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September 2018

Blu-ray Review - 5 Films 5 Years Volume #1 - Golden Age Erotica


Vinegar Syndrome is having a birthday party, and they've invited the HD-loving public to join the festivities. After working through exploitation and horror movies with "5 Years 5 Films – Volume #2," Vinegar Syndrome turns their attention to the hotter side of life with "Volume #1," which focuses on adult cinema, sharing five pictures previously available only on DVD. Included on this collection are 1985's "Too Naughty to Say No," 1978's "Hot & Saucy Pizza Girls," 1985's "Ribald Tales of Canterbury," 1980's "Prisoner of Passion," and 1983's "Dixie Ray Hollywood Star." All the essentials are provided here, with sex, strangeness, comedy, and some mild genre hopping. And, if star power is your thing, the pictures welcome thespian efforts from John Holmes, Lisa De Leeuw, Ginger Lynn, Desiree Cousteau, and Seka. It's a buffet of writhing bodies and graphic close-ups, giving viewers an opportunity to watch selections from the golden age of adult cinema with evocative Blu-ray presentations. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hell Fest


We just did this a month ago. Rooster Teeth’s “Blood Fest” brought the concept of a real slaughterama found at a Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights-style event to the screen, doing so with a good amount of gore and a defined sense of humor, trying to sillier than sinister. “Hell Fest” has virtually the same plot, following a group of young people into a remote theme park set up to celebrate the wonders of being scared, only to be targeted by a real threat inside the property. The main difference between the two movies is that “Hell Fest” has unintentional laughs. Director Gregory Plotkin doesn’t have the budget to do much of anything with the setting, going the repetitive route with this slasher effort, struggling to give the tired routine of kills and paranoia some necessary energy, which doesn’t come as easy as it should. Read the rest at 

Film Review - A Star Is Born


“A Star Is Born” isn’t crossing fresh cinematic terrain. It’s been done before, three times in fact, with versions produced in 1937 (starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March), 1954 (with Judy Garland and James Mason), and in 1976 (with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson), giving co-writer/director Bradley Cooper plenty of guide rail to work with as he mounts what’s ultimately a mixture of the films, but mostly favors the greasy despair of the bicentennial rock musical. It’s a Teflon plot, delivering romance, stage performance, and tragedy, and Cooper understands what the audience is looking for. His “A Star Is Born” is handsomely mounted and profoundly felt at times, becoming an “Actors Studio: The Movie” take on music world misery. It’s also an overlong and somewhat confusing endeavor that always favors emotion over editing. Read the rest at

Film Review - Little Women


Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel, “Little Women,” has inspired many adaptations, as recently as this very year, with the BBC trying their hand at creating a mini-series version of the story. Such repetition makes sense, and so much of this tale of the March Sisters and their struggle to find themselves is irresistible, giving co-writer/director Clare Niederpruem a head-start when it comes to delivering compelling dramatics. While it’s a popular book to bring to all forms of media, it’s not an easy translation to make. While the production tries to streamline some subplots and disconnect from a few characters, this new “Little Women” has ideal charm and, most important of all, sincerity, offering the faithful a heartfelt update that respects Alcott’s prime message of familial love while inoffensively trying to modernize the saga for a more contemporary teen audience.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Night School


Nobody involved in “Night School” needs to put in any effort. Director Malcolm D. Lee had a massive hit last summer with “Girls Trip,” so he’ll be making variations on the film for the next five years. All star Kevin Hart has to do is show up for close-ups and scream and he’s good. And Tiffany Haddish is still working on her sudden rise to national consciousness after a supporting turn in “Girls Trip,” sticking with the sense of humor that broke her into the big time. It’s hard to condemn the professionals for not trying to make something special with “Night School.” It’s there, it’s raunchy, and it’s programmed to have some heart. However, laziness is a big problem with this dispiriting comedy, which could’ve been so much more than the feeble collection of gross-out jokes and wayward riffs it currently offers. Nobody particularly cares about the final product, and such apathy keeps the feature anchored to the ground for nearly two hours.  Read the rest at

Film Review - I Think We're Alone Now


“I Think We’re Alone Now” deals with a largely undefined post-apocalyptic world. However, screenwriter Mike Makowsky doesn’t go for violent wasteland ideas with feral characters, instead examining the limits of loneliness and the comfort of routine when all else is lost. It’s more of a personality piece than a customary story, at least for the first two acts, providing a spare but compelling inspection of an empty world, and how such vastness of quiet is processed by the two people left to experience it. Director Reed Morano follows up her achingly sincere 2015 picture, “Meadowland,” with something more mysterious, and while she fumbles the landing, the helmer does create spaces, emotional and geographical, worth exploring.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Padre


Director Jonathan Sobol was last seen in theaters with “The Art of the Steal,” a heist comedy that tried to play in the same sandbox Guy Ritchie and Steven Soderbergh often reside in. The results weren’t perfect, but the picture maintained appeal, eased along with a lively sense of mischief (having Kurt Russell around certainly helped). Sobol sobers up some with “The Padre,” a darker take on the manhunt routine that never wants to play as bleak as it initially seems. Sobol tries to keep the film approachable as it details grim events and greets questionable characters, and he achieves a good portion of his tonal goals. Acting efforts from Nick Nolte, Tim Roth, and Valeria Henriquez help the cause, but “The Padre” gets by on screen energy, keeping chases and intimidations close as a revenge story transforms into road journey before morphing into heist movie. Read the rest at

Film Review - Summer '03


We’re moving into a new age of nostalgia, with “Summer ‘03” taking a trip in time, back to an age when cell phones were miraculous simply because they could send text messages and teen humiliation was only beginning to form the foundation of internet exchanges. Writer/director Becca Gleeson doesn’t mummify her feature with endless references to gadgets and atmosphere, preferring to use slightly more community-minded time to launch her own take on a coming-of-age dramedy, trying to treat raging emotions with some level of realism while constructing a screenplay that’s softened by quirk and distracted by supporting characters. “Summer ‘03” captures the endless summer vibe with ease, only struggling when it comes time to address the severity of bad decisions, with Gleeson giving in to hysterics too easily.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Smallfoot


The collision between humans and monsters is once again recycled for family entertainment in “Smallfoot,” with the picture’s focus on neurotic, sheltered yetis about to have their whole world shattered. The feature is an adaptation of a Sergio Pablos book, but the production goes out of its way to be its own thing, eschewing a sustained run of madcap antics to become a musical of sorts, with periodic breaks in the action to do some singing and dancing. “Smallfoot” has color courtesy of co-writer/director Karey Kirkpatrick (“Over the Hedge,” “Imagine That”), but it’s a laborious film that’s too caught up in exposition to have much fun with itself, with an uneven balance of mischief and metaphor. Whatever amusement manages to make it all the way to the screen doesn’t last for very long.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Little Italy


Director Donald Petrie has been here before. 30 years ago, he helmed “Mystic Pizza,” a low-key dramedy about life around a pizzeria that co-starred Julia Roberts. And now there’s “Little Italy,” another dramedy about life around a pizzeria (two of them to be specific), and this one offers Julia’s niece, Emma Roberts, as one of its main attractions. Perhaps Petrie is trying his luck again after striking out with many duds (“My Life in Ruins,” “Just My Luck,” “Welcome to Mooseport”), but he’s an impossibly bland filmmaker, and “Little Italy” is another offering from his creative kitchen that has no discernable flavor. 1988 can only happen once, leaving Petrie struggling to do something with his latest endeavor, which plays everything so safely, it’s exhausting long before it’s obnoxious.  Read the rest at

Film Review - All About Nina


“All About Nina” is a difficult film to watch. It’s partially engineered to be that way, with writer/director Eva Vives endeavoring to create a screen space that’s suffocating and unrelentingly bleak, using a tightening grip to support a character study of a thirtysomething woman suddenly facing the demons she’s been unable to outrun. The movie is a churning assortment of abrasive personalities and self-destructive behaviors, but somewhere in the middle of all the hostilities, there’s supposed be some faint light of realization, giving viewers an exit out of the darkness Vives supplies. It’s hard to sense any sense of achievement here, but there’s plenty of pain to go around, giving actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead a meaty role that demands a full-body commitment to both the abyssal agony of the part and her vocation as stand-up comedian.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Maximum Impact


The curious career of Alexander Nevsky takes another deadening turn with “Maximum Impact,” the Russian actor’s latest attempt to achieve some level of global fame with a Hollywood-style actioner. Nevsky’s big but he can’t act, electing to surround himself with a highly bizarre collection of thespians who are known for taking any type of paycheck role that comes their way. Nevsky’s got the physical presence, but his energy reserves run low in this painfully amateurish production, which doesn’t take long to shed any level of seriousness, emerging as a parody of VOD thrillers, with director Andrzej Bartkowiak trying to make sense of Ross LaMann’s loopy screenplay, which tosses cliches and characters into a blender, making B-movie paste that’s impossible to make sense of, much less enjoy.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Miracles


Screenwriter Jim Kouf ("Class," "Secret Admirer," "Up the Creek") makes his directorial debut with 1986's "Miracles," bringing with him dreams of establishing a rich farce filled with chases, near-misses, strange luck, and combative characters. He would go on to write "Stakeout," one of the best films of 1987, but such a creative triumph was still a year away, leaving him stuck with a frustratingly inert, unfunny comedy that would normally kill a helming career before it had a chance to fully develop. So, thank goodness for "Stakeout" and god help us all with "Miracles," which emerges as a kitchen sink idea from Kouf, who's desperate to make this manic endeavor work despite dreadful miscastings, a thin premise, and dialogue that's primarily interested in detailing how two people hate each other. It's unpleasant and worse, unadventurous, testing patience as a brief run time is wasted on uninspired shenanigans and a half-realized gimmick.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Rock-a-Doodle


In the 1980s, everything was golden for director Don Bluth. Sure, a few creative setbacks, compromises, and challenges were encountered by the animation helmer, but he enjoyed a string of box office successes and industry triumphs along the way. Commanding "An American Tail," "The Land Before Time" (a picture that inspired 13 sequels), "The Secret of NIMH," and the "Dragon's Lair" saga, Bluth certainly found his particular corner of artistry and worked like crazy to maintain some momentum to a career that, at one point, threatened Disney's animated film dominance. The 1990s, however, were not very kind to Bluth and his vision, with 1991's "Rock-A-Doodle" providing a taste of disasters and disappointments to come. While Bluth has some vision for this loose adaption of a turn-of-the-century play by Edmond Rostand, the production quickly slips out of his control, showcasing rather extreme storytelling disruptions and choppy editing, which overwhelms was appears to have been a fully conceived animation adventure with interesting live-action elements at one point during its development. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Jack the Giant Killer


1962's "Jack the Giant Killer" was apparently created to cash-in on a monster movie trend, utilizing the rise of stop-motion animation to help create a storybook vision of a princess in peril, a young man becoming a hero, and the monsters conjured to stop him. Directed by Nathan Juran, "Jack the Giant Killer" doesn't pretend to be anything besides spirited matinee entertainment, offering family audiences a series of exciting beastly encounters, pronounced performances, and bold acts of courage, summoning the fantasy film vibe with relative ease. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - How Do I Love Thee?


Jackie Gleeson made his fair share of duds, but as he aged, he lost his star power, growing increasingly reliant on his established persona to connect with potential audiences. 1970's "How Do I Love Thee?" finds Gleeson navigating the changing tides of American society and entertainment interests, starring in a dramedy that's meant to play to both older and younger audiences, trying to build a bridge between the counterculture and senior citizens. It's a big time whiff from the icon, who looks lost (and quite inebriated) during his performance, unsure how seriously he should take a movie where Shelly Winters is cast as a sex object. "How Do I Love Thee?" is a brutal sit at times, with nobody in the production particularly confident in the film they want to make, going soft in every direction. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Tea with the Dames


I can’t think of a movie more perfectly suited for a Sunday afternoon matinee than “Tea with the Dames.” It’s a film about friendship, camaraderie, and memory, taking viewers to the English countryside to spend 80 minutes with Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, Maggie Smith, and Eileen Atkins as they discuss themselves and others for director Roger Michell. While not without some moments of gravity, “Tea with the Dames” is as delicious as its sounds, breezing through easy banter that’s been in play for decades, with cameras capturing a friendship among actresses that’s developed with care and respect. Michell knows what he’s doing here, wisely getting out of the way as the Dames feel around for topics, digging up personal history as they discuss their lives, offering fascinating perspectives and triggering unexpected bellylaughs along the way. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Love, Gilda


There’s a lot of information out there concerning the life and times of Gilda Radner, including her years on “Saturday Night Live” and her 1989 autobiography, “It’s Always Something.” The challenge for director Lisa Dapolito is to reach beyond established evidence and create a more intimate study of Radner, and “Love, Gilda” manages to do just that. Utilizing home movies and diary pages, Dapolito embarks on a psychological odyssey with Radner’s own thoughts driving the documentary, examining her fears and frustrations as the picture surveys numerous successes where the comedian’s own brightness of spirit was the very thing that defined her stage appeal. “Love, Gilda” is missing a few key perspectives here and there, but it’s a rounded understanding of Radner’s experience and her headspace as she tried to navigate the demands of fame, the quest for love, and hope for inner-peace. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Life Itself


While writer/director Dan Fogelman has made other movies (2015’s “Danny Collins”), one would never know that by simply watching his latest endeavor, “Life Itself.” Best known as the creator of the NBC show, “This is Us,” Fogelman’s small screen addiction to melodrama doesn’t sit well in multiplexes, attempting to replicate the smashing fates formula that’s served him well on network television. Playing like a T.V. pilot that badly wants to be taken seriously as an R-rated inspection of human connections, “Life Itself” makes the crazy creative decision to be completely unlikable. Downright odious at times. It’s enough for Fogelman to be manipulative, which every frame of this picture is, but it’s another to be completely tone-deaf with characterization, turning the film into a twisted game where the audience is actively rooting for death to win in the end.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Land of Steady Habits


Writer/director Nicole Holofcener is known as a filmmaker capable of quality work. The architect of “Friends with Money,” “Please Give,” and her last effort, 2013’s “Enough Said,” Holofcener is one of the few helmers left with a distinct interest in the lives of adults, giving maturing concerns screen time to bloom into near-disasters. For “The Land of Steady Habits,” Holofcener finds inspiration from a book by Ted Thompson, but she makes the material her own in many ways, guiding a gifted cast through an obstacle course of setbacks, poor decisions, and lost hope, all the while infusing the screenplay with dry wit and understated emotion. “The Land of Steady Habits” isn’t going to satisfy those in need of hospital corners from their dramedies, but the few familiar with Holofcener’s world view are going to find plenty to enjoy here.  Read the rest at