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October 2016

Blu-ray Review - Private Lessons


Released during the early years of teen horndog cinema, 1981's "Private Lessons" found its inspiration for exploitation from a different source than simple teenage lust. Going controversial, the feature depicts a sexual relationship between a thirtysomething woman and a 15-year-old boy, hoping to find titillation in a taboo union, immediately separating the film from its more routine competition. Director Alan Myerson ("Police Academy 5: Assignment: Miami Beach") takes on an incredible tonal challenge with the endeavor, and he rarely lands a stable moment of emotion or comedy, often swinging all over the place in an effort to distract from the inherent iffiness of the premise. "Private Lessons" isn't a strong picture, failing to do something outrageous or harmonious with the material, scripted by Dan Greenberg (adapting his own novel). It's a mess of nudity, sex, slapstick, and mean-spiritedness, unsure of it wants to stimulate viewers or repel them, unable to secure the cheap thrills the subgenre is known for. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Count Dracula's Great Love


Interpretations of the Dracula story usually attempt a mixture of violence and romance, playing up the tragedy of a monster who loves hard but must kill to survive. Regality isn't successfully captured in 1973's "Count Dracula's Great Love," but director Javier Aguirre makes a game attempt to celebrate familiar elements of the tale while endeavoring to pull off a few new tricks to keep viewers interested. While talky, "Count Dracula's Great Love" is an appealing take on bloodsucking and resurrection, emerging as a Spanish twist on Hammer Films and their legacy of gothic, tightly budgeted chillers. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Daughter of Dracula


"Daughter of Dracula" knows exactly what to give its target audience, opening with a few minutes of film that focuses solely on a woman taking a bath. Leave to director Jess Franco to find the exploitation in any situation, but, thankfully, 1972's "Daughter of Dracula" doesn't really aspire to be anything more than cheap titillation, periodically interrupted by a murder mystery that touches on supernatural events and surveys deceptive participants. Read the rest at

Film Review - King Cobra


Even after watching “King Cobra,” it’s difficult to tell how seriously one is supposed to take its tale of sex, obsession, and murder. It’s based on the true story of porn star Brent Corrigan, whose quest for fame led him to a series of encounters with predatory individuals. And yet, while the material is inspired by a true crime book (“Cobra Killer” by Andrew E. Stoner and Peter A. Conway), the feature almost reaches farcical levels of comedy as it investigates the lunatics that descended on Corrigan, from coldly calculating businessmen to complete morons. “King Cobra” has its highlights, including fine work from co-star Christian Slater, but writer/director Justin Kelly attempts exaggerate the strangeness of the case, losing tonal balance and interest in the human particulars along the way. Read the rest at

Film Review - Inferno


It’s been a long time since Robert Langdon was onscreen solving puzzles and sprinting across European cities. The famous symbologist, the central character in author Dan Brown’s series of literary thrillers, was last seen in 2009’s “Angels & Demons,” a sequel to 2006’s “The Da Vinci Code,” and while both films were sizable hits, director Ron Howard and star Tom Hanks took their time returning to the franchise. “Inferno” doesn’t offer a radical reinvention of the Brown formula, but it does show a sharpening of it. The production strives to tighten the whole viewing experience, emphasizing action and feverish academic study while dialing down the extensive exposition and lecturing Brown’s work is known for. “Inferno” doesn’t rock the boat, it simply paddles along with a little more efficiency, mindful of longtime fans who’ve enjoyed the previous adaptations. Read the rest at

Film Review - Certain Women


After showing interest in thriller mechanics with 2013’s “Night Moves,” writer/director Kelly Reichardt returns to the meditative state she’s most comfortable with in “Certain Women.” The creator of “Old Joy,” “Wendy and Lucy,” and “Meek’s Cutoff,” Reichardt has showcased a fascination with the purity of human emotion, putting her characters through trials of survival, but on a relatable scale, with more attention paid to the nuances of behavior than overall pressures of plotting. She’s marvelous with personalities, mastering a way with small details and naturalistic interactions, finding tension in unexpected places. “Certain Women” plays to Reichardt’s strengths, working through three tales of attachment and negotiation, creating intimate spaces with fascinating people. It’s not a bold picture, but something that seeps into the system slowly and satisfyingly. Read the rest at

Film Review - Miss Hokusai


There’s been a certain wistful and fantastical quality to most Japanese animated features that find their way to the U.S. Obviously, the work of Studio Ghibli is an appropriate example of the tonality of these releases, offering viewers wide swings of nostalgia and excitement. “Miss Hokusai” emerges with the same visual style, but it’s tale of maturation is a little more adult and less precious. It’s an adaptation of a popular manga, and one that takes an askew look at the nature of art, the trials of personal relationships, and the burden of expectations. “Miss Hokusai” can be an abrupt picture, but it retains sizable charisma and artistry, locating a few emotional moments that work exceptionally well. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Windmill


If you see a lot of horror films, there’s exposure to all sorts of crazy ideas for antagonists. There have been mutants, rodents, alien goo, houses, and even a laundry-folding machine, and “The Windmill” adds to this tradition by setting its slasher activities around the titular location, which happens to be a hotbed of demonic activity. It’s a bizarre idea, but director Nick Jongerius commits to it, creating a formulaic chiller that tries to add The Miller, a scythe-wielding ghoul from rural Holland, to the Screen Monster Hall of Fame. “The Windmill” doesn’t completely bungle the potential for askew encounters with death, but it’s also not interested in subverting predictability, sticking to the slasher routine as characters are picked off by the mangled villain. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Handmaiden


Fans of director Park Chan-wook usually respond to the helmer’s specific way of plot construction and visual intricacy, as detailed in movies such as “Oldboy,” “Lady Vengeance,” and even his last picture, the English-language chiller “Stoker.” Park has a knack for such tightly stitched filmmaking, and he brings his cinematic fetishes to “The Handmaiden,” which resembles much of his previous work, blending darkly comic material with lush direction. As extensive a puzzle as Park has ever attempted, “The Handmaiden” has no shortage of plot twists and turns, delighting in its winding presentation, which successfully wards away predictability by encouraging games of secrecy and personal history. It’s a fine effort from a justifiably lauded creative force who lives to toy with his audience, often employing gruesome developments to do so. Read the rest at

Film Review - Zombies


The zombie apocalypse travels to rural Minnesota in “Zombies,” which tries to ride a prominent trend around a crowded pop culture block. Writer/director Hamid Torabpour doesn’t bring much originality or even basic pace to the effort, but if one is solely in the mood to watch the undead being stomped by heavily armed survivors, one could do worse than “Zombies.” It’s unpolished, sketchily performed, and knows very little about screen movement, making the horror extravaganza disappointing to those who demand a fatter budget when depicting the last, bloody days of humanity. Torabpour isn’t messing around when it comes to waves of the titular threat, keeping the feature stocked with rotted flesh and hungry citizens, but the movie isn’t refined, often coming off amateurish once Torabpour pushes for deeper meaning than what’s typically afforded to a crude zombie showdown. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Neon Bull


Neon Bull" is the second film I've seen this year from director Gabriel Mascaro ("August Winds" was recently issued on Blu-ray), and it appears he's already settled on a style, favoring stories that permit him screentime to take in settings and character behavior, gently pushing away any interest in drama. Mascaro is obviously gifted, but not inclusionary, keeping viewers at arm's length, serving them a feast for the eyes, but unable to find passion that would elevate his work to the feeling of soulful vibration he's clearly pursuing. Read the rest a

Blu-ray Review - Chosen Survivors


The 1970s was a gold mine for sci-fi/horror hybrids that played into the darkening sky ambiance of a nation experiencing a never-ending war and political deception. Paranoia was mixed with doomsday, permitting filmmakers to address world ills on a grand scale, delivering warning signs while still playing into genre demands for suspense and terror. "Chosen Survivors" is a prime example of apocalyptic concern, but instead of depicting the end of the world above ground, it plunges 1000 feet below, taking inspiration from other claustrophobic chillers. Director Sutton Roley and screenwriters H.B. Cross and Joe Reb Moffly have a terrific idea here, putting human behavior under the microscope as strangers are forced to rely on one another, building a new dawn as the world outside burns to the ground. And yet, "Chosen Survivors" doesn't end up a psychological study. It's a bat attack movie, setting aside provocative ideas on the status of humanity to focus on the wrath of flying mammals wiggling their way through tight spaces on the hunt for human blood. Read the rest a

Blu-ray Review - The Enemy Below


World War II action heads into the open sea in 1957's "The Enemy Below," an adaptation of a best-selling novel by Denys Rayner, and directed by respected actor Dick Powell. While the production captures the intensity of conflict between a U.S. destroyer and a German U-boat, it plays up psychological warfare, using a battle of strategy and experience to generate most of its thrills. Powell has an eye for extravaganza, but he's better with characterization, making sure to dazzle viewers while preserving motivations, creating a more satisfying WWII movie that remains invested in the lives of enemies. Read the rest a

Blu-ray Review - China and Silk


For an adult movie, 1984's "China and Silk" would much rather be a cop drama, having more fun on the prowl with police than in the bedroom with eager partners. Likely inspired by drug smuggling television escapism of the day, "China and Silk" has only a tentative interest in sexual relations, showing more enthusiasm for procedural steps and stakeouts, weirdly cooling the obvious appeal of the picture. Read the rest a

Film Review - Jack Reacher: Never Go Back


2012’s “Jack Reacher” was an unusual film. An adaptation of the Lee Child book “One Shot,” the feature brought the bulky character of Jack Reacher to the big screen, providing star Tom Cruise with a specific acting challenge of toughness, which he pulled off well for writer/director Christopher McQuarrie. It was an actioner with a unique rhythm, exploding with crunching metal and heavy fists before dealing with an unsatisfying story. The picture did okay at the box office, nothing outrageous, but Cruise has elected to try his luck the character again, returning to avenger duty in “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” but this time without the guidance of McQuarrie. His absence is strangely felt throughout the follow-up, which takes the pure intimidation and smarts of the titular character and sets him loose in a shockingly lumpy, lobotomized thriller, which often resembles a television pilot rather than a major movie. Read the rest at

Film Review - Boo! A Madea Halloween


It’s surprising to note that “Boo! A Madea Halloween” is the first Tyler Perry feature to hit screens in over two years, with the prolific filmmaker (who averaged two productions per year at one point) taking a break from cinematic pursuits to build a television empire. He wasn’t missed, but time has come to return Madea to multiplexes, and she’s bringing more holiday mischief, with “Boo! A Madea Halloween” following up “A Madea Christmas.” The abrasive character seems like a true fit for the spooky season, and the potential is unexpectedly there to showcase Madea as a next-gen ghostbuster, taking on urban troublemakers with her unique brand of yelling and slapping. Instead of invention, Perry makes the same old movie, recycling his once powerful formula (box office grosses are trending downward) to give the target audience exactly what they expect. The effort has no tricks, and it’s definitely not a treat. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fear, Inc.


“Fear, Inc.” began life as a short film, and it’s easy to tell such narrative limitation while watching its feature-length expansion. Screenwriter Luke Barnett has a wonderful idea to help twist the horror genre, crafting a tale where terror and murder are requested by individuals searching for a fresh kick in their dreary lives. It’s like “Saw” in a way, only the victims demand the utmost in intimidation. However, stretching the plot to 90 minutes proves too difficult for Barnett, who tries to massage the material by introducing a self-referential approach, making “Fear, Inc.” a “Scream” knockoff, and an easily fatigued one at that. Big frights and laughs are in short supply here, keeping the viewing experience strangely deflated, especially when the central concept of doomsday participation is primed for a robust exploration. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ouija: Origin of Evil


That “Ouija: Origin of Evil” manages to top its predecessor, 2014’s “Ouija,” isn’t a particularly astonishing achievement. While inoffensive, the original wasn’t made with care, churned out to fill a Halloween release slot, offering PG-13 thrills and chills to younger audiences in need of a distraction. Instead of sequelizing the profitable movie, the producers head back to the beginning, kind of, taking the prequel route to unearth a fresh round of scares tied to the demonic wonders of a Hasbro board game. The change in scenery and period is welcome, but more important is the talent involved, with co-writer/director Mike Flanagan (“Oculus,” “Hush”) putting in substantial labor to make sure his take on the “Ouija” world is exciting, nightmarish, and overall menacing. Read the rest at

Film Review - Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four


The saga of 1994’s “The Fantastic Four” is no Hollywood secret. Over the last two decades, details have leaked about the film’s quickie production and aborted release, with the picture eventually discarded altogether after some promotional work was already underway. It’s one of those industry black eyes, and while journalistic endeavors have explored the creation and disintegration of “The Fantastic Four,” director Marty Langford looks to dig deeper with “Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four,” constructing a documentary that collects stories from those on the front lines. It’s not a cheery tale of creative and financial success, but it delivers a wider appreciation of what was attempted in the 1990s, with B-movie imagination eclipsing the blockbuster intentions later iterations of the property attempted. Read the rest at