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October 2018

Blu-ray Review - Tiger by the Tail


1970's "Tiger by the Tail" (released two years after being completed) gifts star Christopher George his own hardboiled detective story, putting him in a tough guy position that makes the most of his hard stares. It's hard to argue with the casting, with George a believably steely man portraying a character who can't seem to escape trouble. "Tiger by the Tail" plays to his thespian strengths, but the movie lacks a lot of chewiness the subgenre is known for, unfolding with a surprising amount of conversation instead of two-fisted conflict resolution, leaving the picture lacking a great of excitement, which is pretty amazing considering that the film opens with a brawl inside a Mexican brothel. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Human Experiments


In the mid-1980s, 1979's "Human Experiments" was added to the UK's list of "Video Nasties," banning it from distribution due to perverse violence. It's difficult to understand this decision, as the film is hardly the torture-a-thon its box art and title suggests, and perhaps producers were delighted to suddenly be in possession of such forbidden fruit, newly empowered to sell the picture as aggressively as possible. The reality of "Human Experiments" is that it's not a particularly haunting endeavor, with director Gregory Goodell and writer Richard Rothstein aiming for something more sinister than graphic, keeping the effort well within television movie parameters for intensity. While sold as an agony machine and a women-in-prison feature, the effort never really settles anywhere specific, more eager to sample different moods than remain frightening for very long.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - 1/1


It's difficult to tell if "1/1" has autobiographical ties to writer/director Jeremy Phillips, but it certainly plays as much, emerging with a level of passion and personal perspective that's explosive at times. It's also a movie that doesn't invite outsiders into the intense psychological inspection, finding Phillips too concentrated on the construction of the film, forgetting to provide a reason why anyone should care about the story. It's an artful journey into the folds of depression, and Phillips is careful with every frame of the endeavor. As technically advanced as it is, "1/1" is also cold to the touch, making whatever inspired this effort difficult to discern as the helmer arranges a sensory assault that's tough to sit through. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Personal Problems


It was promoted as a "Video Soap Opera," using the existing technology of the late 1970s to create a melodrama about a middle-class black family from New York City. 1980's "Personal Problems" was made for $40,000, created with the intention of selling the endeavor to public television for broadcast, giving screenwriter Ishmael Reed and director Bill Gunn ("Ganja & Hess") a chance to take their tiny project wherever they wanted, exploring all types of dramatic confrontations and family issues. Divided into "Volume 1" (93 minutes) and "Volume 2" (77 minutes), "Personal Problems" is an experimental dive into improvisation and video-based craftsmanship, with Gunn and Reed using the freedom of the format to examine banalities and insecurities, trying to remain as casual as possible to respect the natural rhythm of life. Sometimes it's a chore to sit through, but as free-form black cinema goes, there's a lot to treasure about the effort. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Hunter Killer


“Hunter Killer” is trying to fill a gap, delivering a Tom Clancy-style military thriller while Clancy’s books remain out of fashion in Hollywood, with television currently home to the latest Jack Ryan adventure. Of course, nothing can top the sheer cinematic mastery of 1990’s “The Hunt for Red October,” but “Hunter Killer” (based on the book “Firing Point” by George Wallace and Don Keith) gives it a shot, taking to land, sea, and office to detail a point of crisis in world security. The picture has a few stars to help settle the viewing experience, but not a lot of originality, playing it careful with basic elements of patriotism and patrol. Director Donovan Marsh is in way over his head with the thriller, but he manages a few creative achievements as he sets out to make a movie that’s been done before, and much better too. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bohemian Rhapsody


With other bands and artists having their music bio-pic moments over the last 15 years, it’s time for Queen to step up and enjoy the spotlight. However, “Bohemian Rhapsody” isn’t exactly about Queen as a unit, with most attention paid to its singer and showman, Freddie Mercury. The frontman passed away nearly 30 years ago, and the screenplay (by Anthony McCarten) sets out to focus on his rise to fame and music world dominance, also charting his handling of personal sexuality and identity, working through several complicated relationships. “Bohemian Rhapsody” isn’t a greatest hits compilation or a jukebox musical. It’s more of a funeral piece for Mercury, trying to polish his status as a legendary singer while circling over the same personal issues for 130 minutes. What probably should’ve been a rip-roaring summation of Queen’s lasting appeal is diluted into a television movie that ignores the group effort for long stretches of the feature. Read the rest at 

Film Review - My Dinner with Herve


The idea of a film about a wild night out with actor Herve Villechaize conjures visions of a “Hangover”-style picture, highlighting crazy antics and strange sights, bringing out the beast of an unusual icon who was known to participate in craziness more often than not. What writer/director Sacha Gervasi (“Hitchcock,” “Anvil: The Story of Anvil”) actually delivers is an unnervingly genuine study of two fallen people trading bits of honesty over the course of a long morning, using his own interactions with Herve to inspire the deepest pits of despair found in the screenplay. “My Dinner with Herve” has some laughs and fits of manic energy, but surprises with its dramatic content, finding Gervasi interested in depicting Herve with tremendous care, remaining truthful about his mischief, but openly inspecting his thinly veiled depression.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Mid90s

MID90s 2

Jonah Hill has come a long way since his breakout part as a particularly persistent eBay store customer in 2005’s “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” Mix in some box office successes and a few Oscar nominations, and Hill has enjoyed an unusually varied career. He’s now a director, taking command of “Mid90s,” a low-budget ode to the pains of youth, taking audiences back a few decades, recalling a time where the world wasn’t so connected, making social groups manageable and problems easier to hide. Hill evokes the era superbly, delivering a small but assured read of maturity before the digital age, while paying homage to the juvenile delinquent movies of his own time. “Mid90s” is a rough sketch of a film, but it’s compellingly made and acted, with Hill only offering small storytelling challenges for himself, more invested in the hang of the effort, not dramatic tautness.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Studio 54


There have been several documentaries about the rise and fall of Studio 54. There was even a 1998 film about the club that was pushed as the big movie of the summer, only to bomb when it opened, effectively destroying a comeback for the Studio 54 aesthetic. What most productions concerning the discotheque have in common is a great curiosity about its co-owner, Steve Rubell, zeroing in on his eccentricities and sexual appetites, embracing his reputation for showmanship at the hottest establishment of the 1970s. But there was another man shaping the madness. Ian Schrager is the often ignored figure behind the club, partnering with Rubell to bring New York City’s private nightlife to the masses. Director Matt Tyrnauer seizes a chance to approach the well-worn subject from a fresh angle, making his “Studio 54” as Schrager-centric as possible, using the run time to introduce the other half of the magic duo to pop culture consciousness.  Read the rest at

Film Review - London Fields


It’s been a long, hard road for “London Fields,” which is finally being released after a series of delays. It was shot in 2013, making the last five years a gauntlet of production issues, lawsuits, and general reluctance to deliver it to an audience. And there’s a good reason for that, with this adaptation of a Martin Amis novel a complete mess of characters and situations, delivered with a slow pour pace that makes bad ideas and wrong tonal directions feel like an eternity to get through. Amis’s book has been repeatedly described as “unfilmable,” making the production’s effort to turn pages into cinema all the more baffling, wasting time and money on a project that should rightfully live only inside the reader’s mind, giving Amis room to play with idiosyncrasy and noir-scented fantasy in his own distinctive way.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Johnny English Strikes Again


Somehow, without anybody really taking notice besides Rowan Atkinson’s accountant, 2003’s “Johnny English” has become a franchise. There’s been no rush on sequels, with “Johnny English Strikes Again” coming seven years after the first follow-up, “Johnny English Reborn,” giving Atkinson time to breathe between spy comedy assignments. It’s pretty clear this downtime isn’t used to refine the screenplay, as “Johnny English Strikes Again” is an incredibly routine assortment of physical humor and mugging from the star, who isn’t interested in doing anything different with the series, once again returning to the world of feeble 007 parody and lengthy slapstick sequences. It certainly isn’t mean-spirited, but everything that needed to be said about the character was presented in the original film, leaving the second sequel missing a reason to be.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Don't Go


“Don’t Go” takes an unimaginable situation of loss and grief and attempts to use such despair to fuel something of a time-travel mystery. It’s an uneasy mix of the very real and sci-fi, and screenwriters Ronan Blaney and David Gleeson (who also directs) at least try to do something with it for the first half of the movie. It’s the decline after key reveals that torpedo most of what “Don’t Go” is hoping to achieve, offering an unsatisfying conclusion to a grand build-up of sin and misery, making its most outlandish ideas the most effectively sold. There’s unrealized potential throughout the feature, which seems afraid to go for a wilder ride of the unknown, even when it clearly doesn’t want to remain in touch with reality.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Fire Birds


When "Top Gun" became a box office sensation in 1986, it inspired Hollywood to dream up their own takes on military might and stylish jingoism. It's not an easy recipe to follow, with the dramatic reach of "Top Gun" open for debate, but it certainly put a lot of scripts into development, with each project seeking to replicate what director Tony Scott managed to pull off with relative ease. 1990's "Fire Birds" is a little late to truly cash-in on the need for speed, but it has the drive to be the next big thing for action movies and military salesmanship, making heroes out of helicopter pilots out to protect America from harm, though personal issues and relationship woes come first. It's goofy, painfully simplistic, and partially miscast, but "Fire Birds" cannot be discounted as pure entertainment, given wings by stars Nicolas Cage and Tommy Lee Jones, who work very hard to make the insistent banality of this creation at least somewhat engaging with their pronounced idiosyncrasy. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - The Martian Chronicles


"The Martial Chronicles" aired as a miniseries on NBC in 1980. It's based on Ray Bradbury's collection of short stories, which were published in 1950, with the producers electing to preserve the author's sense of mystery and wonder without updating his science. It consists of three episodes, which contain what feels like 100 subplots all heading in opposite directions, making dramatic consistency impossible with this type of source material. However, screenwriter Richard Matheson certainly gives it a try, mashing Bradbury's ideas into television movie structure, laboring to keep the author's Big Ideas on the human experience while introducing a faint sense of narrative progression, which is immediately rejected. It's an ambitious project, but "The Martian Chronicles" isn't big on smooth transitions and dramatic swell, acting as a more of a sampler plate for Bradbury's vision of the future.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Halloween (2018)


“Halloween” isn’t the first time the franchise has decided to shift gears, attempting to rework the brand name for a fresh run of sequels. Heck, it’s not even the first time Jamie Lee Curtis has been involved in long-time-coming installment, popping up in 1998’s “Halloween: H20” to complete her arc as battered babysitter Laurie Strode. After four decades of strange creative decisions and wacky character arcs, the new “Halloween” hopes to link arms with the old “Halloween,” with co-writers Danny McBride, Jeff Fradley, and David Gordon Green (who also directs) bringing back Curtis for another long-time-coming showdown with the masked monster, hoping to give fans a proper continuation after they’ve sat through a few rotten ones. The Shape is back, in a proper killing mood, but the writing isn’t pushing for a fresh take on old holiday business, playing to the faithful with a formulaic endeavor that only colors outside the lines for a few brief scenes. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - The House on Sorority Row


1982's "The House on Sorority Row" is the next title on Scorpion Releasing's to-do list of updated scans, offering a new version of a title that was previously issued on Blu-ray in 2014. Unlike "Death Ship," the feature remains the same, delivering the same slasher cinema highlights and B-movie silliness as before, only here there's a refreshing of image and an updating of sound quality, giving the modest genre endeavor a more defined HD look.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Death Ship


We now live in a world where there are two Blu-ray releases of 1980's "Death Ship." It seems the B-movie was a significant performer for Scorpion Releasing, who originally issued the film in 2012, giving fans a decent look at the production particulars with a comfortable visual experience. Times have changed, and Scorpion has returned with a fresh scan of the chiller (even including a previously deleted scene), collecting some additional supplementary materials to help beef up the new disc, which is an improvement, especially for fans of the picture, who are now offered a clearer look at all the oceanic carnage the endeavor provides. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Oath


“The Purge” films (and, apparently, a television show) are often praised for their depiction of American life as decency and community melts away into war between classes and races, merging exploitation cinema with social commentary. It’s a bit lofty to assign such intelligence to what’s largely B-movie nonsense, especially with “The Oath” now in rotation. It’s hard to believe that a decade ago, Ike Barinholtz was doing Batman impressions for Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg, and now he’s written and directed one of the most precise depictions of the country in the Trump age. While he’s making a comedy, Barinholtz cuts fairly deep with his understanding of political divide and familial antagonism, maintaining a scarily realistic depiction of America in 2018, with all of its bluster, misinformation, and dangerous patriotism, rolled up tightly into a darkly hilarious farce that’s as attentive to laughs as it is knowing winces. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Guilty


Perhaps some comparisons will be made to the 2013 thriller, “The Call,” but the Danish thriller, “The Guilty,” is truly its own thing, doing something deeper and more suspenseful with the basic premise of an emergency services operator suddenly in charge of a volatile situation during what should’ve been a routine shift. Co-writer/director Gustav Moller doesn’t cheapen the viewing experience with chases and act-based escalations, electing to remain tight on the main character as he tries to manage a potentially disastrous situation from the comfort of his work station. “The Guilty” is suspenseful, providing all the nail-chewing moments an effort like this requires, but it’s also morally complex, with Moller delivering a fascinating character study to go with all the twists and turns.  Read the rest at

Film Review - An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn


A few years ago, co-writer/director Jim Hosking made his feature-length debut with “The Greasy Strangler.” It was a largely indescribable film, made with equal parts silliness and madness, showcasing Hosking’s idiosyncratic point of view and willingness to push visual oddity about as far as he could get away with and still have something fans of fringe entertainment would want to see. “The Greasy Strangler” is really its own thing, but Hosking returns with a similar vision for “An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn,” which continues the helmer’s fascination with the bizarre, this time bringing on bigger stars and enjoying a larger budget to help create his universe of unpleasant people engaged in bizarre relationships and personal missions, participating in a grand game of extremity for Hosking.  Read the rest at