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August 2018

Film Review - Down a Dark Hall


“Down a Dark Hall” is based on a novel by Lois Duncan, an author whose works have been used to inspire many movies, including “Hotel for Dogs” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” Duncan’s YA-leaning vision provides a sufficient directorial challenge for Rodrigo Cortes, who’s handed a mission to make the common genre setting of a gothic boarding school situated in the middle of nowhere interesting. Duncan supplies an enjoyably bizarre reason for hellraising, and Cortes almost finds a way to sustain weirdness for 90 minutes, but “Down a Dark Hall” only gets to its second act before it loses interest in mystery, eventually relying on sound and fury instead of the oddity that initially makes it fairly compelling.  Read the rest at

Film Review - An L.A. Minute


Ever get the feeling the film you’re watching wasn’t actually finished? It’s not a common sensation, but it’s an impression returned to repeatedly in “An L.A. Minute,” which plays a lot like a feature where everyone gave up during the production process, simply releasing half-realized work just to put a dreary moviemaking experience behind them. Director Daniel Adams displays no noticeable leadership with the endeavor, which meanders from scene to scene, vaguely stroking themes and issuing dismal performances, while the picture as a whole suffers from a lack of focus. Perhaps there was something to the screenplay by Adams and Larry “Ratso” Sloman, but “An L.A. Minute” is numbing viewing experience that’s missing most of the essentials required to pull off whatever Adams is trying to communicate.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Roommates


There's no denying that Peter Yates is a gifted filmmaker with numerous directorial achievements on his resume. He's the mastermind of "Bullitt" and "Breaking Away" (put "Krull" in there too if you're feeling generous), but he's had more than his share of off years, periodically unable to will himself out of a bad creative situation. 1995's "Roommates" is mounted with the best intentions, with screenwriters Max Apple and Stephen Metcalfe trying to fashion a valentine for curmudgeonly old men and the pearls of wisdom they leave behind, forcing Yates to master a tone for the picture that's somewhere between lovable and combative, with a healthy dose of syrup added for taste. Sadly, "Roommates" doesn't really strive for a sophisticated understanding of multi-generational relationships, instead going a soap opera route that's wholly manipulative. Yates really wants viewers to bawl like baby during the feature, but there has to be a little more than superficial conflicts and cutesy antics with a senior citizen to melt the heart.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Full Moon High


Building his reputation with action and horror offerings such as "Black Caesar" and "It's Alive," writer/director Larry Cohen goes the comedic route for 1981's "Full Moon High." Instead of making scary stuff, he lampoons scary stuff in the picture, which enjoys playing with the conventions of drive-in cinema, mixing satire of teen-centric movies with an overview of changing moral attitudes in America. It's a noticeable change of pace for Cohen, and while he's attentive to the creature feature aspects of the effort, he neglects to serve up appealing funny business. "Full Moon High" has a lot of energy and interest in satisfying viewers with rat-tat-tat joke timing, but Cohen's scattergun approach grows exhausting in a hurry, especially when the production doesn't take time to refine the gags. Cohen elects the "throw at wall, see what sticks" approach, and the delivery doesn't entirely work for this endeavor, which is meant to represent a lighter side to the helmer's cinematic interests, but often falls flat on its face.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Basmati Blues


Film production can be an arduous process, but for "Basmati Blues," it was an endless cycle of disruptions and delays. The picture was actually shot in 2013, long before star Brie Larson enjoyed a career boost with her Oscar-winning performance in "Room," with the production spending the next five years reshooting and tinkering to create a final edit before finally seeing a theatrical release earlier this year. It's an uncommon moviemaking story, but it helps to keep such chaos in mind while watching the effort, which opens with a big heart and desire to please, only to slowly grind its way to tedium as director Danny Baron tries to do too much with very little. The concept here is to rework Bollywood formula to fit an American tale of romance and corporate villainy, but Baron is lost at sea, sticking close to punishing formula to help find his way out of this mess. Larson does the best she can with such unchallenging material, and she ends up the lone highlight, smiling and dancing her heart out while the rest of "Basmati Blues" stumbles around, on a weird quest to be a proper musical extravaganza and a condemnation of Monsanto-style agribusiness corruption.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Blue Vengeance


1989's "Blue Vengeance" is a cop movie with horror interests, though co-writer/co-director J. Christian Ingvordsen does a lot more than simply blend genres. The picture is more of a sandbox where the production plays with different ideas of suspense and action, using the wilds of New York City in a rather exciting way, keeping the low-budget endeavor on the move as it tries to make a manhunt feature with limited resources. "Blue Vengeance" has obvious technical and filmmaking limitations, leaving it best suited for low expectations, which permits its askew vision for procedure and gore to shine brightest, watching Ingvordsen have a ball cooking up strange events in his home city, giving the effort a compelling B-movie spin. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Humor Me


Writer/director Sam Hoffman plays it safe with the plot of "Humor Me," his directorial debut, making a movie about the arrested development of a man facing substantial responsibilities, moving in with his father for a free room and to find some clarity. However, formula is thinned out by personality, with Hoffman generating appealing characterizations, putting the players through amusing challenges as he hunts for significance in the dramedy. As the title suggests, there's plenty of levity and passive-aggressive behavior to enjoy, and Hoffman secures success with the pairing of leads Jemaine Clement and Elliot Gould, who pull off an itchy family dynamic with terrific timing, bringing heart and laughs to "Humor Me," which benefits greatly from their unique talents. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Mile 22

MILE 22 2

Well, it was great while it lasted. Just two years ago, director Peter Berg suddenly seemed interested in becoming a filmmaker of integrity, trying to void his system of “Battleship” residue by switching focus from adrenaline-pumping actioners to a true-life disaster (“Deepwater Horizon”) and a police procedural (“Patriots Day”). It was a one-two punch that suddenly elevated estimation of Berg’s previously dubious ability to put a movie together, joined by Mark Wahlberg, who also worked a bit differently to tackle something more explicitly dramatic. The results were impressive, with the pair discovering a new kind of screen intensity that didn’t involve comic book jingoism or exaggerated masculinity. Of course, both features failed to drum up much interest at the box office, forcing Berg back into testosterone-huffing mode, with “Mile 22” a fairly transparent attempt to reclaim industry standing, taking command of an ultraviolent, barely coherent black ops extravaganza that’s all about making noise and spilling blood. Professional editing and cinematography need not apply. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich


While major horror franchises receive all the publicity and adulation, the “Puppet Master” series has been hanging on in one form or another since 1989, nearing its 30th year of staging slaughteramas featuring small, malicious toys. Fresh blood is being introduced to the fatiguing story, with “Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich” trying to reposition the brand name for future installments, giving it a new massacre mile to walk while still tending to a few of the sights and sounds fans have come to expect. Granted, I’m no expert when it comes to all things “Puppet Master” (a saga that’s unfolded over 11 sequels, prequels, and spin-offs) but it’s hard to resist the utter strangeness of a bottom shelf staple that’s brought in Thomas Lennon and Charlyne Yi to star, while the screenplay is provided by S. Craig Zahler, who previously created the genre brutalizers “Bone Tomahawk” and “Brawl in Cell Block 99.”  Read the rest at 

Film Review - BlacKkKlansman


Perennial provocateur and man of mischief Spike Lee has always made films about racial hostility and growing unrest in America, but his instincts are uncharacteristically sharpened for “BlacKkKlansman,” which finds the helmer trying to pull off one of the most mainstream features of his career while still pouring his cinematic DNA all over his latest joint. Lee’s fired up with the effort, but tries to remain respectful to the steps of suspense and police procedure, in charge of an undercover cop story that doubles as a cruel reminder about racism and its longstanding hold on the nation. “BlacKkKlansman” isn’t subdued by any means, but Lee is atypically patient with the tale, making careful moves to strengthen his comparisons, fuel his outrage, and still remain faithful to a tale of cops looking to make the largest bust of their careers.  Read the rest at 

Film Review - Alpha


After watching his brother Allen find his way as a solo director, Albert Hughes (formerly of the helming duo The Hughes Brothers) finally gets one to call his own in “Alpha.” Allen went to crime and male posturing to make his mark with 2013’s “Broken City,” but Albert goes in a completely different direction for his endeavor, about 20,000 years into the past, taking audiences into a time of man and creature and hostile environments, with the director laboring to pull off his best Caroll Ballard impression with “Alpha,” a survival picture that’s big on atmosphere but light on suspense. Albert certainly knows how to put together a striking image, but his work here feels incomplete, with the production aiming for a grander adventure than what actually ends up onscreen.  Read the rest at 

Film Review - Never Goin' Back


“The Miseducation of Cameron Post” is an adaptation of Emily M. Danforth’s 2012 novel, returning to a darker age of acceptance to examine the unsavory details of a gay conversion camp. It’s a potent snapshot of intolerance, but executed in a subtle way, with co-writer/director Desiree Akhaven not banging a trash can lid with the material, electing to highlight the ways of religious condemnation as it takes on the formidable foe of human nature. “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” is perceptive and sharply performed, and Akhaven creates an evocative depiction of the titular character’s submersion in guilt, left to Evangelical sharks as she tries to take hold of her identity during an already turbulent time of adolescence.  Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Miseducation of Cameron Post


“The Miseducation of Cameron Post” is an adaptation of Emily M. Danforth’s 2012 novel, returning to a darker age of acceptance to examine the unsavory details of a gay conversion camp. It’s a potent snapshot of intolerance, but executed in a subtle way, with co-writer/director Desiree Akhaven not banging a trash can lid with the material, electing to highlight the ways of religious condemnation as it takes on the formidable foe of human nature. “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” is perceptive and sharply performed, and Akhaven creates an evocative depiction of the titular character’s submersion in guilt, left to Evangelical sharks as she tries to take hold of her identity during an already turbulent time of adolescence.  Read the rest at 

Film Review - Crazy Rich Asians


“Crazy Rich Asians” is an adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s best-selling novel, which proved to be so popular, it inspired a series of books concerning class volleying and family anxiety, with the first chapter taking the action to Singapore. It’s an exotic location, impressively magnified on screen by director Jon M. Chu, who drenches the picture is style, color, and heightened performances, just to make every frame of this endeavor shine as brightly as possible. It’s a considered effort, but the labor doesn’t extend to the plot, finding “Crazy Rich Asians” lacking when it comes to dramatic invention, delivering the same old conflicts and situations, with the staleness of the plot contrasting harshly with the vibrancy of the imagery. Chu is armed with a charming cast, and they help aid digestion of the leftovers found in Adele Lim and Peter Chiarelli’s screenplay, which plays everything very comfortably to ensure mainstream acceptance.  Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Doctor Detroit


While the summer of 1983 was always going to be dominated by the release of "Return of the Jedi," it's fascinating to note that Universal Pictures really thought they had something special with "Doctor Detroit," which was issued a few weeks before the "Star Wars" sequel. Strange comedies were certainly welcomed by adventurous audiences, but here was a movie that offered a lighthearted take on prostitution and, in a way, gang violence, putting emphasis entirely on star Dan Aykroyd, who was making his debut as a leading man after teaming with friend John Belushi on numerous projects. No matter how one considers the endeavor, "Doctor Detroit" is a very weird feature, and while it didn't end up doing much business during its initial theatrical release, the film remains an amusing curiosity, recalling a time when a major movie studio though they had R-rated gold with difficult material, trying to bypass inherent darkness with musical numbers, cartoon-style silliness, and Aykroyd's natural comedic extremity. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Terror


As the story goes, director Norman J. Warren caught a showing of "Suspiria" and was greatly impressed with the stylistic choices made by filmmaker Dario Argento, also respecting his general disregard of a traditional narrative to live in the moment with abstract wonders. Warren, born and bred in the U.K., decided to try to replicate a slice of Italian cinema in his homeland, with 1978's "Terror" a hodgepodge of giallo craftsmanship and horror freak-out obsessions. The helmer of "Prey" and "Satan's Slave," Warren already knew a thing or two about freaking out audiences, but with "Terror," he strives for mimicry, and as plenty of other challengers already understand, it's hard to do what Argento does, especially during the "Suspiria" years. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Seven


The title "Seven" is most associated with the chilling 1995 David Fincher hit, which provided a depressing reminder of the world's cruelties and capacity for evil. Director Andy Sidaris actually used the title earlier, and I think most people would rather live in his world. 1979's "Seven" is a secret agent actioner from Sidaris, who's best known for movies such as "Hard Ticket to Hawaii," "Savage Beach," and "Malibu Express," creating a career that often highlights pretty people engaging in ultraviolence, always in a warm, tropical setting. He's a master in the "girls with guns" subgenre, and "Seven" is his second pass at establishing exploitation career interests, this time taking the mayhem to Hawaii, where the battle begins between wicked men and the select few hired by the government to assassinate them. Sidaris is known for one thing, and he does it relatively well in the picture, which understands ridiculousness, but remains focused enough to supply a fun ride of chases, bikinis, and extreme concentration on villain routines. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Blood Hook


Horror hits the bait shop in 1987's "Blood Hook," which provides a most unusual setting for its unfolding nightmare: the North Woods of Wisconsin. The contrast of nature's serenity and sliced and dice gore is the driving force behind the picture, which is something of a spoof of slasher cinema, but not really, with director Jim Mallon playing most of this cheerily but not jokingly. It's not a movie that's concerned with providing scares, having more fun working out the details of the kills and it remains utterly devoted to characterization, with a host of personalities competing for screen time. In fact, the most chilling aspect of the effort is its run time of 111 minutes, which is far too long for something this light, but the trade-off is vivid comprehension of emotional concerns and regional oddity, with Mallon making sure everyone who shows up for the slaughter gets a moment or five to detail their troubled existence. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story


As an actress, Hedy Lamarr was defined by her beauty, using good looks to support a Hollywood career that included turns in films such as "White Cargo," "The Conspirators," and "Her Highness and the Bellboy." During her heyday, she created a stir wherever she went, wowing the public with extraordinary glamour. "Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story" endeavors to find the woman underneath the attractiveness, identifying the star as a brilliant mind interested in the mastering of inventions, with a strong pull toward science, reaching a specific breakthrough during World War II that's largely responsible for the world of wi-fi that we know today. "Bombshell" has the benefit of shock value, with director Alexandra Dean selecting an extraordinary topic for documentary dissection, working to redefine Lamarr's legacy as a figure of allure to one of unheralded brilliance. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Slender Man


Director Sylvain White (“Stomp the Yard,” “The Losers”) doesn’t have much to work with in “Slender Man,” and he knows it. The PG-13 horror story is an expansion of an internet creation intended to give readers the willies and inspire a viral-like obsession with creative representation. The Slender Man myth is meant to be a campfire story, avoiding a deeper inspection of what exactly a creature that looks like Jack Skellington is meant to do. Screenwriter David Birke doesn’t develop the elusive apparition and White tries to bury what amounts to 90 minutes of nothingness in style, repeating the same shots and ideas for suspense until the end credits roll. “Slender Man” isn’t as tasteless as feared, but it’s about as languid as expected, becoming yet another nondescript genre offering meant solely for the sleepover demographic. Read the rest at