an unusual helmer in Kevin Reynolds, the director of “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” and “Waterworld,” who brings a blockbuster sensibility to what becomes a detective film for the most part. Select ingredients are interesting in “Risen,” but as an overall stew of spiritual illumination, the feature is far too sluggish to crack open the spirit. Still, Reynolds is an inspired choice, finding intermittent success with a resurrection mystery. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Witch


Instead of simply recycling “The Crucible” to investigate religious hysteria in the 17th century, writer/director Robert Eggers (making his feature-length debut) tries to concoct his own take on self-destruction with “The Witch.” An atmospheric and intentionally distant effort, the picture aims to conjure a sustained feeling of dread, studying the unraveling of innocents as paranoia and the possible presence of the supernatural conspire to destroy a vulnerable family. Eggers does his duty, delivering creepy forests, agitated performances, and gradual escalation of terror, but “The Witch,” as unnerving as it is, doesn’t know when to quit, with the final five minutes of the movie almost torpedoing the entire film. Read the rest at

Film Review - Forsaken


Making a rare screen appearance together, Kiefer and Donald Sutherland deliver their best work in years in the western “Forsaken,” which provides substantial roles to the acting dynasty, rescuing them from television and YA franchise routine. A meat-and-potatoes genre offering with a strong sense of location and character, “Forsaken” isn’t out to wow audiences with invention. Instead, it invests in simplicity to best achieve dramatic potency, leading with shattered psyches, not blazing six-guns, though violence plays a critical role in the story. With adjusted expectations, the movie plays with surprising depth, inspecting the redemption of a ruined life with care and attention to thespian detail. Read the rest at