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August 2019

Blu-ray Review - Kuffs


Christian Slater doesn't get enough credit for his professional choices, especially during the heyday of his career. Here's a guy who was a teen heartthrob with a young fanbase, and Slater made "Heathers" and "Pump Up the Volume," while taking supporting parts in "Tales from the Darkside: The Movie," and "Young Guns II." It's not exactly a Tiger Beat-approved filmography. Slater didn't always churn out gold, but his tastes were varied, adding 1992's "Kuffs" to his legacy of oddball parts, fitted for his own action vehicle that's not shy about sharing influence from "Beverly Hills Cop," even recruiting "Axel F." creator Harold Faltermeyer to score the picture. "Kuffs" is an acquired taste, but for those who enjoy their Slater performances breezy and wiseacre-y, it's a tremendous amount of fun, with writers Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon offering idiosyncratic style and some strong violence to accompany their successful silly business. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires


Never one to turn away from a trend, Hammer Films wanted in on the kung fu cinema craze of the 1970s, teaming with Shaw Brothers Studio for 1974's "The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires." Such a collision of filming styles was meant to shake-up the vampire norm for Hammer, with this the ninth installment of the company's Dracula series, ultimately becoming their final effort to squeeze some cash out of bloodsucker dealings. While not a refined endeavor resembling other gothic chapters in the saga, "7 Golden Vampires" offers something more animated to help energize the production, dealing with martial arts and Asian mysticism to supply a varied adventure for the characters, while horror needs are tended to with zombie hordes and vampiric interests. Perhaps it's not elegant, but the feature is awfully fun to watch. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Black Site


Writer/director Tom Paton has a vision for genre entertainment, working to give "Black Site" a colossal backstory involving the longstanding presence of alien deities on Earth and the human force assigned to contain and deport them back to an unknown dimension. The helmer strives to create an epic showdown between man and monster, turning to heavy John Carpenter influences to help grease the path to sci-fi/horror glory. There's a lot to take in while watching "Black Site," and while its ambition is engaging, Paton bites off far more than he can chew, fighting to make a cinematic event with a low budget that can't support such lofty filmmaking goals. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Slay Belles


The Christmas season receives a jolt of the macabre with "Slay Belles." Co-writer/director SpookyDan Walker turns to comedy and horror to spread holiday cheer, reawakening the plague of Krampus, who's become a popular fixture in the genre, becoming the go-to menace for many filmmakers. Walker tends to view the monster in a more lighthearted manner, creating something of a cartoon with "Slay Belles," which delights in being over- the-top, hoping to conquer a limited budget by being as colorful and loud as possible. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Dry Blood


The horrors of addiction collide with the vastness of mental illness in "Dry Blood," which hopes to communicate the struggle of an individual who's taking on too much, trying to save his life while endangering it. Screenwriter Clint Carney (who also stars) has some extreme ideas when it comes the scenes where self-control is lost, creating a slow-burn endeavor that's not afraid to take this tale of a poisoned mind to its natural conclusion. "Dry Blood" has issues with performances and director Kelton Jones's mishandling of stasis, which he insists is suspense, but for his first feature- length endeavor, the helmer has some strong visual ideas and an encouraging commitment to Carney's illness. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sextuplets


Perhaps it’s friendship or blackmail that keeps them together, but actor Marlon Wayans doesn’t make a move without his primary collaborator, director Michael Tiddes. In six years, the duo has made four features together (“A Haunted House,” “A Haunted House 2,” “Fifty Shades of Black,” and “Naked”), which is an impressive professional run. It’s only a shame none of them are any good, with most of these efforts Ten Worst List-worthy, hammering audiences with some of the laziest comedy around, working to sell Wayans as some type of master physical comedian. The pair returns to duty with “Sextuplets,” which adds to their cringe-inducing filmography and continues their formula of pinching ideas from other movies/comedians, this time lifting from Eddie Murphy with this light riff on his multi-character “Nutty Professor” world. Read the rest at 

Film Review - 47 Meters Down: Uncaged


Two years ago, “47 Meters Down” enjoyed a movie release miracle, rescued from a DTV fate by Entertainment Studios, who purchased the film on the day of its DVD debut, with the company trying to cash in on shark fever at the cinema. The plan worked, with “47 Meters Down” managing to find an audience, keeping the subgenre alive for another season. This summer, the real aquatic action remains with alligators (from July’s excellent thriller, “Crawl”), but the suits aren’t about to leave money on the table, returning to the deep with “47 Meters Down: Uncaged,” which has nothing to do with the first picture, merely taking its title and sharks for another underwater joyride. Co-writer/director Johannes Roberts returns as well, newly empowered to dump character work and suspense, focused primarily on making a cheap scare machine that’s brainless and joyless, sticking with limp exploitation basics. Read the rest at

Film Review - Gwen


“Gwen” isn’t a horror film, but it’s one of the most unsettling pictures of the year. Writer/director William McGregor mounts a Welsh nightmare of poverty and instability, taking the titular character down a dark path of responsibility in the period piece. The feature isn’t something that jumps out at the viewer, it’s a slow-burn affair that details the gradual destruction of land and sanity, only McGregor has defined dramatic goals for the work, refreshingly trying to tell a story, not simply submerge the audience in extended, shapeless agony. “Gwen” is small in scale but quite effective, vibrating with a dark energy that keeps it on edge, while lead performances know exactly what to do when depicting dire circumstances, keeping characterizations alive. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Good Boys


Writer/directors Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg have their special approach to comedy, and they’ve stuck with it throughout their career, crafting a bomb in “Year One,” and finding surprising success with “Bad Teacher.” They like the crude stuff, avoiding the fine-tuning of jokes to have characters endlessly curse or deal only in sex jokes, recycling their two ideas ad nauseam. However, these patience-testers usually deal with adults working through rowdy content. “Good Boys” brings the world of R-ratedness to three 12 year olds, gifting them opportunities to…endlessly curse and deal only with sex jokes. The helmers aren’t aiming high with their latest endeavor, with “Good Boys” a sloppy collection of bad ideas sold haphazardly, with the production mostly aiming to be as vulgar as possible, hoping hilarity is found in the idea that pre-teens are delivering all the naughtiness. That concept works for a minute, but Stupnitsky and Eisenberg still have to fill the remaining 89. Read the rest at

Film Review - Luce


Director Julius Onah didn’t exactly win over a nation of film fans with his last picture, “The Cloverfield Paradox,” delivering a muddled, tiresome chapter in a developing sci-fi world, making sure to disappoint as many people as possible. It was a significant whiff with a hotly anticipated title, so perhaps the stripped down, theatrical presentation of “Luce” is a deliberate move back to basics, putting his camera into rooms, not the far reaches of space, to best examine guarded behavior slowly chipped away by painful truths. “Luce” (co-scripted by Onah and J.C. Lee, adapting his play) is a provocative study of parental protection and racial realities, staying tight on difficult situations of accusation, unearthing suspense much like a traditional thriller, only Onah stays with dialogue exchanges and subtle ways of acting, finding a fascinating rhythm of unease from unlikely sources. Read the rest at

Film Review - Driven


In the grand tradition of “A Bug’s Life” and “Antz,” “Finding Nemo” and “Shark Tale,” and “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon” comes “Driven,” which is the second movie detailing the life and times of John DeLorean to find release in 2019. In fact, just last month there was “Framing John DeLorean,” a strange hybrid of fact and fiction that strived to unearth the subject’s complex personality through interviews and visual evidence, but also included dramatic recreations to help find the drama in the flow of information. “Driven” isn’t a bio-pic, but it covers essentially the same ground, exploring John’s gargantuan ego as he tries to make an automotive dream a reality, only to stumble mightily, ending up in in front of a jury. Writer Colin Bateman attacks the DeLorean saga from a different angle, but he largely whiffs on creating tension, trying to a make a thriller out of inherently mundane tale of a rich man trying to buy nobility to cover his own insecurities. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Rust Creek


"Rust Creek" pulls a bit of a switcheroo on its audience. It's being marketed as a nail-biter, offered up as a chilling tale of survival in the deep woods of the American south. There are sections of the picture devoted to such irresistible thrills, but the endeavor is content to leave the nerve-shredding stuff behind for long stretches of screen time. The screenplay (credited to Julie Lipson and Stu Pollard) is more interested in character-based entanglements than straight scares, which gives "Rust Creek" a more intriguing dramatic pull, juggling the needs of genre entertainment with a deep psychological inspection of the crisis at hand. It's not a tightly constructed endeavor, which hurts it in the long run, but the movie has a vision for something different while still tending to expectations. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Between Worlds


Writer/director Maria Pulera is trying to make a brain-bleeder with "Between Worlds," attempting to blur the line of reality with a spirit-hopping story that, in some ways, looks to emulate a David Lynch film, even bringing in "Twin Peaks" composer Angelo Badalamenti to compose a theme for the endeavor. Pulera has the right idea with the casting of Nicolas Cage, who can turn anything into a mind-scrambler with the sheer force of his acting, but little else comes together in Pulera's feature, which possesses the ambition to bend space and time, but has the production value of a late night Cinemax movie. "Between Worlds" is weird but not polished, which doesn't encourage full immersion into the depths of this oddity. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Paradise Alley


1978 was a critical year in the career of Sylvester Stallone. In 1976, Stallone became a major Hollywood player with "Rocky," which he scripted, finding himself a primary participant in the highest-grossing film of year, which would go on to collect a Best Picture Oscar in 1977. Previously dealing with poverty and powerlessness in the business, Stallone could suddenly call his own shots, allowed to take his future wherever he wanted it to go. Two years after "Rocky," Stallone tried to tighten his dramatic chops in Norman Jewison's "F.I.S.T." -- a pairing that didn't win over audiences. And then there was "Paradise Alley," which gifted the star a chance to command his own vision, making his directorial debut with the effort. Stallone's intent with the movie isn't difficult to decode, setting out to replicate a melodrama from the 1950s, but the shadow of "Rocky" remains on the endeavor, which labors to find a comfortable middle ground between underdog cinema manipulation and a gritty, unsentimental study of broken people and shattered dreams in the harsh reality of life in the big city. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Brain


A 1988 production from Canada, "The Brain" depicts a fantasy world where the population is controlled by a dangerous con man on television who wants to control the world via mental manipulation. Okay, maybe the premise isn't sci-fi at all, especially with today's glut of television programming, but "The Brain" does have a horror angle as it transforms into a monster movie, with the titular creature making multiple appearances to give the endeavor jolts of the macabre to keep it alert. Screenwriter Barry Pearson is on a mission to supply commentary on trash T.V., while director Ed Hunt labors to make the picture exciting, collaborating on a diverting B-movie that's competently assembled, finely shaded with humor, and gung-ho with creature feature exploitation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Blinded by the Light


In a summer season that’s already celebrated the music of The Beatles through fantasy (in June’s “Yesterday”), it seems only natural to make way for Bruce Springsteen and his working class perspective for “Blinded by the Light,” a tale of fandom in the 1980s and something of a bio-pic for writer Sarfraz Manzoor, whose book, “Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll,” has inspired the screenplay. The film isn’t explicitly a jukebox musical working through Springsteen’s ample discography, but it certainly threatens to become one. Co-writer/director Gurinder Chadha (“Bend It Like Beckham”) is making a coming-of-age drama, but guitar spirit often takes command of the feature, which is even more of an audience-pleaser than “Yesterday,” even while working with far more sobering tunes. “Blinded by the Light” doesn’t know when to quit, but it’s loaded with charm and always attentive to heart, offering viewers the ride of life in motion, backed by the rock poetry of The Boss. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Angry Birds Movie 2


Three years ago, there was “The Angry Birds Movie.” It was a film nobody asked for, meant to cash in on a brand that was on the decline, and it managed to do some business during the summer season. Not exactly Disney numbers, but enough to keep the Rovio Entertainment corporate dream alive for a few more years. And now there’s “The Angry Birds Movie 2,” which doesn’t have a prime summer release date, but seems more energized to make sure audiences walk away from the picture satisfied with frenzied cartoon antics. The reality is the sequel is an improvement on the uninspired original effort, but that doesn’t automatically turn it into quality entertainment. The approach has been tightened, challenges are easily identified, and animation is more elastic, but 90 minutes of noise is still 90 minutes of noise, even when it’s brightly decorated and supported by celebrity voices. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Vanishing


Gerard Butler hasn't enjoyed the most artistically satisfying career in recent years. In fact, he's toplined a lot of garbage, with such titles as "Gods of Egypt," "Geostorm," and "Hunter Killer" tarnishing what remains of his star power. He's never had the best taste in screenplays, but Butler finally locates material that fits him well in "The Vanishing," a Scottish dramatization of the Flannan Isles Mystery, where three lighthouse keepers vanished in 1900 during their six-week stint on the island. While Butler is asked to play up his natural burliness, there's also emotional darkness to manage, becoming part of a hauntingly performed psychological study. It's some of his best work, finally focusing on something more than Hollywood domination. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Backtrace


We've already dealt with the VOD filmmaking stylings of director Brian A. Miller this past year. His last picture, "Reprisal," was released back in August, adding another dud to his growing filmography of forgettable cinema, which includes "Vice," "The Outsider," and "The Prince." Keeping up his interests in B-movies with nondescript titles, Miller issues "Backtrace," which doesn't deviate at all from his formula of limited locations, amateur supporting actors, and enough money in the budget to entice one big star. Bruce Willis slept through "Reprisal," and now it's Sylvester Stallone's turn to pick up a paycheck, giving a few days out of his busy schedule to pretend to act interested in a dreary thriller concerning soggy memories and a stashed bag of cash. "Backtrace" has no creative fingerprints, with Miller rehashing all his low-budget helming tricks to arrange yet another tedious rodeo of cliches. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Prospect


Looking to make their mark on the sci-fi genre, writer/directors Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl merge their original vision for "Prospect" with tributes to the features they admire. It's a striking endeavor finding ways to work with a low budget but not be restrained by one, delivering a futureworld vision for space travel and alien landscapes. The seams are difficult to find here, with the helmers paying close attention to frame details and design elements, working to make sure the film is as distinct as possible with the money available. Such a technical accomplishment is worthy of celebration. It's the rest of "Prospect" that's difficult to digest, as Caldwell and Zeek are often so wrapped up in positioning creative achievements, they forget to construct a more involving screenplay, which works very hard to create a language of professional and personal experience that's difficult to appreciate. Read the rest at