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August 2019

September 2019

Blu-ray Review - The Chosen


Watching as Gregory Peck soared to new box office heights with 1976's "The Omen," Kirk Douglas decided he wanted in on the trend of satanic panic features. Enter the Italian Film Industry, offering the star of "Spartacus" a chance to participate in the subgenre with 1977's "The Chosen" (titled "Holocaust 2000" on the disc), with Douglas offered a role that has him decoding the apocalypse, racing against time to confront an evil he doesn't immediately understand. To be blunt, the picture is no "Omen." It's not even "Omen II," but "The Chosen" does have Douglas, who delivers a fully squeezed take on parental horror and corporate shame, giving everything to a B-movie guided by Alberto De Martino, helmer of "The Pumaman." Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Her Smell


Writer/director Alex Ross Perry specializes in off-beat character examinations, and he's done depressive downfall with actress Elisabeth Moss before, in 2015's "Queen of Earth." Their collaboration was powerful then and remains vibrantly poisonous in "Her Smell," with Perry taking his fixation with mental illness to the alternative rock realm, dialing back the clock to the mid-1990s to examine the complete and utter erosion of a music star. Perry doesn't pull punches here, creating a deep sea dive into madness, with Moss going for broke in a turn that runs exclusively on pain and shame. "Her Smell" demands an audience with the ability to remain in the vortex of a nervous breakdown for 135 minutes, and those with the proper preparation are rewarded with a raw, often thrilling display of behavioral excess. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Sinatra in Palm Springs: The Place He Called Home


"Sinatra in Palm Springs: The Place He Called Home" is a 2018 documentary that explores the singer's history in the California city, where one of the most famous men in the world would go to get away from the grind of touring and celebrity. Director Leo Zahn presents a travelogue of sorts, armed with drones and file footage to piece together an understanding of Sinatra's backyard, tracking his multiple homes, favorite places, and philanthropic efforts in his lifelong quest to better the area, which provided him with a feeling of safety and community he craved. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Knife+Heart


Co-writer/director Yann Gonzalez endeavors to recreate a classic 1970s giallo with "Knife+Heart," and while many filmmakers these days want to play in the fields of blood and style, Gonzalez almost achieves an accurate recreation of the subgenre's ferocity. It's a creepy picture at times, blessed with a strong visual presence that toys with Argento colors and ultraviolence, while star Vanessa Paradise gives the performance of her career here, making sure every morsel of pain is chewed in full as she heads wherever Gonzales leads. Read the rest at

Film Review - Between Two Ferns: The Movie


“Between Two Ferns” debuted in 2008 on Funny or Die, launching as a parody of public access talk show, with hosting duties assigned to comedian Zach Galifianakis. His job was to command a spare set decorated with the titular ferns, slyly roasting celebrity guests with invasive questions and inappropriate comments. The shorts were sporadically released, but they managed to develop a cult following, soon attracting A-list stars such as Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis, while former President Barack Obama elected to have some fun on the program, giving unexpected legitimacy to something that was never meant to be more than a big goof. Co-creator Scott Aukerman apparently wants something grander for the production, scripting and helming “Between Two Ferns: The Movie,” which presents a cross-country adventure for Galifianakis and his special sense of humor, with the director trying to taffy-pull a one-note concept into a feature-length laugh riot. Read the rest at

Film Review - Rambo: Last Blood


In the mid-2000s, Sylvester Stallone announced he was going to revisit his two most popular characters, Rambo and Rocky, in fresh sequels, returning to the source of his greatest successes to get his stagnant career moving again. The news was met with a collective yawn, but Stallone wasn’t messing around, delivering an unexpectedly emotional “Rocky Balboa” in 2006, and a shockingly visceral “Rambo” in 2008. Suddenly, both of these iconic fighters were relevant again, with the fourth outing for John Rambo an eye-opening descent into Burmese torture and mercenary braggadocio, leaving it up to the titular soldier to return to duty in a most merciless way. It was a glorious bloodbath with a definitive conclusion, but grosses were strong, inspiring Stallone to erase the full-circle beauty of the feature and return to the heavy-hearted bruiser once again for “Rambo: Last Blood.” Read the rest at

Film Review - Ad Astra


Writer/director James Gray always makes esoteric features, but often excellent ones, distancing himself from commercial success with recent efforts such as “The Immigrant” and “The Lost City of Z.” It’s rather surprising that something like “Ad Astra” even exists, but that’s the power of Brad Pitt, who’s managed to use his industry standing to help Gray get the movie made, with the lead role offering the actor a chance to play vulnerable and silent, often utilized only to react to the problems at hand. Gray isn’t making “Gravity” with “Ad Astra,” staying artful and insular with the production, which has its share of thrills, but remains meditative more often than not. It’s a stunning film, but not an easy accessible one, requiring a little more patience from its audience, giving Gray permission to gradually assemble his particular brand of cinematic concentration. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ms. Purple


After breaking through with his 2017 L.A. Riots drama, “Gook,” co-writer/director Justin Chon returns with “Ms. Purple,” which remains interested in violence, only here the struggle largely remains internalized. Observing the interplay and emotional processing occurring between two siblings dealing with their comatose father, Chon remains with a limited budget but strives to go as deep as possible, exploring pure behaviors from frustrated characters as they confront disappointment and shame, trying to keep up with the world while sinking into depression. “Ms. Purple” is a heavy picture but a satisfying one, with the production not out to deliver answers when it comes to the disappointments and mistakes of life, showing more interest in how the brother and sister process swarming thoughts, giving the feature a deeply soulful approach. Read the rest at

Film Review - Corporate Animals


There aren’t many comedies made about cannibalism. It takes a special filmmaking touch to blend unimaginable horror with jokes, and director Patrick Brice (“The Overnight,” “Creep”) gets most of the way there with “Corporate Animals.” While there are a few macabre events in the movie, the screenplay by Sam Bain is more of a workplace comedy, tapping into office irritations and resentments as a team-building exercise turns into a lengthy challenge of survival. “Corporate Animals” might be relatable for some, but it really wants to be silly business for all, and while Bain can’t dream up interesting setbacks for the cast of characters, he scores more often than not, while Brice manages to transform a static setting into a war of quirks, personal histories, and hunger pains. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bloodline


Seann William Scott’s professional output has been limited in recent years, hired to reignite dwindling interest in Fox’s “Lethal Weapon” television show, while making a few movies here and there, including the wonderful “Goon” and its less interesting sequel, “Goon: Last of the Enforcers.” A newly focused actor returns with “Bloodline,” which offers Scott a rare genre outing, challenged to play a serial killer with a conscience, targeting abusers, using his education in the ways of evil to deliver his own sense of justice. Scott is a good fit for co-writer/director Henry Jacobson’s vision, playing an emotionless void with enjoyable precision, while the production itself is teeming with ugliness, but it never feels exploitative. “Bloodline” slips into a coma in its final act, but Jacobson’s opening hour is engrossing, locating neat ways to disturb the audience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Running with the Devil


The war on drugs receives a B-movie audit with “Running with the Devil,” which takes a look at the supply chain for cocaine as poison is born in Columbia and slowly but surely makes its way into America and Canada. Writer/director Jason Cabell isn’t invested in the deep, dark psychological spaces of the battle, but he’s pretty good with procedure, keeping things most interesting when the feature steps away from characterization, exploring the effort required to make a fortune in the drug business. “Running with the Devil” doesn’t keep a poker face for the whole picture, as Cabell has actors that need something to do, and he tries to concoct a screenplay that delivers passable motivation for all. The helmer is less successful with dramatics (after all, Cabell is competing with television shows covering the same subject matter), but the film has enough cross-country concentration to pass, highlighting levels of profits and paranoia. Read the rest at

Film Review - Auggie


2013’s “Her” tackled the issue of intimacy involving the presence of artificial intelligence, capturing how loneliness is tempted by emotional connection, even with a computer program. “Auggie” basically tells the same story, but in a much more realistic way, eschewing futurism to explore the average seduction of technology as it faces a newly retired man struggling to retain his identity while everything he holds dear is pulled away from him. “Auggie” isn’t profound, but it does offer a wonderful lead performance from Richard Kind, and co-writer/director Matt Kane has a few observations on marriage and companionship that support the material through times when it becomes slightly confused with tone and its ultimate assignment of guilt. Read the rest at

Film Review - Zeroville


While many movies go through release delays, picking up a little dust while the distributor tries to find a workable launch date, “Zeroville” has had a devil of a time seeing the light of day. Shot five years ago, the feature has struggled to lure in a company to release it, and after watching the film, it’s easy to understand why. It’s not a disaster, but this adaptation of Steve Erickson’s 2007 novel doesn’t make it easy on the audience, with director James Franco trying to capture the elusive oddity of the original work by reveling in his cinematic indulgences, laboring to remain stylish and enigmatic, which tuckers out the picture in a hurry. Boasting a cast of known actors, “Zeroville” declines most opportunities to become something interesting, more concerned with satisfying Franco’s ego than examining a riveting story set during a critical time in the evolution of Hollywood. Read the rest at

Film Review - 3 from Hell


Taking a break from being a rock star, Rob Zombie transitioned to filmmaking with 2003’s “House of 1000 Corpses.” It wasn’t exactly a stunning directorial debut, but it had plenty of style and even more Zombie-approved exploitation cinema chaos. He revisited the world of the Firefly Family in 2005’s “The Devil’s Rejects,” finding his helming groove with a spectacular ode to drive-in movies while packing in even more Zombie-fied madness, marrying real intensity to his customary dosage of R-rated, southern-fried horseplay. 14 years later, Zombie is back in Firefly country with “3 from Hell,” and the divide in time between installments shows throughout the endeavor, which doesn’t quite have the macabre highlights of “1000 Corpses” or the confidence of “Rejects.” The production has intermittent hellraising to share, but Zombie seems more fatigued for this go-around, often unable to overcome his severely limited budget and best the previous efforts with his game cast. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Can't Stop the Music


1980 was a special year. It was a time when producers wanted to give the world disco-laden musicals long after disco died, just barely missing the trend while spending an unfortunate amount of money to bring colorful fantasies to life. The year delivered "The Apple" and "Xanadu," but the first one out of the gate was "Can't Stop the Music," which was proudly promoted as the cinematic experience of the 1980s, while featuring talent from the 1970s. It's better known as the origin story for Village People, a singing group famous for hits such as "Macho Man" and "Y.M.C.A." It's their "Bohemian Rhapsody," only slightly more believable, with director Nancy Walker and co-producer Allan Carr using the camp factor of the band to launch their version of 1930s musical, doing whatever they can to maintain the fun factor of a production that's in dire need of a tighter edit and a 1978 release date. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Mountaintop Motel Massacre


1983's "Mountaintop Motel Massacre" requires a great deal of patience from the viewer. It's not something that leaps off the screen, with director Jim McCullough Sr. (Jim McCullough Jr. takes care of scripting duties) taking his time building mood with the picture. The first act is slow and relatively uneventful, but once the characters all fall into place, "Mountaintop Motel Massacre" reveals itself to be a different kind of slasher film, at least with its unexpected antagonist and strange acts of menace. There's no masked killer here preying on coeds, with McCullough Sr. looking for weirder ways to dispatch personalities who've made the mistake of stopping to rest at a rural Louisiana motel. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Satan's Slave


For his first horror outing, director Norman J. Warren doesn't quite lunge for a fear factor with 1976's "Satan's Slave." Instead of winding up suspense and unleashing terror, he's made an incredibly talky endeavor that's big on fine performances but low on chills. There's no visceral rush to be found in the endeavor, which strives for more of a psychological freak-out, only turning to random blasts of ultraviolence when Warren realizes that characters conversing for so long doesn't exactly encourage a macabre joyride. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Blackout


Before "Die Hard," there was "Blackout," with the 1978 release trying to raise some hell with a cop vs. baddies war set inside a high-rise building. It's a scrappy Canadian production trying to play into disaster movie trends, using the real-world nightmare of the 1977 New York City blackout to inspire sleazy violence and lackluster supercop heroism. It's certainly aggressive, but also sloppy, delivering drive-in thrills with limited appreciation for tight editing and multi-character juggling. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Nightbeast


A B-movie director who never seems to possess a budget that matches his visual ambition, Don Dohler found some success with 1976's "The Alien Factor," which managed to find its audience in the late-'70s cable scramble for everything sci-fi. He went on to make "Fiend," another chiller, but with 1982's "Nightbeast," Dohler returns to his first inspiration, basically remaking "The Alien Factor" with a slightly higher budget and slightly lower standards. Instead of trying to mount a semi-thoughtful understanding of human impatience when dealing with the unknown, Dohler kicks out the jams and launches "Nightbeast" with oodles of gore and nudity, also doing away with the concept of alien complications, making the monster here pure evil and in a mood to eliminate as many earthlings as possible. It's a sleazy, violent adventure, also identifying the helmer's newfound disregard for nuance, going full steam ahead into R-rated waters. Read the rest at

Film Review - Downton Abbey (2019)


“Downton Abbey” premiered in 2010, with creator Julian Fellowes attempting to return some old-fashioned class conflict to television, reviving the “Upstairs, Downstairs” formula to explore the world of the elite and those hired to serve them. The ITV series was a smash, inspiring a passionate fanbase and renewing the urgency of PBS programming in America, where the show managed to become a phenomenon. For 52 episodes, Fellowes guided viewers through the ups and down of life on a grand English estate, creating memorable characters and tastefully manipulative drama, relying heavily on refined production values and the sheer charms of the ensemble, who never failed the program. Four years after the series concluded, “Downton Abbey” is back, only now the saga of the Crawley Family has turned to the big screen for a suitable return, challenging Fellowes to pack in a season’s worth of mischief, manners, and longing into 120 minutes. He’s up for the task, and while “Downton Abbey” isn’t a revelation, it remains reliable entertainment, careful to deliver what the faithful expect from the brand name. Read the rest at