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August 2019

Blu-ray Review - Boom!


In 1968, "Boom" was a bomb written by Tennessee Williams and starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. These days, the feature has new life a cult title, with certain audiences embracing the picture's volatile nature and unforgettable decoration. "Boom" isn't an easy movie to admire, but for those who elect to work on it, this adaptation of Williams's play, "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore," provides some funky highlights, offering the rare chance to watch two major stars try to make sense of a languorous art film that has no distinct identity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Brittany Runs a Marathon


Jillian Bell has made a name for herself in the world of comedy. She’s an improviser with a lightning-fast wit, quickly becoming the highlight of iffy projects such as “22 Jump Street,” “Rough Night,” and “Office Christmas Party.” Bell already made a positive impression in last month’s “Sword of Trust,” but her work in “Brittany Runs a Marathon” brings her into the dramatic big leagues, offering a daringly vulnerable performance that allows writer/director Paul Downs Colaizzo a chance to reach some uncomfortable places of behavior and self-realization. The helmer (making his debut) is certainly interested in making a funny movie with “Brittany Run a Marathon,” but the feature is most compelling examining inner doubt and defeat, allowing Bell to reach new heights as an actress in one of the year’s top performances. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Fanatic


“The Fanatic” takes a look at the delicate relationship between star and admirer, where admiration morphs into obsession. The feature is co-scripted and directed by Fred Durst, lead singer of the band Limp Bizkit, and someone who probably knows everything there is to know about toxic fandom, joined by star John Travolta, who undoubtedly has his own horror stories concerning interactions with the general public. “The Fanatic” is too extreme to register as a suitable thriller, but there’s a lived-in quality to the movie that’s intriguing, as Durst taps into the distorted yearn of loneliness and infatuation, pulling dynamic work out of Travolta, who’s rarely this committed to a part. The endeavor is rickety at times, with a few surges of ridiculousness, but it remains enjoyably uneasy and terrifyingly real about life in Los Angeles, with Durst finally making a real cinematic impression with his third helming effort. Read the rest at

Film Review - Before You Know It


Marketing a small indie film to the masses isn’t easy, but the push for “Before You Know It” makes it look like a charming New York City neuroses comedy, similar in style and tone to Noah Baumbach and Woody Allen. The feature has funny business, but co-screenwriters/stars Jen Tullock and Hannah Pearl Utt (who also directs) are more invested in dramatic texture, always on the hunt for human moments when it comes to the trials of maturation and family. This isn’t a slight picture, but a carefully considered one, with deep emotion under its sitcom-ready plot, with Utt working hard to maintain concentration on her characters, treating their concerns seriously while enjoying their somewhat charged interactions. Read the rest at

Film Review - Angel of Mine


Noomi Rapace is an intense actress. She rarely plays light roles that offer a peek at the sunnier side of cinematic fantasy. Instead, she takes on the gut-rot parts that have her screaming in pain or suppressing emotion to such a degree, her ears wiggle. Rapace has been on a tear with darker material in recent years, acting herself into a frenzy in “Close,” “What Happened to Monday,” and “Rupture.” She continues her career riot with “Angel of Mine,” which asks the talented thespian to portray possible madness in escalating offerings of distress. Screenwriters Luke Davies and David Regal have plenty of agony for Rapace to work her hands through, and she’s a magnetic lead for the picture, which has some issues with pace and the potency of reveals, but rarely falters when it comes to the primal scream Rapace provides without hesitation. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Street Fighter's Last Revenge


"The Return of the Street Fighter" pushed the titular character into a super-spy direction, giving him a suave presence to best boost the sequel's appeal to audience and play into the trends of the day, with Roger Moore's take on James Bond reaching audiences around the globe. In 1974's "The Street Fighter's Last Revenge," the producers give star Sonny Chiba a chance to fully graduate to a 007-type, finding a once feral character transformed into man of style and action, with a few tricks up his sleeve. "The Street Fighter's Last Revenge" seems miles away from the original picture, as the final film in the trilogy offers an increase in production polish and fantasy, losing much of the edge that fueled the first two chapters. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Return of the Street Fighter


Sonny Chiba battles his way into new danger with 1974's "The Return of the Street Fighter." Well, at least semi-new danger, with the production returning a few old enemies to the roster of baddies who want Chiba's seemingly immortal character dead. While brutality remains, this round of martial arts mayhem is noticeably calmer than the previous chapter, with director Shigehiro Ozawa offering more style and 007-esque entanglements, taking the opportunity to refine the "Street Fighter" formula. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Street Fighter


The man, the myth, the legend, Sonny Chiba, cements his position as a martial arts movie draw with 1974's "The Street Fighter," delivering a full- body performance that single-handedly keeps the sometimes iffy feature together. He's a force of nature here, going nuclear for director Shigehiro Ozawa, who assembles a competent run of combat sequences, making the most of his star, who's always ready to deliver with full power, Kabuki- style reactions, and a deep commitment to a tale that's not as interesting as he is. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Dances with Wolves


For the first time, Shout Factory brings the Theatrical Cut (181:06) of "Dances with Wolves" to Region A Blu-ray, offering admirers a chance to revisit the original edit of the picture, previously available on disc via an Extended Cut (233:49), which is also included in the package. While the Extended Cut provides a special viewing experience more in line with the material's literary origin (developing its darkness and characterization), the Theatrical Cut is best known, representing the version most audiences connected with back in 1990. While there isn't a new scan to savor, Shout Factory steps up to deliver the best possible package with available materials, offering a 3-disc set that collects previous supplements to best archive the history of the picture. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Pledge


The experience of pledging a fraternity has been used to power many tales of discomfort, horror, and humiliation. It's a setting that permits numerous opportunities for excess and exploitation, encouraging a high level of screen chaos to accurately represent hellacious behavior from problematic personalities. In recent years, dramatic offerings such as "Goat" and "Burning Sands" have dissected the psychological fracture of hazing, examining the blurred lines of brotherhood, but "Pledge" doesn't share the same delicate understanding of need. It's a horror experience from director Daniel Robbins and screenwriter Zack Weiner, and one that delivers all types of torturous actions and survival panic. It's a refreshingly short, straightforward nightmare that benefits from simplicity, generating a visceral viewing event that's periodically interrupted by cartoonish extremes. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Gas Pump Girls


Emerging from the depths of drive-in cinema is 1979's "Gas Pump Girls," and a title like that conjures images of pure sleaze and shamelessness. Co- writer/director Joel Bender doesn't have the vision to truly live up to expectations, creating a slightly more innocent take on the way of topless women and their daily problems with men. It's extreme R-rated fluff from the helmer, who's not the best when piecing together shenanigans or dealing with plot, but he does find a lightness to the picture that keeps it approachable, spending just as much time with comedy as he does ogling women. "Gas Pump Girls" isn't refined, but it understands what it is, delivering low-budget escapism with a distinct late-'70s atmosphere. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Jacob's Ladder (2019)


Shot three years ago, “Jacob’s Ladder” is finally seeing the light of day after spending time gathering dust on a shelf. Of course, we’ve been here before, as the picture is a remake of a 1990 Adrian Lyne movie, and one of his better ones too, offering viewers a nightmarish glimpse of limbo, tackling the ravages of war, the deception of government, and the private pain of one man battling his eroding reality. It’s an outstanding feature. The 2019 do-over isn’t, far from it, putting David M Rosenthal (“How It Ends”) in charge of reworking a challenging premise for a modern audience used to jump scares and CGI-laden freak-outs. While certain plot elements have been changed to add some freshness, the majority of the endeavor is the same. If you’ve seen the original “Jacob’s Ladder,” you already know what’s going to happen. If you’ve never seen “Jacob’s Ladder,” why on earth would you start with this version? Read the rest at

Film Review - I Am Patrick Swayze


The “I Am” documentary series doesn’t have it easy, offered less than 90 minutes to cover the entire lives of their subjects, with many of these people in possession of incredible personal histories. After installments such as “I Am Richard Pryor” and “I Am MLK Jr.” comes “I Am Patrick Swayze,” which arrives on the 10th anniversary of his death. With Swayze, there’s plenty of ground to cover, with the man a dancer, a cowboy, a singer, and an actor, filling a full life of achievements and desires. Director Adrian Buitenhuis (“I Am Paul Walker,” “I Am Sam Kinison”) encounters yet another challenge of storytelling, faced with the enormity of Swayze’s accomplishments and the lasting magic of his presence. While it’s unfortunate there’s not more time to dig into the details of Swayze’s experience, Buitenhuis gets most of the way there, supporting his picture with engaged and emotional interviews with family, friends, and co-workers who have a lot to say about the late star. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Angel Has Fallen


It wouldn’t take much for “Angel Has Fallen” to become the best installment in a most unlikely franchise. The adventures of Mike Banning, powerhouse Secret Service agent, began in 2013’s “Olympus Has Fallen,” and continued with 2016’s “London Has Fallen,” with the pictures primarily out to create a cartoon realm for the heroic character, keeping him battered but never broken, always ready for a rah-rah-America pose to light up the crowds. The series has found its audience, but anything resembling a creative achievement has been missing. “Angel Has Fallen” isn’t a complete break from the “Fallen” formula, but the writing isn’t obsessed with jaw-pumping acts of aggression, preferring, for the first time, to treat Mike as a human being between scenes of bodily harm. There’s something more interesting going on in the movie, which provides a decent adrenaline shot of action while still managing some tender areas of fragility. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ready or Not


With their last feature, 2014’s “Devil’s Due,” directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillet were chasing a trend, assigned to create a found-footage movie that was a pure paint-by-numbers affair. The partners seemed to be surviving that one just to get a picture made in Hollywood. With “Ready or Not,” the duo might be starting a trend, finding a semi-fresh avenue to explore when it comes to cinematic frights, bringing an especially violent round of Hide and Seek to the multiplex, courtesy of screenwriters Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy. Learning from their mistakes, the helmers avoid playing expected notes of horror, instead working very carefully to keep “Ready or Not” unpredictable as it samples bodily harm and family antagonisms. The third act isn’t as sturdy as it could be, but the movie is dynamite sicko entertainment, having a blast with ghastly events and demented characters. Read the rest at

Film Review - After the Wedding


Writer/director Bart Freundlich once worked with actors Julianne Moore and Billy Crudup repeatedly, boosting the thespian potential of offerings such as “The Myth of Fingerprints,” “World Traveler,” and “Trust the Man.” The helmer took a little break from these collaborations for recent efforts such as “The Rebound” and “Wolves,” but Freundlich has returned to his senses, reuniting with Moore and Crudup for “After the Wedding,” which is a remake of a 2006 Susanne Bier picture that starred Mads Mikkelsen. These are big shoes to fill, but Freundlich has the power of his performers (joined by Michelle Williams), who help to carry a somewhat overstuffed drama that takes on more painful events than it can comfortably handle. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Peanut Butter Falcon


Writer/directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz dare to turn “The Peanut Butter Falcon” into semi-sweet picture, ending up in comforting areas of friendliness despite delivering a plot that encounters plans of revenge and broken spirits. There’s a crowd-pleasing element to much of the movie, which details an unexpected partnership, but the helmers don’t dunk the endeavor in syrup. “The Peanut Butter Falcon” earns much of its sentiment, with Nilson and Schwartz riding excellent casting and evocative locations to a satisfying sit. The title promises unrelenting quirk, but the film isn’t lost to a case of the cutes, earning emotion with a sensitive understanding of friendships and loss to go with its periodical offerings of oddity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Burn


Making his feature-length directorial debut, Mike Gan (who also scripts) returns to a source a major employment and criminal woe in cinema: the gas station. “Burn” examines an overnight shift for a particularly disturbed employee, who’s forced to deal with her own psychological limitations as she’s confronted with a violent situation, and Gan is tasked with using a tight location to explore an unfolding nightmare for all involved. The premise is familiar, but Gan scores big with suspense for the first hour of the movie, creating appealing agitation and intimidation as a small criminal idea expands into a hellish survival situation. There’s a lot of confidence to “Burn,” and a smart casting find in lead Tilda Cobham-Hervey, who carries the picture with exceptional commitment. Read the rest at

Film Review - Tone-Deaf


Writer/director Richard Bates Jr. enjoys making dark comedies. He’s presented his fandom in “Suburban Gothic,” and showed real imagination with 2016’s “Trash Fire,” his last picture. Returning to the range of bloodshed and satire, the helmer aims for millennial rage with “Tone-Deaf,” which surveys an older generation growing weary of American youth and all their issues, while a twentysomething tries to find her comfort zone in a world that relishes any chance to deprive her of stability. Bates Jr. can’t stick the landing, but “Tone-Deaf” is devilishly hilarious for the first two acts, diving into murky psychological waters to trigger some spooky and surreal stuff for genre fans, but also retaining a defined sense of humor, with amusing amplification of common generational issues, having a good time poking a stick at people of all ages. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hot Air


“Hot Air” hopes to tap into current frustrations with partisan politics and cultural divide by telling the story of a conservative radio host who finds himself while dealing with a family emergency. Unfortunately, screenwriter Will Reichel isn’t making a satire or a particularly pointed take on the nature of media manipulation, instead going all ooey gooey with material, which is just short of a Disney movie. There should be more of an edge to the endeavor, which surveys intentionally broad personalities and the nature of show business when it comes to the selling of political discourse, but Reichel aims to make something very soft, eschewing laughs and reality to create a tale about a hard man confronting his traumatic past with help from a young woman. “Hot Air” makes an early promise for comedy, but doesn’t stay interested in farce for very long. Read the rest at