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October 2016

Blu-ray Review - Disco Godfather


He pummeled bad guys and slayed paying audiences in "Dolemite," became a god of fury in "The Human Tornado," and battled Satan in "Petey Wheatstraw." But all it took was a healthy dose of sincerity to help bring star Rudy Ray Moore to his knees, at least professionally. Setting aside goofball antics for a moment, Moore turns his attention to the plight of the inner city in "Disco Godfather," which is dressed up in bedazzled jumpsuits, but really hopes to share with the audience a sobering look at the epidemic of PCP. Sure, some of Moore's cinematic interests are represented here, including half-speed martial arts, but the majority of the film is devoted to the evils of drugs and the fight to free those hopelessly addicted to angel dust. "Disco Godfather" basically promises one viewing experience and delivers another, which would normally be a clever switcheroo. However, this one gets away from Moore in a hurry, who unwisely restrains himself to fit the real-world hero tone. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Evils of the Night


"Evils of the Night" is co-writer/director Mardi Rustam's attempt to make a slasher film featuring teenage victims. Only here, there's a pronounced sci-fi element, and Rustam's depiction of adolescence appears to have originated from a magazine article on the demographic, basically paring down juvenile antics into two categories: having sex and not having sex. Oh sure, there are aliens and porn stars running around the movie, and the 1985 release is soaked in trends from era, keeping up with the competition as synth stings accompany bloodshed and bare breasts. Rustam may have a grander vision for the effort, but "Evils of the Night" is quite ridiculous in every way, which makes it an incredibly amusing bottom-shelf title that satisfies most requirements for sleaze and stupidity. There's just something appealing about space vampires and hornball kids relaxing at a local lake. This isn't a good movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it's charmingly absurd. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Haunted Honeymoon


For his fifth directorial endeavor, Gene Wilder remains true to his slapstick-loving soul, co-scripting a tribute to the wonders of radio and the special mood of horror-comedies with 1986's "Haunted Honeymoon," reuniting with wife Gilda Radner in this, her final movie. Wilder has all the right intentions with this broad creation, but his timing is slightly off, trying to arrange silly set-pieces with interesting special effects and a game cast, but the writing isn't as strong as it needs to be, often settling for simple charms when the genre is capable of producing so much more. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother


After working with Mel Brooks on "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein," the spirit of silliness rubbed off on actor Gene Wilder. Taking on directorial and screenwriting duties, Wilder offers his own slapstick creation with 1975's "The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother," which takes on the legacy of the master detective, though with a decidedly more cartoon approach. Broad to a point of clowning, Wilder gives it his all, laboring to land all types of gags as he takes his Brooks-branded training and tries to make it his own. Read the rest at

Film Review - Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life


Perhaps looking to snatch a little of the money the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series has collected (another sequel is on the way), the producers of “Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life” return to the plight of a young adolescent facing numerous challenges to his head, heart, and hallway reputation. An adaptation of the YA novel, co-authored by James Patterson, “Middle School” offers a familiar smorgasbord of teen rebellion and parental cluelessness, only the tonality of the movie is problematic at best. Director Steve Carr (“Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” “Daddy Day Care”) enjoys his mischief, with pranks staged by kids against their educational overlords dominating sections of the film. However, the rest of the effort is unexpectedly solemn, requiring more attention to psychological damage than Carr is comfortable offering. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Girl on the Train


This year’s applicant to be the Fall Thriller of the Year is “The Girl on the Train,” an adaptation of author Paula Hawkins’s best-seller, which enjoyed a run as the It Book of 2015. The story presents the usual sex and violence, requiring an inventive helmer able to pay specific attention to escalation, generating a charged viewing experience with a thick atmosphere of disease and paranoia. The producers hand the effort over to Tate Taylor, last seen on screens with “Get on Up,” but most famous for his work on “The Help.” He’s not the first director that comes to mind when considering talents suited to launch the semi-exploitational event to come, and Taylor showcases his indifference to chills throughout “The Girl on the Train,” which fumbles most of its cheap thrills and devious motivations. Tate keeps the movie small and uneventful, trying perhaps too hard to make Hawkins’s broad work fit the needs of a feature. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Birth of a Nation


The release of “The Birth of a Nation” is ideally timed, tapping into the zeitgeist with its depiction of race-based violence, deliberately erecting a bridge between woes of the past and fears for the future. It’s a provocative picture, intending to stimulate discomfort and inspire horror, but co-writer/director/star Nate Parker doesn’t have much more than shock value with this latest attempt to inspect the savagery of American slavery. “The Birth of a Nation” has some sensational visual ideas and a few strong performances, but it’s also a tired “Braveheart” retread with nothing new to say about the Black Experience, often recycling brutality found in better features. Instead of inspiring a cultural awakening, Parker has a made an exploitation movie, and not a terribly effective one at that. Read the rest at

Film Review - Blue Jay


It’s difficult to watch “Blue Jay” and not think of Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise.” The pictures are different in many ways, but they share a common interest in conversation, studying two characters as they spend a considerable amount of time together, sharing pleasantries and humor before deeper feelings come into view. There’s no direct comparison to make, but it’s interesting to see another feature added to the walk-and-talk-and-talk-and-talk subgenre, and it’s a pleasure to report how well “Blue Jay” works thanks to patient direction by Alex Lehman and exceptional lead performances from Sarah Paulson and Mark Duplass. There’s no heavy feel of artificiality to break the mood, just an opportunity to watch natural chemistry take shape over the course of a particularly eventful day. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Great Gilly Hopkins


They don’t make movies like “The Great Gilly Hopkins” anymore, making the picture’s creation something to be valued, even with its problems. It’s a story about behavioral issues and abandonment, and it retains a slight edge to keep it away from Disney territory, bravely confronting ugliness the titular character wields to get a reaction out of people. It’s an adaptation of a lauded 1978 book by Katherine Paterson, the author of “Bridge to Terabithia,” and director Stephen Herek respects its literary perspective, working to get inside the mind of a young girl suffering through tremendous challenges and changes, most threatening to harden her at a tender age. Not everything comes together as profoundly as it could, but “The Great Gilly Hopkins” satisfies with characterization and deeply felt performances. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Lennon Report


Movies have been made about The Beatles. They’ve been made about John Lennon’s assassin, Mark David Chapman. But rare is the film that actually recreates the shock of Lennon’s death, treating his passing with the mournfulness it deserves and the journalistic eagerness it inspired. “The Lennon Report” doesn’t bother with mimicry or philosophy, it strives to recapture the hours where Lennon was just another patient at Roosevelt Hospital, where his global celebrity was at first denied, quickly inspiring a game of secrecy between staff and reporters. The production doesn’t have the budget to fully recreate the era, but “The Lennon Report” comes through with an original vision for a dire subject matter, creating an interesting but flawed take on a ticking clock situation, with urgency tied to the dwindling heartbeat of a dying icon. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Late Bloomer


After decades of supporting parts in a wide range of pictures (including “The Whole Nine Yards,” “The Usual Suspects,” and “She’s All That”), actor Kevin Pollak decides to take more control of his career with a move behind the camera. After helming the documentary “Misery Loves Company,” Pollak graduates to narrative features with “The Late Bloomer,” a comedy about prolactinoma, a benign tumor of the pituitary gland, which restricts the maturation of males, blocking expected adolescence. It’s an unusual subject to dissect for the screen, and it’s a shame “The Late Bloomer” isn’t interested in examining such oddity. Pollak goes the familiar route with the material, merging broad antics with teary sensitivities, unwilling to give his effort some much needed bite. Read the rest at

Film Review - Command and Control


Fear of nuclear annihilation isn’t quite the hot button issue it once was, seizing a sizable portion of the last century with nightmarish imagery and political threats as hostile nations back up their severity with the ability to kill everyone on the planet, practically at once. “Command and Control” recognizes the gradual relaxation around apocalyptic visions, with more critical surges in national security issues taking top importance as the world now plays a different style of fear-based gamesmanship. Director Robert Kenner (“Merchants of Doubt,” “Food, Inc.”) seeks to restore utter horror when considering the reach of nuclear proliferation, isolating such tensions with a tale of homeland horror, examining the 1980 Damascus Titan Missile Explosion. “Command and Control” may not be overwhelming work, but as a critical reminder of the fallibility of men around doomsday devices, it’s terrifying. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Hollow


John Sayles hasn’t released a movie since 2013, but writer/director/star Miles Doleac tries to fill in for his absence with “The Hollow.” A slice of southern noir, the picture is similar in many ways to “Lone Star,” Sayles’s 1996 masterpiece of crime and personal confusion, picking apart the ugly details of small town life as buried secrets gradually meet the light of day. Doleac has the right idea with “The Hollow,” but his take on Sayles’s deliberate pace and commitment to deep characterization doesn’t find its footing, resulting in a lethargic effort in desperate need of more judicious editing. Instead of delivering inspired mimicry with an offering filled with dangerous people and dark pasts, the feature only triggers a burning desire to watch “Lone Star” again. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Road House


1948's "Road House" gives the love triangle routine a solid kick to the face, delivering a noir-ish vibe to romantic unrest that eventually transforms into actual physical threat. It's a bold display of hostilities starring Ida Lupino, Cornel Wilde, and Richard Widmark, and a movie that, after introductions are made, escalates convincingly, with director Jean Negulesco ("Daddy Long Legs") generating an engrossing sense of danger and betrayal punctuated with musical performances to sell the festive atmosphere of the titular location. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Beware! The Blob


I've seen my share of horror movies over the years, but few of them have decided to open with a montage of kitten play in a field to backdrop the main titles. Losing any hope for threat right away, 1972's "Beware! The Blob" establishes a goofball tone from the start, finding director Larry Hagman refusing to take the picture seriously, trying to deliver a more lighthearted chiller that still delivers plenty of the oozing titular menace. The approach doesn't work for "Beware! The Blob," which emerges as a painfully slack continuation (following the 1958 cult classic) without frights or laughs, representing more of an experiment from Hagman, who may have been trying to make history's most meandering sequel. Save for a few amusing attack sequences, he's largely successful, managing to transform a surefire premise of gooey doom into a tremendous test of patience. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Taboo


"Taboo" has developed a reputation as one of the more beloved adult films around, with the 1980 movie presenting a potentially nightmarish plot that involves incest with a campy attitude and waves of melodrama to help temper any ickiness. That "Taboo" could stand the test of time in today's everything-extreme world of pornography is a testament to its charms and its almost friendly treatment of a sexual relationship between a mother and her son. Don't get me wrong, it's a ridiculous picture, but director Kirdy Stevens and writer Helene Terrie put effort into the production, working to build a passable motivation for these characters and their forbidden love. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Mai-Chan's Daily Life


A 2014 production, "Mai-Chan's Daily Life" is an adaptation of a manga first published in 2003. Detailing fantasy, sadism, and submission, the material doesn't lend itself to a cinematic inspection, but that isn't about to stop writer/director Sato Sade from trying. Armed with a commercial-grade camera, willing actresses, and a plan to work out sexual fetishes, the helmer aims to make his take on "Mai-Chan's Daily Life" as repellent as humanly possible, determined to bring most of the manga's extremity to the screen, for as cheaply as possible. It's backyard filmmaking at its worst. Read the rest at