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August 2017

Film Review - Red Christmas


Genre filmmakers love the yuletide season, which provides opportunities to generate terrible things happening to (seemingly) innocent people. It’s that contrast between the jolly spirit of Christmas and the barbarous evil of men that’s inspired a few interesting efforts. Answering perhaps the most famous of the bunch, “Black Christmas,” is “Red Christmas,” a low budget chiller that takes on the challenging, audience polarizing subject of abortion while still tending to slasher cinema formula. While not exactly a lump of coal, “Red Christmas” has its issues, the least being star Dee Wallace, the beloved actress who gives the lead role everything she’s got, doing a more successful job communicating panic than her director, Craig Anderson. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Tough Guys


I'm sure they never intended to become a team, but audiences were certainly interested in the on-screen pairing of acting legends Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster. They collaborated on several pictures, including "Seven Days in May," "The Devil's Disciple," and "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral," merging their meaty sense of performance and tremendous charisma, forming an unusual but successful partnership, and one that faded away for a few decades while both actors had to figure out how to age in Hollywood, finding their position in a rapidly changing industry. Their reunion of sorts is "Tough Guys," a 1986 comedy from director Jeff Kanew ("Revenge of the Nerds," "Troop Beverly Hills"), which deals directly with the autumnal years for Douglas and Lancaster, using their senior status to participate in the "old people still got heart" movement of the mid-'80s, coming a year after the release of Ron Howard's "Cocoon." "Tough Guys" isn't a thrill-a-minute effort, but it does know what to do with its leading men, staying out of their way as Douglas and Lancaster revive their practiced dynamic for one last go-around, out to prove to the audience that they still pack quite a punch, often quite literally. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy


For their final Universal production, the comedy team Abbott and Costello were paired up with another studio legend, the Mummy. Absent from screens for some time, the Mummy, or Klaris (changed from Kharis), returns to duty in 1955's "Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy," which is supposed to be a funny feature, as opposed to "Mummy" sequels, which brought on unintended laughter. The picture is also the last of the Abbott and Costello monster team-up movies, sending the pair off with one more opportunity to inspire laughs through horror, this time taking on a particularly slow threat.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Mummy's Curse


While there have been many "Mummy" movies, 1944's "The Mummy's Curse" represents the end of a cycle for the brand name, winding down the saga of Kharis and the monster's longstanding drive to reclaim the bride he lost centuries ago. The second of two "Mummy" efforts in 1944, "The Mummy's Curse" makes a few puzzling storytelling choices as it tries to find a way out of the narrative mess it's made, but it all feels a bit anticlimactic, gradually running out of energy instead of concluding with pure horror.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Mummy's Ghost


Speeding up the sequel process, 1944 was a big year for the "Mummy" series, offering two pictures in six months, establishing a serial-like release schedule to entice audiences to stick around for more Kharis (Lon Chaney Jr.) madness. The first effort is "The Mummy's Ghost," which refocuses Egyptian horrors to suburban Massachusetts, following Kharis's hunt for his lost lover, Ananka, whose soul has been transferred to Amina (Ramsay Ames), a local woman who's overwhelmed by all the monstrous attention as the Mummy attempts to reclaim his long dead bride.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Hitman's Bodyguard


“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is supposed to be a comedy. However, it also desires to be an action film, and an R-rated one at that. To achieve such a restricted rating requires a bit more brutality than the average adrenalized endeavor, but screenwriter Tom O’Connor has a strange way of providing that extra inch of merciless behavior. In the opening five minutes of “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” the villain guns down a helpless woman and her child in cold blood, looking to prove a point to a man he’s intending to intimidate. And so the laughs begin. Actually, they never start in this misbegotten movie, which has the idea that it can somehow recover from such a chilling act with jokes about Ace of Base and “that’s what she said” one-liners. Unfortunately, the picture doesn’t have much of a funny bone or even a special way with big screen chaos, remaining dead weight from beginning to end, wasting the time of a lot of talented people.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Logan Lucky


When Steven Soderbergh teased retirement from feature filmmaking after the pay cable debut of “Behind the Candelabra” in 2013, I doubt few truly believed he was going to give up the habit. He returned for the Cinemax series, “The Knick,” and now Soderbergh is back in an “Ocean’s Eleven” mood with “Logan Lucky.” One might expect something more profound from a revered director returning to the big screen (his first theatrical effort since “Side Effects”), but he’s in a silly mood for this West Virginia-branded caper, mounting a heist movie that’s big on broadness, with chewy, dim-witted characters trying to outfox one another while screenwriter “Rebecca Blunt” orchestrates a twisty, procedural event for the audience to snack on. It’s light stuff, which is a nice change of pace for Soderbergh, who, for the first time in a long time, seems genuinely interested in providing an entertaining ride, albeit with total boobs in the driver’s seat. Read the rest at

Film Review - What Happened to Monday


As a director, Tommy Wirkola is a wily one. He rose to prominence with 2009’s “Dead Snow,” which pitted vacationers against zombie Nazis, toying with subgenre parody while playing it all with violent intensity, coming up with something different where few others could. Wirkola graduated to Hollywood attention with “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters,” permitted him access to a large budget and global attention, still managing to preserve his sick sense of humor. Eventually returning to his roots with “Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead” (a grand improvement over the original), Wirkola now graduates to more sobering fare with “What Happened to Monday,” which strives to provide vigorous action/mystery beats while essentially detailing the end of the world. “What Happened to Monday” is twisty and pitiless, but it retains Wirkola’s interests in aggressive confrontations, often sold with subtle cheekiness. It doesn’t feature the engorged fantasy flow of his earlier efforts, showcasing a maturing of sorts for a man who’s made two movies about zombie Nazis.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Naked


Actor Marlon Wayans and director Michael Tiddes have been inseparable in recent years, but their output has been thoroughly depressing. They’ve been addicted to parodies, making easy jokes about dumb movies, scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of comedic content in efforts such as “Fifty Shades of Black,” “A Haunted House,” and “A Haunted House 2.” Their endeavors have been simply awful, becoming a fixture on Worst of the Year lists and box office returns have been dwindling. Enter Netflix, who offers the partnership a chance to continue without the pressure of multiplex performance, allowing the pair to try something a little different for their small screen debut. “Naked” aims to be a bit softer than their previous films, blending more romantic and dramatic elements with screamingly unfunny comedy, keeping Wayans expectedly unpleasant, but with a smaller decibel level, which is easier on the senses.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Dave Made a Maze


“Dave Made a Maze” plays like a short film that spun out of control, unable to contain its big ideas, colorful characters, and bottomless appetite for homegrown visuals. It emerges from the mind of co-writer/director Bill Watterson, a longtime actor and once a mighty production assistant, who pours every last drop of imagination he can find into the oddball creation, which offers a striking odyssey into the shared uncertainty of milennials, who face domesticity, scarcity of work, and management of expectations often without a proper outlet for crippling fears. And it’s all stuffed inside a puppet theater-style explosion, with Watterson doing a fine job juggling tone and providing enough visual oddity to make this strangely sincere cardboard adventure work for much of its run time.  Read the rest at

Film Review - 6 Days

6 DAYS 1

“6 Days” is a dramatization of an embassy siege that occurred in the heart of London in 1980. There have been many films detailing similar conflicts, and they all follow a routine of shock and chaos, with the defining elements of the production found in the moments wedged between argumentative behavior and terrorist demands. “6 Days” has an interesting story to tell in this regard, delving into the headspace of the madmen, the police, the press, and the Special Forces unit preparing to end the standoff when activated. Perhaps sensing a losing battle with originality, director Toa Fraser (“The Dead Lands”) keeps the picture taut and introspective, finding ways to encourage suspense and maintain personal perspectives in the midst of panic.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Fencer


“The Fencer” is a European production, but it plays like a heartwarming Hollywood production. It’s a post-WWII tale of leadership and redemption, and it’s something of a sports movie as well, but instead of taking on more obvious confrontations, the feature explores the world of fencing, using its foundation of strategy, elegance, and respect to inform a story about a man struggling to reconcile with his traumatic past, finding hope in the company of children. What could be saccharine and silly is transformed into a pleasingly sweet endeavor from director Klaus Haro (“Letters to Father Jacob”), who’s faced with a slightly icier version of “The Bad News Bears,” but manages to make something sincere. “The Fencer” is built to be an audience-pleaser, and it’s successful in that respect, delivering a level of benevolence that’s immensely appealing, even if it’s not the most challenging picture in release today.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Liza, Liza, Skies Are Grey


The synopsis, “A coming of age California motorcycle road trip set in the ‘60s, combining elements of ‘Romeo & Juliet’ and ‘The Odyssey’,” accompanies the release of “Liza, Liza, Skies Are Grey.” While it’s certainly true that the movie features a motorcycle road trip, the rest of the claims aren’t precisely correct, perhaps reaching a bit high for this low-budget endeavor. A sense of self-importance drives the film, with writer/director Terry Sanders (a practiced documentarian) striving to make a distinctly American effort concerning universal curiosity about sex, crafting a period picture to return to a time of relative innocence, which best supports his mission. Aiming to replicate classic literature, and Sanders ends up with a YA novel, as “Liza, Liza, Skies Are Grey” is soft, melodramatic, and while not offensive, it’s just too imprecise for its own good.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Mummy's Tomb


Perhaps learning their lesson in 1940's "The Mummy's Hand," Universal Pictures goes all monster, all the time with 1942's "The Mummy's Tomb," which wisely introduces the wrath of Kharis (now played by Lon Chaney Jr.), the titular nightmare, from the get-go, hitting the ground running for a change. While a throwaway effort that's only an hour long, "The Mummy's Tomb" course corrects a few ideas to help keep the franchise staggering along, with the production making sure to keep its greatest asset within striking distance for a change. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - The Mummy's Hand


Arriving long after 1932's "The Mummy," 1940's "The Mummy's Hand" is the first effort from Universal Studios to revive one of their signature monsters for a fresh round of terror and franchise construction, using the war-torn decade to build up the brand name, figuring out ways to return to Egypt and sustain the chills. While a business plan is in place with "The Mummy's Hand," the picture plays a bizarre game of delay, showing more interest in the fumbly, bumbly antics of archaeologists than the titular creature, who doesn't even make his grand entrance until the final act.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Son of Dracula


After dealing with one kid in 1936's "Dracula's Daughter," the horror franchise finds more family trouble in 1943's "Son of Dracula." Of course, there's no real connection between the "Dracula" movies, as attention to series detail isn't valued. It's a brand name, and one that introduces Lon Chaney Jr. as the titular vampire, preserving all the dead-eyed menace the character is known for, but now enjoying a few technical upgrades to shock audiences. And the film needs all the visual help it can get, often struggling mightily with a lukewarm screenplay filled with exposition that rarely leads to excitement.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Dracula's Daughter


Losing the leadership of Bela Lugosi, 1936's "Dracula's Daughter" tries to return to the Bram Stoker saga with a new direction of evil, but the production plays one too many funny games to help revive the brand name for a sequel. Messing with time and character, "Dracula's Daughter" is best appreciated as its own creation, tackling the subject of monster movie loneliness with a uniquely feminine perspective, adding a sense of psychological warfare to chiller expectations. It's not a successful continuation, but "Dracula's Daughter" has its own thespian achievements that support the feature, better off as a study of isolation and need than a follow-up to Lugosi's legacy. Read the rest at

Film Review - Annabelle: Creation


We rarely see this type of excavation when dealing with a Hollywood franchise, but “Annabelle: Creation” is a prequel to 2014’s “Annabelle,” which was a prequel to 2013’s “The Conjuring,” which has already spun off a sequel in 2016’s “The Conjuring 2,” and currently awaits another prequel in 2018’s “The Nun.” Phew. And yet, through the haze of industry universe building (“The Conjure-verse”?), “Annabelle: Creation” arrives relatively unscathed, defying the odds to be an effective chiller that’s excitedly performed and sensationally directed by David F. Sandberg. That the movie works at all is miraculous, considering what a dud “Annabelle” was, but the helmer stays grounded with this return to the antics of a possessed doll, playing with sound and imagery wonderfully, while trying to restore elements of demonic influence that made the original “Conjuring” such a treat for genre fans. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Glass Castle


Four years ago, Destin Daniel Cretton directed “Short Term 12,” which detailed the inner lives of those involved in a residential treatment facility. It was a beautiful, emotional feature. My favorite of the year. Cretton returns to screens with “The Glass Castle,” graduating to a larger, more mainstream project that has the opportunity to be seen by a wide audience, potentially flocking to theaters to view what the helmer has done with his adaptation of Jeannette Walls’s best-selling 2005 memoir. To maintain such broad expectations, Cretton smoothes his filmmaking fingerprints, reducing most of “The Glass Castle” to questionable sentimentality and troubling character arcs. It’s certainly a different beast than “Short Term 12,” but Cretton’s latest is in dire need of the same grit and intimacy, playing broad with primal emotions and delicate dramatics.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Planetarium


If you find yourself in the presence of someone complaining about a lack of original films being made these days, send them over to “Planetarium,” which features one of the stranger, more unexpected plots I’ve encountered in recent memory. It’s not an especially triumphant effort, but co-writer/director Rebecca Zlotowski (“Grand Central,” “Belle Epine”) certainly gives the endeavor a proper boost of the odd and the seductive, making a pre-WWII story that touches on the afterlife, moviemaking, and sisterhood. “Planetarium” rides a thin line between intoxicating and infuriating, and perhaps this is where Zlotowski enjoys the view most, creating a picture that uses mystery to manage the unreal, filling the gaps with fetishistic activity and scrambled behavior, asking the viewer to put a cinematic puzzle together where half the pieces are missing.  Read the rest at