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February 2016

Blu-ray Review - Luther the Geek


A geek, as defined in "Luther the Geek," is a disturbed carnival sideshow performer who bites the heads off snakes and chickens, usually for a reward that helps to calm urges of alcoholism and drug addiction. It's not the geek as we know it today, making future trips to Best Buy all the more uncomfortable. "Luther the Geek" is a horror film that plays around with the nightmarish vocation, transporting a Depression-era celebration of the macabre to a slightly more modern setting, with writer/director Carlton J. Albright creating a slasher-type event with a truly disturbing murderer. It's a weird movie, but one that owns its strangeness through a commitment to character and unusual encounters between the (clucking) hunter and his understandably confused prey. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - I'm Gonna Git You Sucka


In the 1980s, the Wayans Family was just beginning their reign in Hollywood, with Damon Wayans finding his way to "Saturday Night Live," while Keenan Ivory Wayans established his sense of humor co-writing "Hollywood Shuffle" and the opening of "Eddie Murphy: Raw." 1988's "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka" was the debutant ball for the clan of comedians, with Keenan making his directorial debut guiding a good chunk of his family through a send-up/celebration of the blacksploitation genre, ordering some of the men who were there originally to return to duty. Taking on a deadly serious set of films with an enormous reservoir of silliness, "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka" is a gem in the vein of "Airplane" and "The Naked Gun," using satire and slapstick to generate huge laughs from unlikely sources. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Highway to Hell


A famous proverb states: "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." This ominous ambition also drives the production effort behind 1991's "Highway to Hell." A zany, special effects-intensive chase picture, the feature has a specialized sense of humor from screenwriter Brian Helgeland, who takes the potential of an extended underworld visit seriously, filling the story with all types of weird characters and demonic encounters. Director Ate de Jong (who also helmed the reprehensible "Drop Dead Fred") doesn't have the proper curveball necessary to bring the writing to life, but "Highway to Hell" manages to engage through sheer enthusiasm and enticing make-up work, providing the movie with some creature feature highlights as the helmer figures out how to sell a rather peculiar story. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Dead Next Door


1989's "The Dead Next Door" is the end result of a horror movie fan, J.R. Bookwalter, looking to bite off a piece of the genre for himself. Inspired by titans such as George Romero, Sam Raimi, and John Carpenter, Bookwalter cooks up his own smorgasbord of death with this scrappy feature. Replacing Hollywood polish with Ohio ingenuity, the production gets surprisingly far with its vision of a zombie apocalypse, with Bookwalter trying his hardest to make "The Dead Next Door" as entertaining as possible, filling the effort with incredible amounts of gore and mildly effective humor. Backyard production touches take some getting used to, and the script is a weird collection of expositional moments, but the core viewing experience remains engaging, delivering on promises of grotesqueries and silliness as the viscera flows. Read the rest at

Film Review - Southbound


While anthology films are all the rage these days, “Southbound” attempts to smooth out the inherently episodic nature of the subgenre by connecting, albeit loosely, the grim stories it’s out to tell. The extra attention to continuity is refreshing, giving the production a boost in pacing and overall connectivity, allowing its dark interests a little more room the breathe. “Southbound” is a nifty horror production, showing imagination with surprises and intensity, and it retains a cinematic mood, drenching the feature in synth and violent escalation to make sure each of the chapters has a fighting chance to disturb the viewer. Read the rest at

Film Review - Cabin Fever (2016)


2003’s “Cabin Fever” wasn’t a hit, but the micro-budgeted picture was profitable, urging distributor Lions Gate to figure out a way to milk the brand name without putting in much effort. There was a sequel, 2009’s “Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever” (a film director Ti West has disowned), and a prequel, 2014’s “Cabin Fever: Patient Zero,” with neither production managing to catch much attention. To reignite the franchise, a remake has been brought forward by original creator Eli Roth, who passes directorial control to Travis Z, tasked with using Roth and Randy Pearlstein’s original script to fuel a new round of flesh-eating horrors. Instead of reimagining “Cabin Fever” for a new audience, it’s simply been recycled, offering the same strained stupidity for a new generation of genre fans. Read the rest at

Film Review - Deadpool


As the big guys and gals of superhero legend slowly wind down their cinematic reign, more obscure characters are now being tested for multiplex domination. “Deadpool,” which, according the film, takes place in the “X-Men” universe, is perhaps the most daring comic book adaptation yet, with the red-suited antihero a troubling figure of cynicism, sarcasm, and murder, with his journey very different from the troubled but noble titans audiences are used to. Instead of soberly working through yet another origin story, “Deadpool” looks to spice up the norm with a freewheeling sense of humor and loads of R-rated mischief, separating itself from the pack. And it’s a successful experiment, jazzing up the genre with a blast of unexpected energy from an unlikely source. Read the rest at

Film Review - Zoolander 2


After taking a detour to make a meditative adventure with 2013’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” Ben Stiller is back in the business of being crazy with “Zoolander 2,” his long-awaited sequel to the 2001 hit. Stiller’s always at his best when hip-deep in mischief and slapstick, and while the freshness of the premise is lacking, the sequel’s preference for the absurd is divine, offering a nutso continuation that lives up to the brand name while finding new areas of fashion and media to lampoon. “Zoolander 2” not only satisfies, it explodes with a level of craziness that plays to Stiller’s strengths, making sure to leave the audience with a little more than just rehashed bits. Read the rest at

Film Review - We Are Twisted F***ing Sister


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When the band Twisted Sister comes up in casual conversation (I swear this happens), the first image that usually comes to mind is the cover of the “Stay Hungry” album, which features singer Dee Snider crouched on the floor of an abandoned house, clutching a giant leg of undefined meat while snarling at the camera. It’s the ideal introduction to the group’s legacy, and the entry point for a large number of fans in the 1980s, helping to launch “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock” as indefatigable hair metal anthems. And that’s the story most people know. “We Are Twisted F***ing Sister” takes viewers back to the beginnings of the group, with director Andrew Horn meticulously tracking every step of the group’s history, highlighting their unique tale of persistence, survival, and periodic dalliances with bad luck. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bad Hurt


There’s no doubt that “Bad Hurt” is a difficult film to watch, especially as a claustrophobic study of a blue-collar family in the throes of disintegration, filled with enough heartache and tragedy to fill five movies. Miraculously, co-writer/director Mark Kemble discovers a type of beauty in the midst of uneasiness, focusing on the numbing mechanics of routine, the power of myth, and the struggle of love. “Bad Hurt” is powerful work, superbly acted and surprising along the way. Although it makes sure to sand down a few of its rough edges in the end, the material remains startlingly sincere, leading with secure, profound characterizations and a sensational understanding of toxic environments. Read the rest at

Film Review - Standoff


As B-movie productions go, “Standoff” doesn’t try to be anything more than an intimate showdown between tough guys. It primarily takes place inside a single house, and relies on extended dialogue exchanges to shape most of its story. While other helmers fail to bring to bring their productions to a boil, writer/director Adam Alleca does a fine job with “Standoff,” beating predictability with two strong performances from Thomas Jane and Laurence Fishburne, who breathe life into the feature’s limited scope. Perhaps there’s not much to the effort, but suspense needs are met, while the screenplay preserves a few surprises along the way. Read the rest at

Film Review - How to Be Single


“How to Be Single” arrives in the guise of a female empowerment picture, where the lead characters are tough, independent women who don’t require the comfort of men to enjoy the revelry and adventures of life. At least that’s the idea of the movie for about five minutes, then it’s back to relationship woes and dating scene perils, quickly becoming the very thing it was condemning for a brief, obnoxious moment. A confusing effort from director Christian Ditter, “How to Be Single” at least enjoys pretending to be thematically and emotionally substantial, but the actual feature is a jumble of plots and characters, with no clear way to communicate the state of the sisterhood union. Read the rest at

Film Review - Where to Invade Next?


Michael Moore took a little break from filmmaking after his last effort, 2009’s “Capitalism: A Love Story,” failed to live up to box office expectations set by previous pictures such as “Bowling for Columbine” and “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Moore’s a little out of practice, but he’s lost none of his passion for the docutainment subgenre, returning to theaters with “Where to Invade Next?”, a mostly lighthearted expedition around the globe to collect examples of functional government and social systems that could be transferred to the United States, with Moore our guide into foreign lands working to benefit the greater good. Once again, America and its increasing ills is the helmer’s subject, only for this round of satire and sermonizing, Moore forgets how to juggle his examples, creating an uneven spanking machine that’s only periodically enlightening. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words


A Swedish actress with dreams of following her vocation to stardom, Ingrid Bergman managed to enchant a worldwide audience during her time in front of a camera, with classics such as “Casablanca,” “Spellbound,” and “The Bells of St. Mary” helping to solidify her status as an industry icon. However, after a charging through a career during her twenties and thirties, Bergman relaxed her desire to act, becoming a mystery to many as she relocated around the globe and enjoyed the comfort of several husbands. “Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words” is director Stig Bjorkman’s attempt to demystify the woman who brought special emotional power to the screen, using access to home movies, diaries, letters, and offspring to shape Bergman’s personality in a way that might surprise even longtime fans. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Mercy Street


In its quest to find a suitable replacement for "Downton Abbey," PBS turns to the Civil War for inspiration, with its wealth of class and combat-based conflict providing ample dramatics to fuel a limited series. Created by Lisa Wolfinger and David Zabel, "Mercy Street" is primed for grittiness, observing medical chaos and battlefield woes during the devastating conflict, setting the series in Alexandria during a transition period of power between the Union and Confederate armies. However, subtle antagonisms aren't encouraged here, with the production team going the soap opera route, encouraging heaving chests and wild-eyed close-ups, leaning more towards "Gone with the Wind" than a Ken Burns documentary. While the show only lasts for six episodes, it remains a struggle to work through the tepid conflicts contained within "Mercy Street," which seems allergic to any scene of authentic emotion, caught trying put on an opera with material that's best served as soberly and respectfully as possible. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The End


Suicide is an impossible topic for a movie to explore, especially one that's hoping to trigger a few smiles along the journey. Many films have tried to include such self-inflicted violence, but the act provides a tonal tightrope walk few are able to master. Perhaps the lone example of success is Wes Anderson's "The Royal Tenenbaums," which explores the sinking feeling of desperation felt by one of the main characters as he slits his wrists, and somehow the production manages to rebound from such horror to reach even greater comedic heights. A long form test of mood is undertaken by 1978's "The End," where Burt Reynolds (who also directs) portrays a terminally ill man who wants to end it all before medical suffering begins. And it's played for laughs. Thankfully, Reynolds brings his rascally wit and love of exaggeration to "The End," trying to create silly but life-affirming story about a man's darkest hour, bringing in a lively supporting cast to help him achieve jocularity instead of extended anguish. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Almost an Angel


Australian comedian Paul Hogan has enjoyed a lengthy career, entertaining audiences for over 40 years. However, he will forever be known for his work on "Crocodile Dundee," the 1986 blockbuster that turned him into an international star, known everywhere for his easy charms, twisty slang, and deep tan. Finding gargantuan big screen success with "Dundee" and its 1988 sequel, Hogan was challenged to find a follow-up that might allow a softer, more human side of a personality to shine, away from the Outback and considerably large knives. 1990's "Almost an Angel" was intended to be a slight change of pace for Hogan, scripting himself a more peaceful role of a crook urged by heavenly forces to become a heavenly hero. However, it's not easy to pull the star out of his comfort zone, with "Almost an Angel" a ridiculously mild affair that's supported entirely by Hogan's easygoing sense of humor. Trying to play it cool, the production slips into a coma instead, barely fighting mundane plotting as Hogan does what comes naturally. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Heartbreakers


"Heartbreakers" has every opportunity to become a flavorless collection of antics and quirks concerning the world of con artists and their elaborate schemes. And yet, under the direction of "Simpsons" vet David Mirkin (who also helmed the delightful "Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion"), the feature turns into a surprise. Sure, twists and turns await viewers, remaining true to the spirit of criminal misdirection, but "Heartbreakers" stuns with its robust sense of humor, never fearing a chance to sample silliness as it explores an extended sham. Lively atmosphere and a deep appreciation for the absurd keep the picture not only approachable, but downright hilarious at times. While excessive length takes the wind out of its sail in the third act, the movie remains a delight, offering wonderfully spirited lead performances from Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt. Read the rest at