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July 2019

Blu-ray Review - Bucktown

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In 1975's "Bucktown," director Arthur Marks gives star Fred Williamson room to do exactly his thing, which is to project attitude, remain cat nip for the ladies, and suck down a few of his trademark cigars. There's no algebra here, with the star settling easily into the hero role, portraying a tough black guy putting himself up against the might of law enforcement, which is staffed by racist white boobs. "Bucktown" does try to avoid the norm by contorting the story's vision of villainy, but the basics are prized by Marks, who keeps up the action and posing as he makes a sturdy, exciting entry in the Blaxploitation subgenre. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Superstition

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1982's "Superstition" (also released under the title, "The Witch") heads into some bizarre directions with its tale of a household haunting. The screenplay (credited to Galen Thompson) seems to be aiming for simplicity, using an appreciation for formula to set-up a showdown between humans and a particularly nasty witch, finding a way to tap into industry trends of the day as chills turn into gore, giving the production a slasher-style tilt. During the ride, the material takes some oddball detours with ill-defined characters and limited sleuthing, but the primary push of the macabre is handled capably by director James W. Roberson, who strives to delivering the basics of genre entertainment when overall cinematic construction is faulty. "Superstition" is engaging, mostly due to its velocity and graphic content, with Roberson wisely inching away from logic as the material takes on more personalities than it can handle. Time periods as well. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - What Keeps You Alive

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To help explore "What Keeps You Alive," I have to expose a bit of its plot, which, for some, is situated in spoiler territory. I have no interest in ruining the picture for others, so here's a mini-review: it's terrific. It's a wicked, somewhat surprising chiller from writer/director Colin Minihan, who impressed mightily with "It Stains the Sands Red" a few years back, now newly energized to offer another slice of horror cinema that's genuinely frightening at times, also doing much with very little money. Minihan's got a special vision for "What Keep You Alive," and his execution is confident, perhaps too much so at times. In short, it's an impressive feature, and one that will likely delight those in the mood for something merciless and feral. If you're sensitive to story information, this is a good place to stop reading. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Then Came You

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Teen melodramas are big business these days, with Netflix finding ratings gold with tales of sad but snappy kids in problematic relationships, trying make sense of the world they're inheriting. "Then Came You" joins the pack, presenting two characters handed the challenge of cancer survival to help complicate their still-forming lives, trying to capture the essence of youth while dealing with the crushing realities of mortality. Writer Fergal Rock isn't breaking fresh ground with "Then Came You," but he's not trying to avoid formula either, presenting a clichéd take on friendship, longing, and loss, trusting the warmth and quirk of the endeavor will be enough to capture interest in the characters. He needs more than familiarity to get by, as the movie never rises above mediocrity, unwilling to put in the effort to make something special out of working parts already on view in dozens of other films. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Blu-ray Review - Fleshpot on 42nd Street

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1973's "Fleshpot on 42nd Street" offers a sympathetic view of an unsympathetic character, asking audiences to go on a journey with an unpleasant woman as she experiences struggle for some level of normalcy and safety. In other hands, perhaps the movie could do something with the basic set- up of a lost soul trying to survive in the big city, but "Fleshpot on 42nd Street" is an Andy Milligan picture, with the prolific helmer (of such films as "Bloodthirsty Butchers," "Torture Dungeon," and "The Man with Two Heads") mostly interested in creating an awful environment for awful people, trying to touch bottom when it comes to depicting human behavior while still tending to hardcore material, some of it violent in nature. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Crawl

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We’ve been inundated with shark films in recent years, with the fish a top predator for movie studios trying to frighten audiences with something more than just another slasher offering. Rarely is there a killer alligator endeavor, giving director Alexandre Aja a chance to do something against the trend with “Crawl,” which takes viewers into the middle of a hurricane that sets the scene for a deadly battle between human and reptile. Aja’s been in this situation before, helming the delightful 2010 remake of “Piranha,” and he’s returned without a campy approach, treating the central survival tale with some degree of seriousness, while his gifts for water-based suspense and creeping terror remain intact. “Crawl” isn’t light or particularly revolutionary, but it’s short, slick, and offers plenty of satisfying scares. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Film Review - Point Blank

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While the title “Point Blank” conjures images of Lee Marvin in cold-stare mode during the 1967 adaptation of Donald E. Westlake’s “The Hunter,” the feature is actually a remake of a 2010 French thriller, which attempted to make a big screen mess with characters unprepared for action. Director Joe Lynch is certainly used to generating cinematic chaos, previously helming the misfire “Everly” and 2017’s more successful “Mayhem,” returning to the world of battered human beings with “Point Blank,” which plays to his interests in ultraviolence. However, instead of a thrill ride, Lynch is put in charge of a story with a few turns and attempts at characterization, showing visible restraint as he strives to insert as much freewheeling activity as possible in a picture that weaves somewhat erratically from frantic activity to sobering realities. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The Lion King (2019)

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For their third remake of an animated classic in 2019 (following “Dumbo” and “Aladdin”), Disney returns to 1994’s “The Lion King,” which, at the time, collected a massive box office haul for the studio, resulting in sequels, theme park attractions, T.V. shows, and even a triumphant Broadway musical. The company has never abandoned Simba and Co., but the time has come to turn traditional animation into CGI to help wow a new generation of young fans and delight their nostalgic guardians. To help the cause, Disney returns to director John Favreau, who managed to do something special with 2016’s “The Jungle Book,” but the same level of tonal and visual experimentation doesn’t return with “The Lion King.” While not a shot-for-shot remake, Favreau and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson deliver a beat-for-beat reworking that’s meant to wow with dazzling visual effects, generating an entire animal kingdom with nothing but celebrity voices and computer power. The story? It’s basically the same, with the production avoiding any major changes to avoid upsetting the faithful, taking very few risks with a valuable brand name. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Sword of Trust

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Writer/director Lynn Shelton adds “Sword of Trust” to her impressive filmography. Gifted a curiosity about human behavior and the strange quirks of relationships, Shelton doesn’t stray far from her interests with her latest endeavor, but she always finds a compelling way to understand how characters work. “Sword of Trust” (co-scripted with Mike O’Brien) is a bit more comedic than her previous interests, heading into pure silliness on occasion, but the turns aren’t jarring and the feature is very funny, consistently so. Shelton gathers in an impressive cast for this study of secrets and lies, also making use of her Alabama locations, delivering a feel for the surroundings as she assembles a tour of idiosyncrasies and gullibility. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Darlin'

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When considering all the unlikely sequels that’ve made their way through production, it’s hard to imagine many were craving a follow-up to 2011’s “The Woman” (which was a sequel itself, picking up where 2009’s “Offspring” left off). The Lucky McKee picture wasn’t unsettling or thought-provoking, it was just bad, offering crude, repetitive ultraviolence as a way to keep viewers awake, with McKee unable to master tone or performance, too busy whiffing on the theme of dehumanization. “The Woman” went away eight years ago, but star Pollyanna McIntosh isn’t ready to give up the titular role, returning not only as an actress for the feature, but also claiming writing and directing duties. There’s plenty of room for improvement here, and “Darlin’” takes advantage of pronounced shortcomings. While she doesn’t have any big ideas, McIntosh has determination to expand this universe one more time, reviving all the feral female energy the series is known for, but wisely picking and choosing her gore zone visits with more care than McKee. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Trespassers

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It’s hard out there for a home invasion thriller. There’s a lot of competition for the horror hound’s dollar, and the subgenre has been exhausted. “Trespassers” (previously known as “Hell Is Where the Home Is”) has something interesting brewing underneath its ultraviolence, with director Orson Oblowitz trying to inject as much visual variation as possible while working with very little money, and screenwriter Corey Deshon has a germ of an idea to help subvert expectations, which is more exciting than any offering of bodily harm. “Trespassers” doesn’t remain in the realm of promise for long enough, soon switching over to a formulaic understanding of terror from masked men. It’s certainly inspired at times, but not particularly brave. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Summer Night

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Joseph Cross has been an actor since he was a child, appearing in pictures such as “Jack Frost,” “Running with Scissors,” and “Wide Awake.” After a lengthy career in front of the camera, Cross elects to go behind one for “Summer Night,” realizing a screenplay by Jordan Jolliff. The helmer doesn’t put too much pressure on himself for his directorial debut, with “Summer Night” presenting a loose tangle of personalities searching for clarity and commitment in small town California, creating a film more about The Hang than truly pressurized confrontations between friends and lovers. We’ve seen this type of feature before, but Cross provides decent performances and a sense of nightlife to give the endeavor some atmosphere, and there’s effort to battle cliché by simply being vague with the details, trusting in the folksy rock vibe of the movie to keep it afloat. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Blu-ray Review - Dominique

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After achieving some level of box office popularity with his work on 1976's "Logan's Run," director Michael Anderson quickly moved on the next big thing, hoping to sustain career momentum. That feature was 1977's "Orca," a "Jaws" clone that tried and failed to cash-in on moviegoer hunger for deadly aquatic creatures. Such a fumble inspired Anderson to retreat, commencing work on 1979's "Dominique," which is as far from the future and the ocean as possible, offering a horror tale set inside a single English estate. Reducing pressure to perform at blockbuster levels, Anderson takes his sweet time with the material (an adaptation of a short story by Harold Lawlor), but he manages to find his groove here, keeping actors grounded and frights enigmatic to best preserve the eerie mood of a possible haunting. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Blu-ray Review - The Suckling

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It's amazing that 1989's "The Suckling" isn't a Troma film. For whatever reason, the tiny studio that lives to release garbage/cult cinema passed on or perhaps wasn't even offered the feature for release, which seems like a distribution crime. Writer/director Francis Teri appears to have the Troma mood in mind for this endeavor, which explores the rampage of an aborted fetus infected with toxic waste, growing into a monster that sets out to kill everyone inside an abortion clinic/brothel. While I'm sure such a premise seems like bottom-shelf gold for some audiences, Teri, making his directorial debut, is way out of his depth with "The Suckling," which looks cheap and plays dumb, trusting in the little shock value it has to keep viewers entertained. The effort never had a shot at being fun, but exciting and amusing were on the table, and Teri doesn't bother to get the material to a place of B-movie insanity. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Deadly Mantis

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In the giant movie monster craze of the 1950s, "The Deadly Mantis" must win some type of award for longest wait for total destruction. The 1957 production isn't one to swiftly arrange a cinematic war zone with its insect invader, with director Nathan Juran ("Attack of the 50 Foot Woman") tasked with filling 80 minutes of screen time without overdoing interactions with the titular creature. It's a sluggish endeavor, but "The Deadly Mantis" has a curious concentration on military procedure, with Juran perhaps understanding the absurdity of the threat, working to create a cinematic space where mayhem involving a massive praying mantis could look plausible, highlighting the latest in weaponry and surveillance techniques. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - In the Cold of the Night

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Two months ago, I reviewed "Blind Date," a 1984 thriller from director Nico Mastorakis. The plot concerned a young man who lost his sight, regaining it through help from electronic equipment, but also inheriting an ability to see horrible visions of murder. For 1990's "In the Cold of the Night," Mastorakis returns to a similar plot, exploring the mental breakdown of a man who's cursed with visions of homicide, setting out to decode exactly why he's experiencing such horrors. For the prolific helmer, such recycling is to be expected, but with a return to a familiar premise comes less adventurousness, as Mastorakis is aiming "In the Cold of the Night" in an erotic chiller direction, striving to pack in as much sex and nudity as possible (the picture is rated NC-17), with thrills and spills a lesser priority for the production. Mastorakis isn't a refined cinema architect, leaving polish and dramatic consideration a pipe dream, but for those who prefer plenty of skin to go with mild suspense, this feature delivers, showing more enthusiasm for bedroom antics than anything else it covers. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Deadly Force

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Hollywood is always on the hunt for new action stars. The industry loves to get in on the ground floor with a fresh hero, presenting the chance to grow with the actor, making a small fortune as popularity blossoms. Such a spotlight was positioned on Wings Hauser for a little while in the 1980s, sending the actor through numerous genres to see what he's capable of, reaching thespian limits quickly. His supercop phase included 1983's "Deadly Force," which puts Hauser behind the wheel of his own starring vehicle, tasked with projecting toughness as an ex-lawman chasing after a serial killer prowling the corners of Los Angeles. Hauser comes ready to play, delivering a performance that's 100% committed to the cause, going all wild-eyed and big-nostriled for the film, which doesn't always reward such impressive concentrated on leading man authority. "Deadly Force" doesn't maintain steady thrills, instead pausing often to deal with a central mystery that's not as profound as the production hopes. Hauser doesn't necessarily deserve better, but this kind of movie is always best with its brake lines cut, and director Paul Aaron doesn't trust the wonders of such cinematic velocity. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Stuber

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“Stuber” is a film stuck between two time periods. It deals with the modern rideshare business, where customers are usually awful human beings and drivers live for 5-star reviews, and the cast is populated with young comedians who’ve been trained to mindlessly riff, not necessarily sell a punchline. The rest of the picture plays like an action comedy movie from the 1980s, with hard violence supporting a buddy cop premise, giving the feature peaks of dangerous encounters. “Stuber” doesn’t have an idea what it ultimately wants to be, instead electing to be everything, which doesn’t inspire a snowballing viewing experience. It’s lively at times, but never sure of itself, while screenwriter Tripper Clancy always turns to formula when he’s backed into a corner, somehow under the impression viewers want to feel for these characters, not simply watch them unearth continuous trouble while crossing Los Angeles. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Film Review - Killers Anonymous

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There’s a lesson to be learned from “Killers Anonymous.” Its marketing boasts the participation of Gary Oldman and Jessica Alba, pushing the stars up front to secure some attention that wouldn’t be otherwise afforded to the low-budget endeavor. Predictably, Alba’s barely in the effort, while nearly all of Oldman’s screentime finds the Oscar-winner in a seated position, looking through binoculars. It’s a common deception, especially with B-movies, which need something to lure innocent viewers in, especially fans of the actors hoping to keep up with filmographies. It would be grand if there was something more to “Killers Anonymous” that’s worth paying attention to, but director Martin Owen doesn’t have a prize for those willing to sit through the picture. He loads up on colored lighting and scattered violence, but the feature is actually a series of audition pieces, not a cohesive thriller, and it’s an absolute chore to sit through. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Phil

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After spending the last few decades playing uptight guys in mild comedies, Greg Kinnear has finally decided to become a director, putting himself in charge of “Phil,” also nabbing the lead role. One would think that with such creative authority, Kinnear might be interested in attempting something different, permitting himself to stretch as a performer. That doesn’t happen in the picture, but there is a level of darkness to “Phil” that’s mildly intriguing, as the story deals with the aftermath of a suicide and the plate-spinning panic of deception, only most of the screenplay by Stephen Mazur (“Jingle All the Way 2,” “Benchwarmers 2: Breaking Balls”) goes for jokes, attempting to whip up silly business to make sure the movie reaches the widest possible audience. It’s not without some charms, but the effort doesn’t ring with invention, as Kinnear plays it all too safe to protect himself. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com