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June 2016

Film Review - No Stranger Than Love


I’m not exactly sure what screenwriter Steve Adams (“Envy,” “Donnie and Marie”) was aiming to express with the oddity of “No Stranger Than Love,” but it’s safe to report that whatever the original intent of the material was, it hasn’t ended up onscreen. Quirky with a capital Q, the feature is an unyielding rush of cutesy business anchored by a plot twist that touches on the existential, trying to use weirdness as a way to disrupt expectations. It’s too bad director Nick Wherham doesn’t have a clue what to do with all this sticky stuff, struggling to make scenes work that don’t piece together properly, while casting is largely a letdown, making whimsy feels uncomfortably labored. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Something Big


Emerging from the success of 1969's "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," 1971's "Something Big" aims to sustain the freewheeling good times with another folksy western, this time pitting Dean Martin against Brian Keith. "Something Big" (which could inspire a drinking game, finding characters working the title into dialogue any chance they get) isn't a dynamic production from director Andrew V. McLaglen ("The Wild Geese"), but it gets the job done thanks to the charms of the cast and its askew sense of frontier priority. The screenplay by James Lee Barrett isn't always interested in Gatling gun action and chases, but pursues a lightly romantic tone as female characters become treasures to cowboys and military men, with the adventure straddling the border between America and Mexico. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The People That Time Forgot


1975's "The Land That Time Forgot" proved to be a hit with audiences, playing into the decade's fascination with the work of author Edgar Rice Burroughs, who provided inspiration for the big screen adventure with his 1924 novel. A sequel arrived two years later, also adapting Burroughs's work, with returning director Kevin Connor continuing his study of the forgotten land Caprona, reuniting with the sub-continent's population of dinosaurs and assorted native cultures. "The People That Time Forgot" sticks closely to what "Land" began, laboring to bring a special effects-intensive extravaganza to the masses, resulting in an offering of classic moviemaking craftsmanship during a year where "Star Wars" emerged to change the industry forever. "The People That Time Forgot" isn't successful as a roller coaster ride, but it retains thespian charm and touchable textures on its creatures, remaining a mild distraction with occasional surges in excitement, providing a natural extension of strange encounters with a little less budget to work with. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Killer Force


Sometimes, actors join a project to fulfill creative desires, drawn to material that offers newfound areas of dramatic expression, challenging them to reach beyond their capabilities and establish new career achievements. Other times, actors just want a free vacation. I believe the latter was the primary motivation for the cast of "Killer Force" (titled "The Diamond Mercenaries" on the disc), sending famous performers to the arid wilds of South Africa, spending their days rolling around in the sand, shooting guns, making out with Maud Adams, and blowing up various vehicles. Not that there's anything wrong with a chance to visit a corner of the globe, but "Killer Force" could've used more narrative emphasis when constructing its tale of a heist gone wrong. Visually, it's a stunning picture, taking advantage of its unique locations, which provide a wide playing field for criminal activities, but storywise, the effort is missing some snap with its twists and turns, in need of more combustible events to ornament this agreeable but unremarkable thriller. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Sorceress


I don't think director Jim Wynorksi has ever turned down a job, managing to build a career on blind script selection, finding hope with the bleakest of productions. He's a B-movie craftsman, and one with plenty of experience with exploitation, credited on such titles such as "Not of this Earth," "Deathstalker II," "Chopping Mall," and "The Bare Wench Project." Give the man lunch money, naked actors, and the opportunity to spill a little fake blood, and he's capable of creating a certain type of bottom-shelf magic. 1995's "Sorceress" (titled "Temptress" on the Blu-ray) isn't a raging effort of pure cinema, but as sleaze goes, it has its moments, most of them manufactured by Wynorski and his indefatigable interest in bedroom antics, seasoned here with bits of witchcraft. "Sorceress" doesn't make complete sense, and its handle on refined filmmaking elements is tenuous at best, but for those looking for cheap thrills and a weirdly calming viewing experience, Wynorksi delivers here, wisely showing more interest in sexual gamesmanship than suspense, as the feature is much too silly to support the weight of proper screen mayhem. Read the rest at

Film Review - Clown


With marketing that celebrates Eli Roth as a producer, there’s some expectation of tastelessness with “Clown,” which takes a darkly comic route to understanding the unease that generally accompanies painted men with rainbow hair. The sickness of the movie isn’t surprising, but its leaden sense of humor is, failing to strike a balance between grim events and the inherent silliness of the plot. “Clown” attempts to be subtle for a good 30 minutes, but co-writer/director Jon Watts doesn’t maintain patience, soon amplifying violence against children and assort demonic awakenings to give the effort some shock value when basic suspense fails him. Read the rest at

Film Review - Finding Dory


For the next round of sequelization at Pixar Animation Studios, the company returns to one of their most beloved pictures a whopping 13 years after the release of the original film. 2003’s “Finding Nemo” represented Pixar’s first real taste of megablockbusterdom after building a reputation on the backs of toys, monster, and bugs. It was a smash hit, charming audiences around the globe with its depiction of ocean life and its careful handling of characterization, with the forgetful Pacific regal blue tang Dory emerging as a fan favorite. Returning to the undersea kingdom, writer/director Andrew Stanton offers the fish her own adventure in “Finding Dory,” which is a perfectly serviceable continuation that doesn’t truly widen the oceanic realm, but it does make time for old friends and familiar conflicts, playing it safe to make sure the faithful walk away satisfied. Read the rest at

Film Review - Central Intelligence


It’s difficult to classify “Central Intelligence” as a good movie, but it makes a valiant effort to disrupt expectations, especially when it comes to leads Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson. An action-comedy from director Rawson Marshall Thurber (“We’re the Millers”), the picture is open to switching traditional roles for the talent, allowing Johnson to be the semi-loud weird guy while Hart does the straight-man routine. It may seem like a simple change in tone, but the idea keeps “Central Intelligence” involving and amusing, especially when it offers a sedate, reactionary Hart. Thurber isn’t built for big, violent set pieces, but the jokes keep coming in the film, showing a little more interest in entertaining ticket-buyers than expected. Read the rest at

Film Review - Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made


In 1982, fresh off the high they received after watching Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece, “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Mississippi teenagers Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala, and Jayson Lamb embarked on a perilous quest to meticulously reshoot the picture using locations, actors, and props available to them as adolescents. The moviemaking ordeal lasted seven years, during which friendships were forged and lost, lives were challenged, and obsessions were exhausted. The result was “Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation” (Read the Review), a thrilling celebration of big screen influence that, despite limited production polish, managed to thrill and chill with its Spielberg Jr. appeal. The boys eventually went their separate ways after production ended, but there was one scene left to complete, leaving “The Adaptation” missing a key part of the story. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Last King


Director Nils Gaup made a strong professional introduction decades ago with 1987’s “Pathfinder” and 1990’s “Shipwrecked,” a Disney picture that brought the helmer a more global audience. Gaup returns to duty with “The Last King,” which offers a frigid, action-minded take on Norwegian history, trying to butch up the details of civil war in a “Game of Thrones” era of swords, brawn, and scheming. “The Last King” is steeped in local culture and motivation, making it a complex sit for those not up on the minutiae of Norwegian conflict, but Gaup and screenwriter Ravn Lanesskog do their best to make sure the cinematic essentials are represented, delivering big action in a rarely explored setting, successfully transforming this slice of warfare into a compelling, wonderfully snowbound adventure. Read the rest at

Film Review - Gridlocked


Dominic Purcell has worked hard to become a big screen tough guy, surviving on a diet of B-movies that try to do something with his blank expression and bulky physicality, emphasizing his comfort with intimidation. He’s not an especially commanding screen presence, but, like most actors missing a defined personality, when used sparingly, his work is digestible. “Gridlocked” smartly downplays Purcell’s limited range, arming him with guns and giving him a co-star to stare at in this modest but violent mash-up of “The Hard Way” and “Die Hard.” “Gridlocked” is a fairly generic offering of action cinema, never developing conflicts to satisfaction, preferring gunfire to suspense, but it does periodically distract, finding a few stretches of inspired mayhem as it goes through the bullets and brawn routine. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Last Heist


A few years ago, director Mike Mendez pulled off the impossible. Armed with a tiny budget and a jokey premise, Mendez managed to make something agreeable out of “Big Ass Spider,” keeping rhythm tight and humor approachable as he set out to create a CGI-shellacked monster movie in a marketplace that’s filled with them. Mendez’s spunky vision isn’t as successful for “The Last Heist.” Instead of smartly reworking the obvious and doing something substantial with suspense beats, Mendez simply survives this no-budget chiller. Filmmaking finesse is missing from the effort, which takes a neat premise and proceeds to pad the picture with banal dialogue and tedious characterizations, leaving actual time for hellraising limited, never taking full advantage of the oddball plot. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Arabian Nights


"Arabian Nights" is not something to be approach casually. Director Miguel Gomes takes on an incredibly ambitious project with this extended vision of Portugal woes (broken down into three chapters: "The Restless One," "The Desolate One," "The Enchanted One"), demanding over six hours of screen time to work out his vision for storytelling and symbolism. It's a huge undertaking, reserved for those who appreciate cinematic artistry, world culture, and have the patience to deal with a filmmaker who indulges himself in full, often for little payoff. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Chase


"The Chase" commences like most film noirs, setting up a dangerous game between shadowy men, with the charms of a woman wreaking havoc with several lives. The 1946 picture has passable style and an interest in storytelling peculiarity, adapting Cornell Woolrich's challenging novel for the screen. Director Arthur Ripley has ideas for "The Chase," but little interest in cranking up the cheap thrills of this frequently absurd thriller. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Buster Keaton: The Shorts Collection 1917-1923


Nearly a century after his short film debut, the scope of Buster Keaton's early career is finally being explored in full. "Buster Keaton: The Shorts Collection (1917-1923)" builds on a previous 2011 Blu-ray release, adding new titles to the years when Keaton joined comedian Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle on the screen, establishing his brand of poker-face reactions and physical humor before striking out on his own. It's an odyssey that samples genres and ambition, but always delivers Keaton's special touch with two-reeler cinematic pursuits, honing skills that would later be exploited to perfection in his feature-length movie career. Included here are 33 shorts, lovingly restored by the team at Lobster Films, who do their best to preserve Keaton's legacy despite working with scattered source material. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - School for Sex


After experimenting with more narrative-driven sexploitation in "For Men Only," writer/director Pete Walker graduates to feature-length naughtiness with 1969's "School for Sex," expanding his creative interests and run time, providing more opportunity for nudity and silliness. "School for Sex" is barely a movie, but it does actually live up to its promise of bawdy behavior, though Walker doesn't seem particularly aware that most viewers aren't watching the picture for its comedic value. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - For Men Only


Making a career leap from nude 8mm loops to material fit for theatrical distribution, writer/director Pete Walker retains his sexploitation style for 1968's "For Men Only," which looks to merge some rather unadventurous ogling with mild comedy antics -- think "Benny Hill," but without the cheeky spirit. "For Men Only" isn't aggressive or inventive in any way, with Walker somehow masterminding smut that one could watch with a grandparent and not feel weird about it. Read the rest at

Film Review - Warcraft


A video game franchise that has endured since 1994, “Warcraft” finally makes it way to the big screen after years of development. Much like “The Angry Birds Movie,” perhaps the optimal time for a cinematic inspection of this sprawling material has passed, but co-writer/director Duncan Jones does an admirable job reviving the basics of combat between orcs and humans, emphasizing magic and troubled heroes with laudable sincerity, trying his best to respect the essentials of the brand name. Difficulty arrives with the ultimate digestion of such a complex universe, but the production isn’t making this picture for casual ticket-buyers. “Warcraft” plays strictly to the faithful, and if the opening five minutes of the movie feel exceptionally bewildering, the rest isn’t any easier to interpret. Read the rest at