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June 2018

Blu-ray Review - The Way West

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If the famous computer game "The Oregon Trail" was based on the events depicted in 1967's "The Way West," there would be an entire generation forever scarred by the stark realities on life on the migratory trip west. A lot more than dysentery rises up to challenge the settlers gathered in Andrew V. McLaglen's picture, which takes a hard look at the mistakes made and sacrifices required to find a fresh start in Oregon. It certainly helps to have a talented cast along to boost the dramatic potential of the material, but the basics of betrayal and loss are communicated vividly in the movie, which maintains an epic widescreen posture but stays amazingly pitiless when to comes to the fates of many of the characters. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Blu-ray Review - Blade of the Immortal

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The celebratory aspect of the "Blade of the Immortal" release is the picture's status as the 100th film from director Takeshi Miike, which is no small feat when considering the man began his career ascent in 1991. He's an extremely prolific creator of violent entertainment, hitting some potent cult movie highs over the years ("Ichi the Killer," "13 Assassins"), but he's always swinging at the first pitch, keeping himself busy behind the camera dreaming up new ways to brutalize human beings. "Blade of the Immortal" is not a significant creative departure for Miike, but it does utilize his gifts for blunt aggression and screen style well, adding touches of the unreal to a samurai extravaganza adapted from a popular manga, which permits the story to generally disregard Japanese history and charge ahead as a lengthy, funky bloodbath.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Boys

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1996's "Boys" was probably never destined to be a quality movie. Writer/director Stacy Cochran takes on the impossible task of filling 87 minutes of screen time with her adaptation of a James Salter short story that was only eight pages long. In terms of screenwriting endeavors, that's a Hail Mary pass, and one Cochran is unable to complete despite her best intentions to taffy-pull anything from Salter's work to help beef up the dramatic potential of the project. "Boys" is the rare feature where nothing really happens during the run time, watching Cochran quickly lose interest in character arcs and mysteries, leaving the film to gradually fall asleep. There's a cast of young talent who seem eager to make something interesting out of all this filler, and while the effort is appreciated, the viewing experience is a complete drag. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Blu-ray Review - Crossing the Bridge

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1992's "Crossing the Bridge" is a personal film for writer/director Mike Binder, collecting tales from his youth in Michigan to make a coming-of-age movie about the painful years that arrive post-high school, where the world opens up to some and swallows the rest. It's a nostalgia piece, but the helmer adds a suspense element to the screenplay to keep it focused, finding tension between moments of reflection. Binder's fingerprints are evident throughout the feature (he even narrates), and that special touch keeps "Crossing the Bridge" together when editorial slackness rises to ruin the effort, which suffers from a nasty case of repetition. It's not an especially warm endeavor, but Binder has an eye for emotional and period details, capturing uncertainty with care.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Film Review - Gotti

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It’s easy to see why John Travolta wanted to play John Gotti. It’s a chance to portray a unique figure in criminal history, with the real Gotti a tough guy who thrived on dominance, developing from a man of presence to one of power. “Gotti” the movie merely cherry picks the most Scorsese-esque parts of the mob boss’s life to create a greatest hits viewing experience that’s often randomly photographed and glued together with pop music. Travolta has all the enthusiasm in the world, but there’s no place to put it in “Gotti,” which is a sloppily directed, poorly scripted endeavor that stumbles where other productions have strutted. There are 44 credited producers on the picture (good. lord.), and not one person had the nerve to question just what kind of derivative, borderline nonsensical film was being made. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Film Review - Tag

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“Tag” doesn’t have to do much to be a passably enjoyable good time. All it needs are a collection of dim-witted characters and the titular game, permitted a feature-length run time to go wild with chases and crashes, allowing the cast to unleash themselves with slapstick merriment. Cruelly, the movie isn’t as carefree as it seems, as it’s very determined to remind audiences that the screenplay (credited to Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen) is based on true story, chronicled in a Wall Street Journal article by Russell Adams. Real life has a way of carrying on too long, and so does “Tag,” which launches with all the mischief it can carry, but ends up winded by the final act, unsure if it should take the tale seriously or turn it into an R-rated cartoon. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Nancy

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It’s not entirely clear where writer/director Christina Choe received her inspiration to make “Nancy,” but the story of a con artist taking advantage of longstanding grief is similar to the one found in 2012’s “The Imposter.” Mercifully, Choe’s take on essentially the same material is just as vital as the documentary, dramatizing a case of pathological behavior with subtle emotion and deeply considered performances. In keeping with the general presence of the titular character, “Nancy” is distant and observational, but Choe finds a way into the strangeness of the situation, finding unexpected empathy in the midst of potentially off-putting predatory conduct.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The Fabulous Allan Carr

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Confronted with a documentary subject who refused to live a life of structure, it’s interesting to watch director Jeffrey Schwarz work especially hard to figure out a storytelling arc for his feature, “The Fabulous Allan Carr.” The picture opens with the famous producer’s lowest moment, orchestrating a flashy revival of glamour and spectacle for the infamous 1989 Academy Awards, where Rob Lowe sang a parody version of “Proud Mary” with Snow White, horrifying viewers everywhere. It’s the very bottom for Carr, but it’s hardly the only borderline insane moment of his colorful career, with Schwarz quickly leaping back in time to identify a path of dreams, dominance, and pure ego, celebrating Carr’s life and influence on the movie business and gay culture.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Hearts Beat Loud

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No matter what type of business “Hearts Beat Loud” does at the box office, the film is guaranteed to find its audience one way or another. It’s a sensitive endeavor about the communicative aspects of musicianship and songwriting, and it’s similar to smaller movies like “Once” and “Sing Street,” which also mixed troubled souls with the power of performance. The bonus here is that while constructed out of familiar working parts, “Hearts Beat Loud” is a lovely picture unafraid to touch on real emotions, using music to explore the fears of people on the precipice of enormous life changes. Co-writer/director Brett Haley has a terrific cast to help him achieve such tricky vulnerabilities, and for those who crave the musical arts, the feature delivers a rich sense of craftsmanship and passion behind the creation of songs.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Superfly

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It doesn’t take much to remake a Blaxploitation classic, but there should be something involved the mix that demands a resurrection of a brand name that’s been dormant for decades. “Superfly” is a new version of 1972’s “Super Fly,” which, at the time, contributed to the expanding exploitation market and gave actor Ron O’Neal a career, portraying a conflicted but authoritative drug dealer at a crossroads with his underworld interests. It wasn’t gold, but it had attitude and a steely sense of conflict. The remake smooths down rough material to give audiences a more stylish ride with bad dudes, with the movie marking the feature-length helming debut for a man billed simply as Director X, who’s enjoyed longtime service as a music video maker. His practice with short bursts of style and floss certainly influence his take on “Superfly,” which is a lengthy rap video made up of shorter rap videos, offering little excitement as it stumbles through predictable criminal events.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - China Salesman

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The big draw for “China Salesman” is the pairing of stars Mike Tyson and Steven Seagal, who do battle with each other and the very art of acting in the Chinese production. Their names will bring attention to the movie, which saves a fight sequence for the duo, giving the effort its lone moment of excitement, and even that’s open for debate. The rest of “China Salesman” covers the experience of the titular character, who’s not a gladiator ready to pound opponents alongside Seagal and Tyson, but a meet telecom lackey trying to bring a 3G wireless network to the far reaches of Africa. While the material is apparently based on a true story, vague authenticity is no excuse for this hilariously miscalculated slog, with co-writer/director Tan Bing gifted a chance to put on a series of physical challenges, but is more interested in the particulars of business bids and long travel to remote cell towers. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The Yellow Birds

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Stages of the Iraq War and ensuing conflicts have been covered extensively in American cinema. Filmmakers tend to follow a template when isolating areas of domestic disruption and combat shock, but the more interesting movies figure out ways to attack common issues from a more personal perspective, waving away melodrama. Unfortunately, “The Yellow Birds” doesn’t think outside the box when it comes to the depiction of trauma, as director Alexandre Moors (“Blue Caprice”) plays it all very bluntly, trying to remain respectful to the military experience while still tending to the painful realities of service. “The Yellow Birds” aims to be poetic and insular, but it’s not a particularly compelling feature, slogging through the same old sights and sounds without inspiration to be anything more than disappointingly predictable.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Incredibles 2

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When “The Incredibles” debuted in 2004, it was released during the infancy of the superhero movie movement that we know so well today. Writer/director Brad Bird was paying homage to the comic book stories of his youth, using blockbuster aspiration and fluid animation to fully realize his vision for big screen heroics, also examining the stresses of family life when up against nefarious supervillains and their persistent desire to take over the world. It was also a time in Pixar Animation Studios history when the company was dragged into sequels, with Bird perfectly content to leave the Parr Family alone after a single installment, much to the frustration of fans everywhere. Time has changed minds, and 14 years later, there’s “Incredibles 2,” which welcomes release during a glut of superhero offerings, hoping that the passing years haven’t diluted the appeal of the premise and Bird’s special touch with animated spectacle. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Blu-ray Review - Indian Summer

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After mining his youth for his directorial debut, 1992's "Crossing the Bridge," Mike Binder quickly returns to the creative well with 1993's "Indian Summer," which also details experiences from the helmer's formative years, only instead of drug-running troublemaking, the picture returns to summer camp. Binder stages a class reunion of sorts for his characters, who represent all types of thirtysomething blues, reawakening their spirits in the location that permitted them the most freedom in life and love. The director clearly has affection for his experience at Camp Tamakwa (a real camp, still in business today), and this enthusiasm helps to power "Indian Summer" though some iffy scripting, finding Binder excited about the stay in a woodsy paradise, but less interested in maintaining the cat's cradle of characterization the opening act of the movie promises to explore in full.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Blu-ray Review - The Devil Within Her

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1975's "The Devil Within Her" was promoted as the next "Rosemary's Baby," but the production is actually more consumed with replicating "The Exorcist." However, the picture's competitive streak is a little odd, trying to dial back the horror of a possessed child from a little girl to a newborn, which is perhaps too much of a stretch when taking in a feature that showcases the baby terrorizing multiple adults. "The Devil Within Her" is a tremendously absurd endeavor, absolute catnip for B-movie fans, but for the casual viewer, such extremity when it comes to the conjuring of a teensy-weensy menace generally destroys whatever suspense director Peter Sasdy is hoping to achieve. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Blu-ray Review - Tragedy Girls

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There's going to be a generational divide when it comes to the audience for "Tragedy Girls." There will be those who understand, possibly even relate to the modern depiction of teenagedom, which is showcased here as a marathon of social media anxiety, bullying, and insincerity. Older audiences will likely spend the viewing experience being grateful they are no longer adolescents, forced to compete in a ferociously connected world. Thankfully, "Tragedy Girls" isn't a documentary, but a horror comedy, offering satiric touches and exaggerated performances to help viewers ease into the challenges of juvenile life, which, for this endeavor, include murder. Co-writer/director Tyler MacIntyre pulls off a bit of a miracle here, finding ways to connect to unpleasant characters, while the rest of the movie speeds ahead with macabre twists and turns, and shares a love for bloody mischief.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Film Review - Hotel Artemis

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Jodie Foster doesn’t do much acting anymore, with her last screen appearance in 2013’s “Elysium.” She made some questionable (and reconsidered) accent choices in a film that quickly spiraled out of control, but her thespian authority was never in doubt. She faces a similar challenge in “Hotel Artemis,” which also presents a chewy role for the actress, only here she’s backed up by a flavorful ensemble set loose in a pulpy crime thriller that’s tight on surroundings but crammed with hostilities. Foster is excellent in the genre role, shaping something out of next to nothing, and writer/director Drew Pearce (making his helming debut) is lucky to have her around, as “Hotel Artemis” is supported in full by its performers, not plotting, helping to make the effort a breezy sit with a fair amount of suspense. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Film Review - Ocean's Eight

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The “Ocean’s” film series was last seen in 2007 with the release of the wildly entertaining “Ocean’s Thirteen.” It was the culmination of director Steven Soderbergh’s interest in the ways of smooth criminals, sending the franchise out on a high note after stumbling with 2004’s “Ocean’s Twelve.” “Ocean’s Eight” isn’t reboot of the brand name, but a semi-sequel to the Soderbergh pictures, with director Gary Ross picking up the thrill of illegal dealings with a new cast but the same surname, handing thievery over to Danny Ocean’s younger sister, Debbie. Ross attempts to mimic parts of Soderbergh’s staccato style and dry wit, which gives “Ocean’s Eight” a nice consistency with the previous chapters, continuing the screen celebration of shifty individuals coming together for a grand con. It’s slight, on the long side, but Ross gets the machine up and running again, using a talented ensemble to launch the felonious joyride. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Film Review - Hereditary

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Over the past two years, studio A24 has built something of a reputation for releasing challenging horror pictures, trying to capture an audience perhaps a little woozy from blockbuster consumption, in need of something slow-burn and slightly radical to help realign moviegoing chakras. There was “The Witch” and last summer’s “It Comes at Night,” with both efforts working to unsettle viewers instead of simply scaring them. A24’s latest addition to this ongoing experiment is “Hereditary,” which also samples from the slow-burn chiller playbook, along with several other films. Writer/director Ari Aster creates a mix tape of genre events for this deliberate endeavor, obsessing over mood and frenzied moments as he constructs something that’s difficult to decode in one sitting, but isn’t powerful or concise enough to demand a second. “Hereditary” is haunting in stretches, but Aster doesn’t know when to quit, threatening to ruin a good thing with needless overkill.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Film Review - The Jurassic Games

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As the world awaits the release of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” there’s some time beforehand for a B-movie to sneak in and attempt to steal a little of its thunder. “The Jurassic Games” isn’t going to wow viewers with cinematic craftsmanship or sharp screenwriting, but as a slippery actioner with a limited budget, the picture provides some entertainment value, especially for those who enjoy the occasional insanity VOD releases provide. More “Running Man” than Spielberg, “The Jurassic Games” tries to give viewers an exciting ride with aggressive types and CGI predators, and with lowered expectations, it comes together intermittently, especially when co-writer/director Ryan Bellgardt leans into the potential of the premise, delivering violent game show challenges and roaring assassins from the titular age.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com