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October 2016

Film Review - In a Valley of Violence

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While he hasn’t exclusively worked in the genre, writer/director Ti West is usually labeled a horror filmmaker, building his reputation with interesting efforts (“The Innkeepers” and “House of the Devil”), while his last picture, “The Sacrament,” replicated real-world agony with its take on the Jonestown Massacre. Changing up the career view, West embarks on a western showdown tale with “In a Valley of Violence,” challenging his helming skills with a homage to spaghetti westerns, having a ball highlighting all the evil men are capable of. It’s a doozy of a movie, refreshingly spare and focused on the essentials of the tradition, showcasing West’s continued development into a memorable creative force. It’s raw work, but “In a Valley of Violence” snowballs into superbly suspenseful cinema. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Keeping Up with the Joneses

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Spy comedies are all the rage these days, recently explored in the aptly titled “Spy” and last spring’s disaster, “The Brothers Grimsby.” “Keeping Up with the Joneses” is the PG-13 take on broad adventuring, and its gentleness almost feels like a straitjacket, watching director Greg Mottola figure out a way to make hackneyed writing moderately interesting. He fails, as there aren’t any real jokes in the picture, just pratfalls and tedious encounters with improvisation. “Keeping Up with the Joneses” is safe, borderline cuddly, but this subgenre deserves a more aggressive take on bumbling characters and violent situations. The feature has cast members capable of doing anything, but they master next to nothing, keeping the movie passive and unimaginative. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Girl Asleep

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The trials of adolescence are taken for a surreal joyride in “Girl Asleep.” An Australian production, the picture already has a healthy sense of humor, but Matthew Whittet’s screenplay yearns for something more when dealing with the anxiety of a 14-year-old girl taking a grand birthday leap to a new year of development and socialization. The film is frequently hilarious, boasting a sense of humor that’s a blend of Jared Hess and Wes Anderson, but there’s a dramatic aspect to the effort that’s presented in a theatrical manner, taking viewers into a fantasy world that pinpoints the battle of personal growth in a more literal manner. “Girl Asleep” is highly creative work from Rosemary Myers (making her directorial debut), and while she hasn’t mastered tonal changes, she’s beginning a promising career with this endearingly oddball movie. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The Whole Truth

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In 2008, director Courtney Hunt collected critical acclaim for her debut feature, “Frozen River.” She excelled with the intimate character study, establishing nuance and vividness of location, promising a bright career to come. Momentum stopped, or at least slowed with work on television, but Hunt finally returns to screens with “The Whole Truth,” losing her indie spirit in the intervening years. Reviving the legal drama, once so popular in the 1970s and ‘80s, Hunt and screenwriter Rafael Jackson hope to recapture the thrill of sketchy testimony shared by shady witnesses, while touching on the iffy moral core of a lawyer in charge of shaping a version of reality to benefit his case. “The Whole Truth” is compelling, supported by an unusual cast, but Hunt doesn’t bring grit to this mainstream event, which gradually evolves into Grisham-esque nonsense. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - American Pastoral

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“American Pastoral” is a good reminder that not every book needs a cinematic adaptation. The film is based on a 1997 Pulitzer Prize-winning Philip Roth novel, which intricately stitched together emotional wreckage and culture shock, using the passage of time to detail political and social cancers coming after the post-WWII generation. First time director Ewan McGregor mostly does away with Roth’s details, reimagining the story as a soap opera featuring a dysfunctional family hit with extraordinary changes during the 1960s and ‘70s. “American Pastoral” is ambitious but it’s also a mess, a colossal one at times, spotlighting McGregor’s tone-deaf way with drama and the feature’s inability to find order in Roth’s plotting, jumping from scene to scene without cohesion. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Good Kids

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“Good Kids” was included on the 2011 Black List, an annual Hollywood guide to the “most liked” screenplays. It’s a strange bit of trivia for the film, as it features a scene where the lead character tries to speed up the healing process of a yeast infection by submerging his penis in a cup of yogurt. I wouldn’t trust the Black List. The ghost of “American Pie” haunts “Good Kids,” which aims to provide a bawdy time at the movies, tracking a coming-of-age summer for a group of overachievers, who experience all the sex, drugs, and stupidity they can handle. While a comedy, the picture offers few laughs, generally avoiding any basis in reality to become a cartoon with the occasional blip of sensitivity. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Autumn Lights

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It’s brave of writer/director Angad Aulakh to make a movie like “Autumn Lights,” which defies modern editorial requirements by playing out as slowly as possible, even making a few full stops during its run time. Calling this film slow-burn doesn’t even describe the picture’s movement -- it’s defiantly glacial, almost to a point of parody. Aulakh (making his feature-length helming debut) is paying tribute to the gods of European cinema with his tale of disturbance and seduction, trying his luck with an old-fashioned Bergman effort in 2016. “Autumn Lights” benefits from impressive digital cinematography and glorious Icelandic locations, but it’s such a specific viewing experience, demanding those sitting down with it to completely relax expectations and possibly hope as well. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Earth Dies Screaming

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1964's "The Earth Dies Screaming" is fascinating in the way it uses silence as its primary weapon. It takes about eight minutes before the first line is uttered in the picture, with director Terence Fisher preferring to observe the end of the world through action, studying various horrors and the introduction of the lead character, an apocalypse survivor played by Willard Parker. "The Earth Dies Screaming" eventually gives in to traditional character interplay, but for a moment, it bravely trusts in pure visual storytelling, which is a refreshing way to commence this spare thriller. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Rift

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What was it about the years 1989 and 1990 and movies concerning unknown threats from the deep blue sea? "The Rift" (also titled "Endless Descent") is a graduate from the genre class, joining fellow chillers "Leviathan," "Lords of the Deep," "The Abyss," "The Evil Below," and "DeepStar Six" in an attempt to find wonders and worries associated with initially unexplained oceanic events hitting a group of disparate, anxious personalities. "The Rift" follows the suspense routine, but it doesn't bring much in the way of cash to pay for visual highlights, emerging as a low-budget effort that tries to do much with very little. Monstrous activity and submarine voyaging are reduced to semi-silliness in the picture, but director J.P. Simon doesn't completely give up, managing to cough up an entertaining horror endeavor that's competently cast and intermittently exciting with lowered expectations, delivering a satisfying but unremarkable "Aliens" knock-off that's big on gore and panic once limited production expanse is established. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Barbarosa

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Willie Nelson seems built for the genre, but 1982's "Barbarosa" was the singer's first foray into westerns, keeping his braids and bushy beard, while adding six-guns and a horse to complete his character. Directed by Fred Schepisi, the feature uses Nelson well, pairing him with co-star Gary Busey, who adds his own unique energy to the picture, which plays up traditional western touches, mixing outlaw antics with an aborted dissection of myth. "Barbarosa" has its issues, but it also has its kooky leading men and extraordinary atmosphere, finding naturalistic beauty to go along with idiosyncratic actors and a fascinating theme of storytelling that never connects as profoundly as it intends to. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Astro-Zombies

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When dealing with a Ted V. Mikels production, one must collect as must patience as possible before a viewing. The cult filmmaker ("The Corpse Grinders," "The Doll Squad") has never been the best judge of pace and dramatics, and 1968's "The Astro-Zombies" has to be one of the worst, most padded pictures of his iffy career. A horror experience mixed with spy games, Mikels likes to keep the effort as elongated as possible, allowing viewers to savor every questionable directorial choice that comes along in this crushingly uneventful movie. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Max Steel

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Mattel Entertainment would like to be a major player in the Hollywood franchise game. Rival Hasbro has the “Transformers” series, and the world is already in love with superhero cinema, so it makes sense that the company would try to join the profit marathon with “Max Steel,” which is inspired by a toy line from 2000. Already reworked for a few animated shows and DVD releases, “Max Steel” finally receives a medium-budget big screen adventure. However, instead of playing to the fanbase, the production wants to restart the machine, cooking up an origin story that takes the entirety of the feature to work through. That’s right, there’s barely any Max Steel in his titular extravaganza, which instead sets out to establish the character and his multiple working parts, showing more interest in exposition than action, which makes one wonder why Mattel is even bothering with the effort if they have no desire to exploit the brand name in full. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Mascots

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The last time Christopher Guest directed a feature, it was 2006’s “For Your Consideration.” After riding high with faux documentaries such as “Best in Show,” “Waiting for Guffman,” and “A Mighty Wind,” Guest seemed tired of the comedic routine, using “For Your Consideration” to test some tonal challenges, which gradually soiled the jokes. After a decade-long break from movies, Guest returns with “Mascots,” but his fatigue hasn’t abated, putting in half-hearted effort with a surefire concept. The film isn’t without laughs, but there’s substantial distance between chuckles, making the bulk of the viewing experience a waiting game for Guest to spring to life and deliver the crushing gags and eccentric personalities that once came so easily to him. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The Accountant

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Perhaps on a quest to establish his own series of actioners, Ben Affleck settles into a version of “The Bourne Identity” with “The Accountant,” matching colleague Matt Damon in icy stares and blunt hand-to-hand combat. While the feature doesn’t quite have the same globetrotting expanse as the Damon franchise, it shares a similar interest in character, taking on an almost obsessive need to get to the bottom of everyone on screen, even if the picture doesn’t need the explanations. “The Accountant” is a slow-burn thriller with plenty of detail, but it’s not a creation that stirs up the senses, with director Gavin O’Connor crafting only a passably interesting puzzle aided considerably by the cast. It’s a bruiser, no doubt, but not always as engrossing as it could be. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Film Review - The Greasy Strangler

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For fans of Adult Swim and finer examples of “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” craziness, “The Greasy Strangler” is probably going to seem familiar. It’s the latest offering of anti-comedy, where the jokes don’t necessarily come from punchlines or situations, but the silences between absurdities, which are cranked up to 11. Co-writer/director Jim Hosking aims to weird out the world with this offering, which ladles on grossness and embraces awkwardness, working to find laughs in the middle of ugliness. And it works with certain expectations and permissiveness. The world of “The Greasy Strangler” is hilarious for stretches of screentime, but the film is also determined to frustrate viewers, succeeding more often than not. It’s a bizarre movie, and not one to be watched casually, targeting a special demographic used to repulsive imagery and grotesque characterization. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Desierto

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Picking a provocative release date, “Desierto” is unleashed on American audiences right before the Presidential election season comes to a close. It’s a tale of illegal Mexican immigration, but executed as a thriller, playing a cat-and-mouse game with broadly defined characters and extended chase sequences. Appreciation for its construction should be universal, as director Jonas Cuaron (son of producer Alfonso Cuaron) keeps the central chase taut and characterization economical. It’s the feature’s politics that will likely polarize viewers, with Cuaron (co-scripting with Mateo Garcia) going full black hat/white hat with the picture, underlining toxic patriotism and pure intentions to make sure the back row understands the conflict. “Desierto” is an effective nail-biter, which ends up saving the movie as it tries to turn a straightforward survival game into “Fox News vs. the World.” Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Ordinary World

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Actors are typically hired to portray aging rock stars, offered a chance to show off range playing characters usually facing some type of generational exposure or domestic catastrophe. “Ordinary World” tries to separate itself from the pack by hiring an actual musician in the lead role, and one who’s still in demand today. Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong stars in the feature, graduating from periodic supporting parts and cameos to carrying an entire picture, giving “Ordinary World” a touch of authenticity behind the microphone. It’s the suburban dad routine that’s less credible when it comes to Armstrong, who tries to keep a stiff script by director Lee Kirk relaxed with a casual turn as a once snarling dude turned into a family man. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Cameraperson

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It takes a special person to be a documentary cinematographer. The job requires a balance of creative thinking and physical stamina, while the emotional toll is often horrendous, putting oneself in the line of fire with hot button issues, war zones, and volatile interviewees. Kristen Johnson has built an impressive resume in the field, working on “This Film Is Not Yet Rated,” “Darfur Now,” and “The Invisible War,” and “Cameraperson” is her way of summing up achievements and making something out of discarded footage, permitting viewers a chance to see the process of filmmaking from the perspective of the woman who shot it all. Those already tuned into this world and its style are sure to enjoy the odds and ends of “Cameraperson,” and even those unaware of Johnson’s work are gifted an unusual break from the documentary norm, exposed to slices of life that reinforce the fragility and the oddity of the human experience. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Flash: The Complete Second Season

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On the inaugural season of "The Flash," the program showcased the wrath of the Reverse-Flash, the trials of a superhero life vs. the needs of a human one, and the duplicitous ways of Dr. Harrison. For the follow-up year, producers have decided that what worked once will work again, basically reheating conflicts to help support another go-around with Barry Allen and his struggle as a man capable of achieving speed force while wearing a tight red costume. That's not to suggest "Season 2" is a washout, far from it, but the production isn't prepared to move the narrative forward significantly to inspire a fresh series of challenges and emotional entanglements. "Season 2" plays it safe, spending more time submerging the dialogue and plotting in comic book science than it does establishing an inventive direction for a unique superhero. The mechanics of the show are fine, but staleness isn't avoided, hoping to keep fans happy by regurgitating everything they've seen before. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com