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March 2019

Blu-ray Review - Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation


Kim Hinkel scripted the original "Texas Chain Saw Massacre," watching as the little southern horror movie developed into a behemoth at the box office, becoming a sensation at the time and, eventually, a classic. Hinkel was shut out of the two sequels that followed, but resurfaced in 1994 with renewed interest to reclaim his original creation. "Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation" is Hinkel's ship and he's content to steer it into murky storytelling waters, hoping the brand name might cover for many issues with the screenplay and filmmaking. Henkel aims for reverence with a semi-remake, but he comes up short in the imagination department, finding the highlights of "The Next Generation" ones that simply recycle Hooper's ferocity and rural Texas madness. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Atomic Cafe


"Funny" is a word that's often associated with 1982's "The Atomic Café." Such promise of humor is stamped all over the promotion of the picture, with nervous distributors trying to lure viewers who wouldn't normally be interested in an 87-minute-long summary of American leaders lying to the public about the true destructive possibilities of an atomic bomb blast. Funny this movie most certainly isn't, but I suppose the actual toxicity of this darkness is subjective, with "The Atomic Café" more of a skillful assembly of footage than a knee-slapper. Directors Jayne Loader and Kevin and Pierce Rafferty spent years stitching together a look at the development of American paranoia and hubris, and they end up with an eye-opening examination of Atomic Age denial and experimentation, delivering, without narration, an extraordinary view of military power and those tasked with deflecting attention away from surefire dangers during a time of reckless experimentation. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Beach Bum


In the 1990s, writer/director Harmony Korine was an appealing disaster, feeling out the far reaches of his imagination to summon depictions of poverty, cruelty, and poetry, making arresting indie film messes. With 2012’s “Spring Breakers,” Korine made something nobody, including the helmer, saw coming: a hit movie. While failing to grow out of his mischievous urges, Korine crafted a polished picture for a change, taking in the wonders of Florida through the eyes of deranged and broken people. It was sun-drenched burlesque and borderline insufferable, but it found an audience, with “Spring Breakers” the career boost Korine was waiting for. So, how does he follow up his only profitable venture? By doing it all over again. “The Beach Bum” isn’t a sequel to his previous endeavor, but it’s close enough, this time highlighting Matthew McConaughey in Florida-funk mode, and the actor seems to adore this ride to nowhere, having a ball smoking weed and fondling extras while Korine pretends he’s making some sort of comedy. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Dragged Across Concrete


While he doesn’t make audience-friendly movies, writer/director S. Craig Zahler has managed to find his footing as a filmmaker. The man adores meaty male characters, preferably chewing on hard-boiled dialogue, and his latest, “Dragged Across Concrete,” delivers true submersion into neo-noir atmosphere, with sharp, cruel violence erupting periodically. While it’s not as precise as “Bone Tomahawk” and “Brawl in Cell Block 99,” “Dragged Across Concrete” does retain Zahler’s fascination with blunt force trauma and the sacrifice of characters who put themselves in harm’s way. It’s accomplished work from the developing helmer, and while Zahler gets a little crazy with a 160 minute run time, he does find ways to fill it, bringing in stars Vince Vaughn and Mel Gibson to guide the viewing experience with steely, verbose performances to support an extended journey into criminal behavior. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Critters: A New Binge


There hasn’t been a new “Critters” adventure since the release of “Critters 4” all the way back in 1992. It’s a mini-monster franchise that weirdly hasn’t been touched over the decades, with a devoted fanbase left with little to enjoy beside the original films, and even those are problematic, with the quality of the last two installments nowhere near the B-movie delights of the first two chapters. Coming out of the blue is “Critters: A New Binge,” which isn’t a feature, but a streaming series consisting of eight mini-episodes (most clocking in under 10 minutes) meant to reintroduce the skin-tearing mischief of the Crites to the faithful and possibly make new fans along the way, with co-writer/director Jordan Rubin (“Zombeavers”) tasked with updating the showdown between an intergalactic menace and hapless humans, working to add fresh challenges to help kickstart a new franchise direction. Read the rest at

Film Review - Shazam!


After the success of last December’s “Aquaman,” D.C. Entertainment continues the general brightening of the DC Extended Universe with “Shazam.” The character (also known as Captain Marvel, though not anymore for obvious reasons) dates back to 1939, with a movie serial from 1941 exploring the magic powers of Billy Batson and his special incantation, but the superhero hasn’t been explored much since, making this major motion picture the first blockbuster-style rendering of a character who doesn’t lend itself easily to cinematic storytelling. “Shazam” arrives with a big spirit and an impish sense of humor, but it’s an unwieldy feature, with director David F. Sandberg (“Lights Out,” “Annabelle: Creation”) mismanaging tone as “Shazam” swings from silly business to mass murder. While loaded with good intentions, it’s an overlong, underwritten film with casting issues, giving Shazam a rocky introduction to the big screen world of costumed heroism. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dumbo (2019)


In a way, we have Tim Burton to thank for the current state of Disney business. The eccentric helmer elected to bring his wilder visions for fantasy entertainment to the company when they decided to transform their animated classic, “Alice in Wonderland,” into a live-action epic, trusting in Burton’s ability to conjure enough oddity to make the experiment interesting. The film was a dreary mess, but it connected with audiences, grossing a billion dollars worldwide, giving Disney the green light for additional live-action translations, including “Cinderella,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “The Jungle Book.” “Dumbo” is the latest hand-animated gem to be reworked, and the first of three productions the studio has planned for the year. Burton, needing a career boost, returns to duty with his take on the famous flying elephant, once again prizing style over substance, but here the visuals are amazing, almost making the bloated, oppressive viewing experience worth enduring. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Highwaymen


There have been many film and television projects covering the exploits of the outlaw couple, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Most famously in Arthur Penn’s 1967 picture, “Bonnie and Clyde,” and most recently in similarly titled 2013 television mini-series. There’s no shortage of interpretations and overviews of the duo’s criminal and romantic entanglements, but screenwriter John Fusco (“Young Guns,” “Hidalgo”) endeavors to provide a different perspective on the situation, exploring the manhunt that stretched across states and eventually brought the pair’s violent reign to a close. “The Highwaymen” tells the story of such dogged pursuit, inspecting the efforts of Frank Hamer and Maney Gault, two senior Texas Rangers, as they experience a return to the field and a reunion with death, urged to reexamine their past as they fight to prevent future loss of life. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Vigilante


While her taste in scripts leaves a little to be desired, it’s promising to watch Olivia Wilde participate in off-beat productions to vary her resume, making a clear effort to distance herself from simplified roles that require little from her. With “A Vigilante,” Wilde goes to the dark places within to portray a woman who’s been mentally shattered by domestic violence, channeling that rage to provide help for those who can’t fight for themselves. The role demands a lot from the thespian, who clearly relishes the chance to play raw emotions and blunt physicality. “A Vigilante” isn’t quite the bravely unhinged picture it initially appears to be, but Wilde turns in one of the best performances of her career, providing a reason to remain with Sara Dagger-Nickson’s screenplay, which veers from an unnerving understanding of true fear to something close to wish-fulfillment. Read the rest at

Film Review - Making Babies


“Making Babies” could’ve been a really smart, strong film. There’s a lot of dramatic ground to cover when taking on the plight of infertility and the race for parental status, giving writer/director Josh F. Huber a wide open field of emotions to detail, especially when dealing with a story about such marital frustration. Instead of sharpness, Huber goes dull with the effort, under the impression that audiences are craving yet another sitcom-style romp with sexual dysfunction, misunderstandings, and R-rated embarrassment. In the pursuit of stupidity, Huber misses all chances to create something meaningful, issuing yet another adult comedy that’s heavy with raunchy behavior, scattergun improvisation, and a misguided blend of third-act sincerity and slapstick. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Critters 4


In an effort to save some money and limit risk with the creation of a "Critters" sequel after 1988's "Critters 2: The Main Course" bombed during its theatrical release, New Line Cinema elected to take the series direct to video, hoping to meet the fanbase halfway by delivering prime Crite action directly to their living rooms. The studio also decided to make two movies for the price of one, shooting "Critters 3" and "Critters 4" back-to-back, with the last installment of the franchise (at least up to this point) handed over to director Rupert Harvey, who apparently didn't enjoy anything the series had been offering in its three previous chapters. "Critters 4" takes the action into space, unleashing the Crites on a space station, where they go about their daily business of bodily harm and reproducing in tighter confines, generating more of a haunted house viewing experience. At least that appears to be the idea behind the third sequel. What Harvey actually delivers is the worst "Critters" installment of the bunch, dropping humor and open air to play a tedious game of "Wait for the Crites," with the titular monsters barely in the endeavor, finding more attention place on tedious human concerns. This is no way to close out an amusing set of creature features. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Critters 3


Of course, there's only one reason why people are still aware of 1991's "Critters 3." It's the one addition to the Crite saga that maintains outsider curiosity and fan endearment, and it's the only part of the feature that shows any sort of inspiration. That's right, when one thinks of the second sequel to "Critters," the only thing that comes to mind is…Crites in the big city! Okay, okay, perhaps the real reason there's still chatter about the effort is a supporting turn from Leonardo DiCaprio, who makes his film debut here, battling tiny monsters in a low-budget sequel a mere six years before he would hit a career grand slam in James Cameron's "Titanic." DiCaprio has come a long way since the direct-to-video endeavor and his refusal over the years to even discuss the movie is understandable, but there's really no shame in starting small. After all, while "Critters 3" doesn't maintain quality low-wattage frights and laughs like the two previous chapters, it does relatively well with the little it has to offer, making for an entertaining Crite attack offering that tries to bring a few new things to the franchise. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Critters 2: The Main Course


When 1986's "Critters" managed to become a home video success (after mediocre box office results), New Line Cinema elected to go forward with a sequel. However, unlike many follow-ups from the day, money was actually spent to give a potential franchise a proper continuation, adding some coin to the budget and giving "Critters 2: The Main Course" a newfound appreciation of comedic extremes, with co-writer/director Mick Garris brought in to make Crites more mischievous, humans more appealing, and the brand name more alluring to genre fans. In a rare creative success story from the brand-heavy 1980s, "The Main Course" is a proper match to the original "Critters," having fun with itself while supplying all the monster movie violence and mayhem one could ever want from the series. It's a bigger, bolder endeavor, with Garris losing none of the sneaky appeal of the first film. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Critters


Speak to somebody associated with the production of 1986's "Critters," and they often swear the screenplay was written before the creation of 1984's "Gremlins," the Joe Dante-directed masterpiece that gifted the world a Christmas of chaos featuring the antics of mischievous, murderous knee-high creatures rampaging their way through a small town. Of course, "Critters" isn't set during the holiday season, but the picture also enjoys the destructive abilities of tiny monsters working to take over a rural community. I'm not sure why there's such a defensive attitude about the similarities between the endeavors, as there's room for both movies to be fantastic, with Stephen Herek-helmed horror-comedy managing to do something scrappy and scary with very little money, using imagination to turn a promising idea from co-writer Brian Domonic Muir into a fun ride of creature feature highlights, keeping puppetry and casualty lively in this unexpected franchise-starter. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Dirt


Rock bio-pics are all the rage these days, and after the massive success of “Bohemian Rhapsody” (the story of Freddie Mercury and Queen), “The Dirt” is the first to follow in its wake (Elton John’s “Rocketman” is due in May). However, instead of soaring ‘70s rock and the miracle of a singular voice, “The Dirt” chronicles the rise of Motley Crue, who were beloved musicians, but perhaps best known for their sex, drugs, and rock and roll lifestyle, which they flaunted for the extent of the 1980s. While it’s an adaptation of the band’s 2001 book (written with Neil Strauss), director Jeff Tremaine (“Bad Grandpa”) only has so much screentime to work with while trying to wrap his arms around the group’s colorful history. It’s a bit of a narrative mess, but the spirit of Motley Crue remains in the picture, which is one of the only films that dares to open with a scene highlighting female ejaculation, taking on the challenge of topping such a visual with the rest of Motley Crue’s sordid history. Read the rest at

Film Review - Us

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In 2017, comedian Jordan Peele moved behind the camera, transitioning from a skit-based basic cable show to the big screen with “Get Out.” Scoring big with audiences and critics, Peele eventually collected Oscar gold for his genre-based study of race relations and paranoia, setting himself up for great expectations with any potential follow-up. He landed on “Us,” concocting another twisty chiller, this time dialing down the social commentary for a more straightforward freak-out, or at least as simplified as Peele gets, with the “Twilight Zone” fanatic (currently in charge of the show’s upcoming reboot) offering viewers as second round of weirdness and violence, with greater emphasis on chase sequences and extended exposition. “Us” is undeniably effective, but only when Peele settles into a groove of macabre events. Overall, it plays much like his previous effort, with spine-chilling developments chased by offerings of tepid comedy. Read the rest at

Film Review - Relaxer


In 2014, writer/director Joel Potrykus and actor Joshua Burge unleashed “Buzzard,” their tribute to the creepy fantasies of unmotivated individuals. It was a darkly comic picture, and shared a unique vision for strange characters and situations. The duo attempts to top themselves with “Relaxer,” an even more gruesome, idiosyncratic assessment of mental illness, taking the tale back in time to 1999, merging the relative innocence of a PlayStation world with the bottomless depths of depression. Once again, Potrykus and Burge strive to make something horrifying and often indescribable, with “Relaxer” a more defined attempt to deliver a Midnight Movie-style brain bleeder that still retains a sense of humor. It’s no improvement on “Buzzard,” but there’s a clear escalation of directorial bravery that’s interesting to watch unfold. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Invisibles


As filmmakers seek out corners of World War II history to dramatize, director Claus Rafle discovers a particularly interesting one with “The Invisibles.” Instead of making a picture about those who escaped Nazi Germany, Rafle details the unusual lives of Jewish citizens who elected to stay in the country during a time of genocide. “The Invisibles” is a docudrama, helping Rafle understand the exact moves of the people he’s chronicling, but there’s also a healthy amount of suspense and emotional pull to the feature, which tracks the danger of such a personal choice, with those embarking on this survival challenge electing to live free, but soon coming up against the reality of life in the shadow of Nazi rule. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - National Lampoon's Class Reunion


We live in a day and age when a hit movie is often met with sequels and knockoffs in a year, with Hollywood speeding up their game to secure audience attention, often fearful that waiting to cash-in on a smash will result in swift disinterest. For National Lampoon, the hunt to follow-up 1978's "Animal House" resulted in a lengthy delay, creating a four year wait for 1982's "Class Reunion" (1981's "Movie Madness" was released in 1983), which is an eternity for any company, giving the faithful a chance to seek ribald pleasures elsewhere. Not helping matters is the actual quality of "Class Reunion," with the comedy trying very hard to be the most hilarious release of the film year, only to whiff with every punchline and bit of physical humor. It's an awful effort from director Michael Miller, who doesn't display awareness of funny business finesse, instead using a sledgehammer on sly jokes and tasty parody, keeping the endeavor as far away as possible from the weirdness it craves. Read the rest at

Film Review - Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase


The history behind the young detective Nancy Drew is vast, dating back to her literary debut in 1930. Every now and then, Hollywood endeavors to revive the franchise, with many television and film adaptations striving to update the character for modern audiences, giving old-fashioned sleuthing a trendy twist. “Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase” is no different. The production works to keep things current to best engage an easily distracted audience, and they have a special star in Sophie Lillis, who contributed greatly to the monster success of 2017’s “It.” Lillis picks up the flashlight and unstoppable curiosity for this fresh round of clue gathering, and she’s the brightest thing in the feature, which is best appreciated with lowered expectations, offering mildness for the target demographic, while Lillis comes ready to play. Read the rest at