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December 2016

Film Review - Abattoir


When Darren Lynn Bousman makes a movie, it’s usually sold as a feature from “The director of ‘Saw II, III, and IV’.” While it’s an accurate claim, Bousman hasn’t enjoyed the most inspired career, also helming duds such as “11-11-11,” “Mother’s Day,” and “The Barrens.” “Abattoir” is the latest misfire from Bousman, who seems consumed with becoming a top horror conductor, only his orchestra is perpetually out of tune. Blame for the ridiculousness of “Abattoir” is shared with screenwriter Christopher Monfette, but Bousman doesn’t plan to cover the story’s strangeness with a big enough budget, keeping events on the cheap, which makes it impossible to get lost in this noir-ish take on murder, menace, and the gate to Hell. Read the rest at


Film Review - Things to Come


There are few actors like Isabelle Huppert. She’s a veteran of the industry, performing on film and television for 45 years, yet, unlike most of her contemporaries, she keeps trying to challenge herself, taking unconventional roles and working with sophisticated directors. She remains a fresh screen presence, and her experience is the engine that drives “Things to Come,” a seemingly mild story of domestic implosion that’s turned into something special by Huppert, who delivers an emotionally complex performance while maintaining her character’s tight command of social exposure. Writer/director Mia Hansen-Love isn’t big on sharp turns of plot, but she has Huppert and her drive to keep a potential cartoon summation of life’s cruelties as human and subtle as possible. Read the rest at

Film Review - Frank & Lola


Michael Shannon is an intense actor, and he’s maintained a career interest in playing intimidating or fried men, using his natural way with darkness to create often memorable characters that have complete contempt for humanity in common. Perhaps one day Shannon will stun the world with his portrayal of the Easter Bunny, or perhaps he’ll star in a music bio-pic about Raffi, but for now, he’s trying to corner the market on hard men, and he’s doing a wonderful job. “Frank & Lola” isn’t a professional detour for Shannon, but it does manage to harness his gift for threatening behavior, with writer/director Matthew Ross (making his helming debut) capturing raw nerve work from the actor, allowing him to define the unsettling tone of this burning, disquieting drama.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Sugar Mountain


Sometimes, a movie simply doesn’t work due to a lack of seasoned professionals involved in the production. The screenplay (by Abe Pogos) for “Sugar Mountain” actually holds promise, looking to merge a “Fargo”-lite crime story about bad ideas gone wrong with a domestic disturbance tale, hoping to come out the other side with an emotionally profound, nail-biting feature that manages to do something with a limited budget. Director Richard Gray has a few credits to his name, but his command of “Sugar Mountain” is tenuous at best, struggling to fashion a suspenseful picture about family and betrayal, only to offer an amateurish drama that bites off more than it can chew. Early promise for a ripe inspection of brotherly unrest is quickly dismissed by limited actors and a helmer who never seems to know what he’s doing. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - I Wake Up Screaming


Film noir gets a routine workout in 1941's "I Wake Up Screaming," which pours all the energy it has into the construction of style. It's a striking picture, and one that's always more interesting to watch than decode, finding its tale of murder and false accusations a little mundane compared to the feature's visual depth, orchestrated by director H. Bruce Humberstone and cinematographer Edward Cronjager. "I Wake Up Screaming" doesn't rattle the senses with its presentation of paranoia, but it seizes the highlights of the subgenre, giving fans a comfortable return to dynamic lighting, panicked characterizations, and police intimidation. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Majorettes


Usually slasher entertainment enjoys being slasher entertainment. It wears its blood, guts, and misogyny like a badge, proudly entering the world as a violent diversion for fans who appreciate the art of the scare and the visual power of masked madmen. 1987's "The Majorettes" almost seems embarrassed to be following slasher formula, eventually giving up the quest in the feature's third act to become a different style of B-movie mayhem. Perhaps this is an attempt to experiment with genre expectation, finding "Night of the Living Dead" collaborators Bill Hinzman (who directs) and John A. Russo (who scripts, adapting his own novel) ready to disturb expectations after fulfilling them for a solid hour of stalking and stabbing. "The Majorettes" isn't a trainwreck, but it's a highly flawed chiller with confusing structure, which helps to apply the brakes on a picture that rarely appears interested in creating a snowballing sense of terror. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Nightmare Sisters


Feeling the urge to bang out another feature after working on a series of B-movies such as "Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama," director David DeCoteau decided to challenge himself with a Corman-esque task. Instead of developing a film from the ground up, DeCoteau simply raided the materials he had access too, partnering with writer Kenneth J. Hall to create 1988's "Nightmare Sisters," which was shot over four days, working with a screenplay that was crafted in a week. Armed with short ends, a cheap 35mm camera, leftover props, and a working relationship with lead actresses Michelle Bauer, Linnea Quigley, and Brinke Stevens, DeCoteau set out to make a cheapie horror romp with broad comedy and ample nudity. Keep those standards in mind, and "Nightmare Sisters" is a triumphant achievement of limited creative goals, watching the cast and crew pull off an amazingly accomplished effort in next to no time, while still managing to include some laughs and pleasing oddity in what's essentially a rush job to feed the once ravenous home video market beast. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend


The penultimate feature for the master filmmaker Preston Sturges ("Sullivan's Travels," "Hail the Conquering Hero"), 1949's "The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend" is a curious trifle from the helmer. Toying with western traditions and musical enhancements, Sturges (who also scripts) tries to make a farce out of gunslinger antics and concealed identities, embracing longstanding career interests. However, size tends to get in the production's way, with Sturges juggling a wild tonality that moves the picture from broad slapstick to more intimate concerns. "Bashful Bend" has the saving grace of being short (76 minutes in length), which helps to digest its intermittent oddity and lack of focus. Read the rest at

Film Review - Incarnate


Filling in an empty slot during a release weekend that’s generally regarded at the worst of the film year, it’s up to “Incarnate” to thrill audiences with its take on demonic possession and the spiritual heroes sent in to challenge evil. Shot three years ago, it’s little surprise that the movie is a dud, but it’s not an aggressive disaster, just a poorly assembled effort that looks like it was re-edited dozens of times, with the final cut less about being functional genre entertainment and more about being done. A low-budget chiller that doesn’t really have any detectable scares, “Incarnate” is a Thanksgiving turkey put out for display a week late, trying to suck up as much single-weekend cash as it can before word spreads that it’s completely forgettable. Read the rest at

Film Review - SiREN


The “V/H/S” franchise wore out its welcome after the first film, but “Siren” (stylized “SiREN” for some reason) is determined to keep it going. It’s a feature-length adaptation of “Amateur Night,” a segment from the original “V/H/S,” though writer/director David Bruckner doesn’t return, with helming duties passed over to Gregg Bishop, the “Dance of the Dead” moviemaker who also contributed a short to “V/H/S: Viral.” It’s a small world with horror directors, but as transitions of power go, Bishop does an adequate job with “Siren,” joining screenwriters Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski to expand a thin concept of monstrous seduction, keeping levels of sex and violence high enough to forgive stretches of padding needed to beef up material that originated as a 15 minute blast of shaky cam and screaming.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Nerdland


“Nerdland” doesn’t add anything new to the study of Hollywood as an empty shell of humanity, where aspiring entertainment business professionals race to the bottom, believing that degradation might invite the bright light of fame into their lives. However, the production does have a screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker, who two decades ago stunned the world with “Seven,” and now boasts a sporadic enough filmography to suggest he knows a thing or two about industry disappointment. It’s an animated feature from director Chris Prynoski, who doesn’t have much of a budget, but he offers a bizarre visual design for “Nerdland,” working to support Walker’s tale of desperation with cartoon magnification, trying to turn a universal idea on the hunger to be noticed into a funhouse journey of strange characters and macabre events. Read the rest at

Film Review - Man Down


A decade ago, writer/director Dito Montiel arrived on the scene with “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints,” a personal indie creation that managed to attract enough attention to gift the filmmaker a career. His subsequent endeavors have attempted to replicate his first feature’s raw energy, with most failing to be engrossing or enlightening, often tripped up by poor helming decisions and Montiel’s addiction to melodrama. He hasn’t been the most inspiring architect of blood-on-the-lens dramas, with his work generally more about passion than quality. “Man Down” joins Montiel’s growing list of disappointments, taking a cheap, borderline reckless look at the state of PTSD in military veterans, using such pained alienation and madness to inspire an aimless story of self-sacrifice, with Montiel hoping to educate and horrify. Read the rest at

Film Review - Run the Tide


Ever since he completed work on the “Twilight” franchise, actor Taylor Lautner has encountered difficulty finding a career direction that allows him to break away from his enduring legacy as a lonesome werewolf. He’s tried comedy (“Grown Ups 2,” “The Ridiculous Six”) and actioners (“Tracers,” “Abduction”), but nothing has stuck. With “Run the Tide,” Lautner elects to go inward, toplining a domestic disturbance drama that allows him plenty of room to emote, taking an opportunity to showcase other sides of his screen presence. Perhaps a leading man career is not meant to be for Lautner, but “Run the Tide” is easily the best work he’s done to date, handling himself adequately as screenwriter Rajiv Shah checks off every cliché in the book, making it nearly impossible for the movie to find a place of authentic ache. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Eyes of My Mother


“The Eyes of My Mother” is the debut feature for writer/director Nicolas Pesce, and it’s quite the introduction. It’s a spare chiller that treats perversion and murder almost casually, managing to unnerve through distance, showcasing the young filmmaker’s interest in slow-burn storytelling and mystery, with the feature taking its sweet time to play out in full. Visually, it’s stunning, using black and white cinematography to unsettle as it depicts grotesque body horrors and the daily routine of demented individuals, with Pesce attentive to scenes where the unthinkable becomes mundane to the characters. “The Eyes of My Mother” is gruesome and macabre, but it’s also powerful work, following through on a vision for psychosis with welcome brevity and a weirdly compelling, periodically loathsome fondness for the unpleasant. Read the rest at