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January 2017

Blu-ray Review - The Greasy Strangler


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 Review - Porky's Revenge


While 1983's "Porky's II: The Next Day" was banged out in a hurry to capitalize on the success of 1982's "Porky's," the box office results weren't worth the rush, with the sequel grossing less than half of the original's take. Profitable, sure, but hardly the type of audience response that supports a longstanding franchise. In an effort to lick the plate clean before moving on, the producers elected to give the series one last shot, waiting two years before creating "Porky's Revenge," which, tonally and dramatically, has more in common with the first picture than the dreadful second one. The Angel Beach High gang returns to duty for their third go-around, but the years haven't been kind to the kids, finding the whole production running on fumes as it halfheartedly arranges speeds of silliness and juvenile behavior, working to restore the impish highlights of the brand name without creator Bob Clark around to dilute shenanigans. "Porky's Revenge" isn't a good movie, but it manages to improve on the second chapter simply by respecting what audiences responded to in the first place. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Porky's II: The Next Day


Every film year, there are a few movies that emerge from out of nowhere to become not only top-grossing hits, but miniature phenomenons as well, commanding attention from a public that's responding to something primal about the pictures, while entertainment press spends countless hours trying to decode impossible allure. In 1982, "Porky's" was one of the chosen few, emerging as a tiny production only interested in bawdy behavior and a few moral lessons, and ending up one of the biggest successes of the year. No one saw it coming, and many wished it never happened, but "Porky's" managed to capture the imagination of its audience, using a blend of nostalgia and lewd behavior to entice ticket-buyers into return trips, essentially legitimizing the teen hornball subgenre that eventually plagued the moviegoing decade. Bare breasts and bad pranks made up writer/director Bob Clark's formula, and he wasn't about to let a good thing go unmolested, getting the band back together in quick fashion for the 1983 sequel, "Porky's II: The Next Day," which isn't truly a continuation of the Angel Beach High saga, but more of a remake, only with more sermonizing and less nudity. Apparently Clark wasn't paying attention to his initial achievement. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Moving Violations


I suppose 1984's "Police Academy" is the gift that keeps on giving. While offering its own legion of sequels and television shows, the unexpected hit also spawned a series of imitators. And who better to rip off "Police Academy" than the men that co-wrote it. Enter Neal Israel and Pat Proft, who collaborate once again on 1985's "Moving Violations," reviving formula that pits the smart alecks versus police department squares, only here the emphasis is on the ways of driving school, with its tests of skill and memorization. After experiencing a degree of success with 1984's raunchy "Bachelor Party," Proft and Israel (who directs) go the PG-13 route, trying to find a balance between the comic architecture of their youth and the needs of a modern audience used to bawdy humor and dumb guy antics. To its credit, "Moving Violations" is never boring, always on the prowl for a sight gag or a one-liner, but the screenplay doesn't reach very far, remaining weirdly conventional when their previous efforts enjoyed a wilder sense of humor to help attract attention. Read the rest at

Film Review - Resident Evil: The Final Chapter


It’s titled “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter,” and here’s to hoping the producers keep their promise. The sixth installment of the video game-inspire series endeavors to return the story to its origins, pitting long-suffer heroine Alice against old foes in the wilds of Raccoon City after spending previous sequels marching all over the world. It should be a back-to-basics romp for writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson, but the man can’t help himself, forgoing a chance to revive the simplistic fun of the original picture to craft another exposition-heavy, stiffly choreographed actioner, with star Milla Jovovich looking visibly tired, barely mustering up enough interest to portray a character who’s not really a character at all, but a poseable action figure. “The Final Chapter” is a drag, much like the rest of the franchise, but it’s the dropped potential of the movie that’s most frustrating, with Anderson recycling conflicts and combat as the script stumbles toward a non-ending. Read the rest at

Film Review - Gold


While it's unfair to criticize a film due to its trailer, the marketing materials for “Gold” promise an adventurous romp with unhinged characters experiencing seismic changes to their bank account and notoriety. The actual “Gold” isn't anywhere near that feature, emerging as more of a study of integrity and honesty in the shadow of unimaginable greed. I'm sure director Stephen Gaghan is mortified with the way his picture is being sold to the public, but his take on the ecstasy of gold isn't appealing, delving into tediously diseased personalities that could benefit from judicious editing. Gaghan refuses focus and narrative balance for his endeavor, which is quickly crippled by his clouded vision and laborious plot. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Dog's Purpose


Lasse Hallstrom has never been the most consistent moviemaker, boasting a filmography littered with gems (“My Life as a Dog,” “Once Around,” “The Cider House Rules”) and stained by stinkers (“Dear John,” “Safe Haven,” “Casanova”). He hit a creative highpoint with 2009’s “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale,” which successfully captured the behavioral tenacity of canines while handling a tearjerker story of undying connection between a pet and his owner. It’s a lovely feature that was rudely dumped on home video in the U.S. by its distributor, only to find a sizable, appreciative audience through word of mouth. Now Hallstrom’s attempting to reconnect with the animals for “A Dog’s Purpose,” which increases manipulations tenfold, straining hard to win over viewers with a tale of cute pooches dealing with mischief and existentialism, but not in an endearing manner. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Girl with All the Gifts


Just when zombie cinema appeared to be all out of inspiration, “The Girl with All the Gifts” comes along to rejuvenate the subgenre. It’s a walking dead movie, but one that takes a more sympathetic approach to the ghoul nation, delivering a sophisticated depiction of evolution concerning a young girl caught between her macabre urges and her genius-level I.Q. Adapted from a M.R. Carey novel, “The Girl with All the Gifts” is a satisfying look at survival and unique relationships, and director Colm McCarthy (a television veteran) creates an evocative dystopian world on a limited budget, putting focus on his characters, not grand displays of horror. It’s an unsettling picture, but also engrossing and emotive, handling expectation for gloom and doom with inspired dramatic depth and performances. Read the rest at

Film Review - Detour


Writer/director Christopher Smith has dabbled in genre films throughout his career (“Severance,” “Triangle”), but he reached an impressively grim level of doom with 2010’s “Black Death,” a harrowing horror offering that showcased the helmer’s competent way with suspense and nightmare imagery. “Detour” doesn’t possess the sheer terror of “Black Death,” but it reinforces Smith’s skills behind the camera, commanding an effective thriller that plays with perspective and time, working to disrupt expectations for a traditional meeting of poisoned minds. “Detour” is swiftly paced and imaginative with narrative gamesmanship, but it’s also nail-biting stuff, keeping viewers attentive to character decisions and ongoing mishaps, with Smith celebrating the elasticity of B-movie exploration, keeping the effort angry and on the move. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Founder


It’s never easy for movies to portray the cutthroat world of business. Tales of fierce ambition generally require sensitivity to reach viewers, creating a foundation of human behavior to best appreciate dubious financial and legal tactics to come. “The Founder” tells one of the most important tales of hardcore corporate gamesmanship, recounting the rise of McDonald’s, the most successful fast food chain in history. It’s not a comforting story of a dream realized or mission accomplished, but an overview of shady business practices that launched billions of hamburgers. Through screenwriter Robert D. Siegel (“The Wrestler,” “Big Fan”), “The Founder” actually manages to find psychological depth underneath all the scheming and frustrations, shaping a fascinating examination of opportunity born from legal duplicity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Lion


While director Garth Davis tries to resist it for as long as he can, there’s little chance for dry eyes when exiting a showing of “Lion.” It’s artful feel-good storytelling, bringing the true tale of Saroo Brierley to the screen, dramatizing a personal experience that’s equal parts horrifying and heartfelt. Davis makes a pretty picture, and his eye for casting is impressive, with the ensemble contributing deeply felt performances that support the lengthy emotional journey that guides the viewing experience. “Lion” isn’t revolutionary filmmaking, but as comfort food cinema goes, it carries requisite anxiety and release, making it palatable to the mass audience while still retaining some subtlety with periodically intense character examination. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dad's Army


“Dad’s Army” is a big screen update of a popular British television series that ran from 1968 to 1977. It already spawned a feature film adaptation in 1971, challenging the producers to come up with something substantial to warrant another dive into this franchise, which has been away from public consciousness for four decades. Director Oliver Parker and screenwriter Hamish McColl aren’t looking for ways to update the material, instead embracing its interests in old fashioned comedy, hiring top actors to have a ball with very silly situations. Trouble is, “Dad’s Army,” while perfectly pleasant, isn’t very funny, fighting to find something grand to do with its WWII setting and cast of quirky characters. Parker isn’t asleep here, but he isn’t inventive either. Read the rest at

Film Review - Neruda


After dazzling audiences with “Jackie,” his take on American history, director Pablo Larrain makes a quick return to theaters with a piece of his homeland. And established student of Chile and its political unrest (helming the inventive “No” and “The Club”), Larrain and screenwriter Guillermo Calderon try to make sense out of the life and times of Pablo Neruda in “Neruda,” which isn’t a strict biographical dissection, but more of a free-flowing assessment of character and spirit. It’s an odd picture that weaves though fact and fiction, toying with reality as it tinkers with noir-ish flavors and conflicted souls. Larrain makes a valiant effort to keep Neruda an interesting subject, bending his public persona as much as he can to conjure a stimulating assessment of personality and behavior to best fuel this odyssey into South American history. Read the rest at

Film Review - Get the Girl


“Get the Girl” wants to do something with a premise that merges bumbling crooks and a kidnapping plan gone awry, resembling a screenwriting sample that somehow ended up in production, showing ambition with character connection and overall mischief. Director Eric England (“Contracted”) works hard to secure some style and intensity to the effort, which is surprisingly gory as deadly accidents occur, but overall rhythm doesn’t come through as clearly. “Get the Girl” doesn’t feel refined, and while it pats itself on the back for its twists and turns, energy dips on multiple occasions. We’ve seen much of what this movie is offering in other pictures, challenging England to come up with something memorable to keep audiences engaged. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Death Machines


There are many odd details and turns to 1976's "Death Machines," but the fact that it was marketed as a futuristic thriller is perhaps the most bizarre aspect of the feature. It's simply not one, arriving as a thoroughly 1970s-styled martial arts demonstration with unstoppable killer motivation. Director Paul Kyriazi has a vision for his picture, which is a nice change of pace from the fight film norm, giving "Death Machines" some real teeth for 1976, managing an orgy of violence that includes bar brawls, bazooka attacks, and mass murder, sold with a certain style of stunt-heavy gusto that makes the effort enjoyable, even when it doesn't exactly make sense. Kyriazi is out to give audiences a joy ride of nonsense, and he accomplishes his goal, delivering screen aggression that keeps on coming, while the cast is filled with all types of bruisers and cowards, making conflicts highly amusing. Read the rest at


Blu-ray Review - Jack Frost


1997's "Jack Frost" is a monster movie, though one that doesn't always follow the genre routine. Instead of a truly ghoulish creation terrorizing innocents, there's a killer snowman, which doesn't inspire any particular level of fear, ever during its most intimidating attack sequences. Writer/director Michael Cooney understands the tonal challenge ahead of him, eventually turning into the skid, transforming "Jack Frost" into a cheeky, self-aware chiller with pronounced elements of comedy. However, without a budget to successfully launch the visual of a snowman on a homicidal tear around a small town, Cooney gets creative, using interesting low-fi special effects and an agreeable script to make something memorable out of a potential disaster. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Luna


After stunning the world with 1972's "Last Tango in Paris," and exhausting himself with the botched release of 1976's "1900," writer/director Bernardo Bertolucci changes pace with the intimate ways of 1979's "Luna," which intends to return the helmer to his softer, more observant side. Of course, there's a return of controversy as well, as the picture is primarily about the ravages of grief, but also indulges a certain amount of incestuous thoughts and deeds, with the screenplay approaching themes of love and control with a plan of extremity to snap the material to attention. Bertolucci is never one to turn down a chance to attract attention to his work, and "Luna" certainly does a fine job of flailing to maintain eyes on the screen. However, the movie is also something of a mess, albeit a highly artistic one with committed performances. As much as Bertolucci believes in the power of such raw emotions, he fails to make a cohesive effort, with nearly every scene a random assortment of volatile emotions and blurry storytelling. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - 100 Rifles


Bringing the lively Spaghetti Western mood to Hollywood, 1969's "100 Rifles" doesn't follow through with its initial Sergio Leone admiration, soon settling into a story about passion and political defiance that tends to drain away the pure escapism the feature initially seems intent on delivering. Co-writer/director Tom Gries doesn't have an easy job, managing three intense personalities in lead actors Burt Reynolds, Jim Brown, and Raquel Welch, but he periodically commits to large-scale action and cultural interests, keeping "100 Rifles" a stylish, spur-jangling cartoon. Read the rest at

Film Review - Trespass Against Us


“Trespass Against Us” marks the second collaboration between actors Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson in just a matter of weeks. The last was December’s “Assassin’s Creed,” which offered Fassbender a chance to play a superhuman with extreme martial art skills, and Gleeson portrayed his mysterious father. “Trespass Against Us” is a far more sobering feature, but the character dynamic is almost the same, this time taking a look at the tight-knit world of Irish travelers, where privacy is almost as impossible to achieve as a personal dream. It’s easy to see why Fassbender and Gleeson are joined at the hip recently, generating a usable comfort between them that creates opportunities for silent hostility and frightening acts of parental intimidation. Instead of managing drama around CGI, the pair creates their own visual effects with this crime saga, building a credible relationship to help carry screenwriter Alastair Siddons’s somewhat lukewarm take on generational influence. Read the rest at

Film Review - Split


Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan recently restored his fledgling filmmaking career to an upright position. After a solid decade of critical and commercial failures, “The Sixth Sense” helmer shed budgetary needs and chased a trend for 2015’s “The Visit,” a tepid found footage endeavor that unexpectedly found an audience hungry for cheap thrills, giving Shyamalan a second wind as a conductor of low-budget genre shenanigans. “Split” is his latest effort, and while more traditional in execution, the feature remains fixated on exploitation pursuits, working to find nail-biting manipulations with a screenplay that’s rooted in real-world agony. Shyamalan knows a thing or two about suspense, but he has questionable awareness of good taste, keeping “Split” more of a bummer than a barnstormer. Read the rest at