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February 2017

Blu-ray Review - Stryker


While "Mad Max" and "The Road Warrior" weren't dominating blockbusters, their influence was felt throughout the 1980s, inspiring producers to assemble knockoffs that required very little production effort. The formula is easy to master, only requiring a desert location, shredded costuming, and vehicles. 1983's "Stryker" doesn't even try to pretend that it's not a "Road Warrior" reheat, taking familiar plot, design, and character elements to help support an actioner that's big on explosions and gunfire, but limited when it comes to dramatic pursuits. It's the end of the world, once again, but for director Cirio H. Santiago, "Stryker" provides a chance to raise a little hell in the wild, always keeping the silly picture explosive to help distract from its severe storytelling deficiencies. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Undertaker


Joe Spinell is a character actor with, as they say in the business, a "face for radio." During his career, he's managed to play all kinds of tough guys, mob guys, and cops (appearing in classics like "Rocky" and "The Godfather: Part II"), but he's best remembered for his work portraying psychopaths, vividly conjuring screen insanity in pictures like "Maniac" and "The Last Horror Film." He's a passionate performer despite some thespian limitations, always trying to make an impression with roles of any size. He passed away in 1989, leaving 1988's "The Undertaker" his final lead role, tasked with embodying a seemingly mild-mannered mortician who happens to embrace the romance of necrophilia, collecting victims to create a basement family for himself. It's not exactly a stretch for Spinell and his impressive creep factor, but he's the best thing about "The Undertaker," which is clumsy and periodically goofy, but always makes time for Spinell to shape his interpretation of insanity, which is incredibly entertaining to watch. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Park is Mine


1982's "First Blood" was influential for a variety of reasons, though it's mostly remembered as the least exaggerated of the Rambo series, launching the franchise on a mournful note of military veteran issues before indulging all the outdoorsy adventure the brand name is known for. 1985's "The Park is Mine" is clearly angled to take part in the Rambo tradition, with star Tommy Lee Jones carrying the weight of this dim-witted take on vet affairs and public submission. It's not a graceful picture despite a potentially heavy subject matter, and while it's based on a novel (by Stephen Peters), the feature doesn't convey any literary depth. Director Steven Hillard Stern is much more interested in fireballs and shootouts to keep the effort on the move, caught making an action film when the story seems more concerned with profound psychological issues. While it strains to be popcorn entertainment, "The Park is Mine" ends up a pile of clichés, sawed off subplots, and violence without meaning, robbing the movie of the significance it seldom tries to convey. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Man Facing Southeast


Questions of insanity are analyzed throughout 1986's "Man Facing Southeast," which takes a borderline sci-fi concept and gives it a decidedly human perspective. It's thoughtful work from writer/director Eliseo Subiela, who examines difficult psychological spaces and personalities, building rich characterization along the way, which defines the viewing experience. "Man Facing Southeast" is an odd picture at first, but Subiela enjoys bits of misdirection to help introduce philosophical and emotional ideas, focusing on a burgeoning relationship that battles with issues of stability.

Film Review - Collide


Director Eran Creevy is looking to achieve a big screen rush. He attempted something aggressive a few years back with “Welcome to the Punch,” which brought in respectable actors (James McAvoy and pre-“Brothers Grimsby” Mark Strong) to make a genre film. It didn’t quite connect as intended, so Creevy is trying again. With “Collide,” the helmer returns to interesting, perhaps unexpected casting and picks up a co-producer in Joel Silver, the former king of 1980s action pictures. Striving to replicate an adrenaline rush with this mix of a heist feature and “The Fast and the Furious,” Creevy puts his faith in speeding cars and loose logic, hoping to deliver passable escapism with “Collide,” which, if you squint hard enough and hop on one foot, is actually an entertaining B-movie, delivering some agreeably frantic moments in a European setting, coming up with the basics in chases and intimidation to please paying audiences. Read the rest at

Film Review - Get Out


Jordan Peele is primarily known for funny business. After last year’s “Keanu,” perhaps there’s no recent evidence of it, but Peele is best known as half of “Key & Peele,” which became a popular sketch show for Comedy Central after debuting in 2012. While former partner Keegan-Michael Key is out there taking every role that comes his way, Peele has remained choosy, focusing on building a directorial career. Like many first-time helmers, Peele has selected the horror genre to introduce himself to audiences, but “Get Out” isn’t your typical shocker. It’s a far more sinister and slapstick, combining a real love of chillers with racial commentary and broad jesting. Peele is laboring to make an audience-pleasing nightmare with “Get Out,” and it’s a successful endeavor, but not overwhelmingly so, with iffy taste and timing of humor disturbing the hypnotic spell it’s itching to cast. Read the rest at

Film Review - XX

XX 2

The mission powering “XX” is the opportunity to celebrate female empowerment in an industry that doesn’t welcome many women. And what better way to examine this point of view than through grisly, darkly comedic horror shorts collected in an off-beat anthology film. The production isn’t about consistency, it’s about demonstration, offering directors Roxanne Benjamin, Annie Clark, Jovanka Vuckovic, and Karyn Kusama an opportunity to share their love for the macabre and the grisly, constructing four stories from women about women starring women. The idea is provocative and the genre fertile, but “XX” only gets halfway there in terms of overall satisfaction, maintaining traditional unevenness with omnibus storytelling, never quite reaching greatness despite its potential to do something different and daring. Read the rest at

Film Review - Drifter


Co-writer/director Chris von Hoffmann attempts to replicate the Rob Zombie experience with “Drifter,” though it’s a futile quest, as Zombie is a singular weirdo with specific tastes in exploitation entertainment, backwoods horror, and gritty style. To try and mimic a formula that not even its creator understands seems foolish, but von Hoffmann doesn’t seems to mind, launching a moody chiller about travelers accidentally entering dangerous terrain, coming face to face with displays of highly theatrical madness. “Drifter” has style and attention to composition, but it never inspires a reaction to any of the horrors the production submits. It’s a dry bite of cannibalistic terror in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and a film that feels like it lasts for three years, despite kinetic plot elements. The helmer tries to disturb his audience, but he’s better at putting them to sleep. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bitter Harvest


The timing of the “Bitter Harvest” production and now theatrical release isn’t accidental. The picture was shot at during the early stages of 2014 Ukrainian Revolution and the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, giving the producers a boost in importance for this historical drama. Although the movie concerns the misery of The Holodomor, where millions of Ukrainians died via Soviet-ordered starvation during the early 1930s, “Bitter Harvest” also strives to be a reminder of cultural perseverance under Russian rule, submitting a tale of survival and resistance that hopes to inspire others into action. Passion is mighty in the movie, but it’s also a painfully melodramatic take on world events, working to welcome audiences into bleak territory through a romantic tale of lost lovers, and the fantasy doesn’t mesh with reality. Read the rest at

Film Review - Lost Cat Corona


New York City attitude provides the backdrop to “Lost Cat Corona,” which visits various levels of hardness as one man embarks on an odyssey to find a missing feline. Writer/director Anthony Tarsitano brings in a plethora of familiar faces to help populate this dramedy, wisely trusting the value of character actors to give the picture a deeper feeling, while these seasoned performers also know what to do with mildly comedic moments. There’s nothing particularly urgent about “Lost Cat Corona,” and its aimlessness isn’t always appealing. However, Tarsitano aims to explore certain areas of masculinity in his screenplay, giving the effort unexpected meaning, which helps to balance out the movie’s less than thrilling stretches of NYC irritability. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Dressmaker


While westerns were surprisingly active during the 2016 film year, welcoming the releases of "The Magnificent Seven" and "In a Valley of Violence," "The Dressmaker" proves itself to be a superior genre effort without even encountering a single cowboy. It's a clever picture (an adaptation of a Rosalie Ham novel) that imagines small town hostilities as western entanglements, with Kate Winslet starring as most unusual gunslinger, wielding thread and fabric instead of cold steel. While "The Dressmaker" contains a restless, borderline crazed Australian energy, director Jocelyn Moorhouse manages the insanity with skill, conjuring a beguiling mystery with rich characterization, dark humor, and a cheeky love for Leone-esque theatrics while sorting through domestic problems. It's a strange film, but memorably so. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Lodger


1944's "The Lodger" is often regarded as one of the greatest takes on the Jack the Ripper case, exploring the wrath of a famous serial killer with a semi-compassionate look at mental illness. Granted, the competition isn't all that impressive (including 2001's "From Hell"), but "The Lodger" taps into a psychological stream that's often riveting to watch, backed beautifully by director John Brahm's atmospheric take on 19th century London and its tight-jawed slide into chaos. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Dracula vs. Frankenstein


It's a horror showdown that should've snapped fandom to complete attention, but 1971's "Dracula vs. Frankenstein" isn't anything to get excited for. It's schlock, directed by Al Adamson ("The Naughty Stewardesses," "Blazing Stewardesses"), and it wasn't even originally intended to be an epic genre beat down, beginning life in 1969 as a creature feature and biker movie before someone had the bright idea to pit public domain icons against each other while disparate subplots wander aimlessly around. The title sounds tempting, and poster art promises a violent throwdown between dark forces, but this is not a production that values the rare opportunity to see monsters brawl. Instead, Adamson barely commands a confusing mix of sleuthing, countercultural commentary, and B-movie grotesqueries, only interrupting the action periodically to allow the titular threats to go about their evil business. LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS. Read the rest at

Film Review - Logan


Since 2000, Hugh Jackman has played Wolverine, and he’s played him wonderfully. The movies haven’t always been great, but Jackman has been consistent in his dedication to the “X-Men” universe, portraying the adamantium-clawed killer throughout sequels and spin-offs, maintaining Wolverine’s trademarked gruffness and meaty, cigar-sucking presence. After making a strange cameo in last year’s “X-Men: Apocalypse,” Jackman returns to primary focus in “Logan,” which is meant to be the actor’s swan song to his most famous role. Gifted an R-rating to unleash the mutant’s full widescreen potential, director James Mangold (returning to duty after 2013’s “The Wolverine”) goes bananas with “Logan,” transforming a once relatively peaceful PG-13 playground into a war zone, keeping Jackman in feral mode for what becomes an interesting meditation on life and death, periodically interrupted by excessive, skin-slashing, bone-snapping ultraviolence. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Great Wall


Matt Damon never looked like an action hero, but he managed to become one in the Jason Bourne film series, transforming himself into a killing machine for four pictures. Now, Damon is tasked with becoming a Western hero in a Chinese production, suiting up for the fantasy “The Great Wall,” which pits the actor against large CGI creatures, giving close quarters combat a rest. This is no ordinary production using a big Hollywood name to entice audiences, it’s the latest from director Zhang Yimou, helmer of “Hero,” “Raise the Red Lantern,” and “House of Flying Daggers.” There’s creative power and a sizable budget keeping “The Great Wall” going, and it shows onscreen, with the feature delivering impressive stunts, visuals, and sheer scale for least an hour before the seams start to split and Damon is left to Blue Steel himself through an overcooked effort. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fist Fight


“Fist Fight” is the latest assembly line comedy to be released by Warner Brothers that features odd couple starring roles, crude humor, and silly violence. After recent movies such as “Get Hard,” “Central Intelligence,” and “Hot Pursuit,” the formula has now been extended to “Fist Fight,” with pairs Charlie Day and Ice Cube in a battle of attitudes and improvisation, working to find a level of wackiness to appeal to the mass audience. It’s R-rated jesting and quite lethargic, with directorial control handed to Richard Keen, a television helmer making his feature film debut, and it shows. Thin, insincere, and weirdly aggressive with raunchy humor, “Fist Fight” is many things, but amusing isn’t one of them, delivering little effort when it comes to the invention of killer punchlines and considered performances. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Salesman


Slowly but surely, writer/director Asghar Farhadi has become a top voice in international cinema. The Iranian filmmaker has dedicated himself to intimate tales of personal woe, using his camera to explore universal concerns about family and self while picking at specific cultural issues and intimidations from his homeland. With efforts such as “About Elly,” “A Separation,” and “Fireworks Wednesday,” Farhadi has created a window to Iran, allowing outsiders to understand its people and atmosphere. His latest is “The Salesman,” and it immediately positions itself as one of his finest features, digging deep into acts of frustration and stunted communication, emerging with a richly defined sense of character and caution. “The Salesman” is modest in design, but its dramatic grip is tight, constantly surprising with its evolving sense of confusion. Read the rest at

Film Review - Don't Hang Up


The YouTube generation has inspired a rise in prank comedy, partaking in a longstanding tradition with vigor, passing the needs of comedy to satisfying cravings for cruelty. “Don’t Hang Up” initially sets out to spotlight such a mindset, highlighting the daily adventures of teenagers who live to make other lives miserable. Sadly, the screenplay (written by Joe Johnson, “The Skulls III”) doesn’t follow through on juicy material, instead sliding into slasher film formula with a distinct plan to resurrect fright feature moves from the “Saw” series to inspire grim events. “Don’t Hang Up” isn’t a heartbreaking misfire, but it’s not a picture that’s thinking clear enough, giving up on the potential for condemnation and satire to play with basic genre elements, while a heavy fog of stupidity hangs over the production. Read the rest at

Film Review - Youth in Oregon


It’s not easy to make a comedy about assisted suicide. It’s a taboo topic, and one that doesn’t lend itself to sunny side of the street screenwriting, riding a fine line between tastelessness and horror that requires exquisite directorial control. “Youth in Oregon” doesn’t have that level of tonal precision, but it gets halfway there in the care of helmer Joel David Moore, a one-note actor (“Avatar,” “Grandma’s Boy”) transitioning to production leadership (“Spiral”). Teaming with writer Andrew Eisen, the pair tries to create a face for the assisted suicide movement, hoping a road trip plot and plenty of quirk will soften the impact of a terribly depressing movie. “Youth in Oregon” is powerfully acted by select cast members, but the production bites off more than it can chew when balancing a desire for emotional authenticity and the comfort of dramatic formula. Read the rest at

Film Review - 1 Night


“1 Night” doesn’t have the star power or budget to compete with other romantic films. It has oddity instead, delivering the ups and downs of two relationships with emphasis on the unknown, playing with enigmatic plotting and cautious performances. It’s actually more of a mystery than a warm, insightful viewing experience, with writer/director Minhal Baig working hard toward an ending that explains everything, but he forgets that the journey should be just as compelling. “1 Night” allows its cast to get dirty with deep-seated issues during a particularly eventful evening, but decent performances and extended dialogue exchanges permitting an exploration of motivation doesn’t sharpen the feature. Baig is marching toward something, it’s just debatable if the mission is worth the time invested. Read the rest at