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September 2019

Blu-ray Review - The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood


1980's "The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood" is the third chapter of a most unlikely franchise, following 1975's "The Happy Hooker" (starring Lynn Redgrave) and 1977's "The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington" (starring Joey Heatherton). The movies are based on a best-selling memoir by Xaviera Hollander, who cashed in on the sexual revolution, sharing tales of lust, love, and financial transactions, fueling fantasies for those on the outside of the prostitution business. Martine Beswick takes over as Xaviera for "The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood," which receives the full Cannon Films treatment as the series steps into the 1980s, bringing with it a farcical tone and strange supporting cast of television talents from the 1960s. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Eagle's Wing


From Anthony Harvey, the director of "The Lion in Winter," 1979's "Eagle's Wing" hopes to give viewers a taste of the True West, going beyond simple frontier conflicts to delve into complex situations of deep psychology. It's a meditation on survival and connection, but Harvey also orders up chases and stunts, while cinematography by Billy Williams protects the glory of wide open spaces in their purest, untouched form. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Blaze


Ethan Hawke wanted to make a movie about a country singer who isn't widely known. The subject's name is Blaze Foley, and a portion of his life and times is recreated for "Blaze," which is co-written by his ex-wife, Sybil, giving the production a potential level of authenticity as it explores a deeply flawed man with special musical gift. Hawke takes the blessing and runs with it, delivering a picture that's not precisely a bio-pic, but a tone poem to a man who lived a very insular and problematic life. Read the rest at

Film Review - Devil's Revenge


There’s only one reason why anyone would want to see “Devil’s Revenge,” and his name is William Shatner. While he’s quick to take any work, Shatner doesn’t make too many film appearances these days, and this particular production is using the image of the 88-year-old actor armed with a shotgun ready to take on hellbeasts from below to sell the feature. The truth is that Shatner is barely in the movie, and while director Jared Cohn does present footage of the iconic actor blasting away demonic baddies, there’s a lot more to the endeavor than simple, campy delights. Cohn has a mess on his hands, though one that’s surprisingly confident with its offering of spelunking, Satanic armies, and generational contempt. Such certainty is welcome, but the effort goes wrong in several ways. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Death of Dick Long


Director Daniel Scheinert previously co-helmed 2016’s “Swiss Army Man,” delivering a semi-sincere offering of absurdity that believed in the distorted power of the human mind and the wonders of flatulence. Crazily, Scheinert returns to the mysteries of the rectum with “The Death of Dick Long,” which also endeavors to merge extremity with genuineness, this time moving away from fantasy to explore a small-town loss with a blend of humor and criminal investigation. “The Death of Dick Long” isn’t the film it initially seems to be, which is a good thing, as Scheinert successfully disrupts expectations throughout. Where it ultimately leads is going to be a matter of personal taste, and while the feature can be frustratingly sluggish at times, it remains compelling due to idiosyncratic characterization and moments of screwball law enforcement entanglements, gradually transforming into an Alabama version of “Fargo.” Read the rest at

Film Review - Judy


As we experience a full year of movies about musical artists, “Judy” has the distinction of being old news in many ways, as the life and times of Judy Garland has been thoroughly examined in books, magazine articles, documentaries, and a respected 2001 mini-series, “Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows.” There has to be something fresh here to hold attention, and screenwriter finds something of worth in Peter Quilter’s play, “End of the Rainbow,” which depicts the highs and lows of Garland’s five-week run of shows in London in early 1969. Director Rupert Goold (“True Story”) doesn’t have much room for an expansive understanding of Garland’s demons and talents, but he does reasonably well with “Judy,” which struggles some with repetition but contains a powerhouse performance from Renee Zellweger to keep it together, with the actress doing an incredible job becoming Garland with full-body immersion. Read the rest at

Film Review - Abominable


Yeti mania began with last September’s “Smallfoot,” which delivered big screen mischief featuring the mythical beast. It continued with last spring’s “Missing Link,” which also touched on Yeti business and featured a climax set in the Himalayas, taking the action way up high. And now there’s “Abominable,” which tries to summon excitement for another tale of a Yeti on the loose who needs to return to the Himalayas. What it lacks in originality it makes up for in charm, as “Abominable,” while exceedingly formulaic, is the most charming of the three monster endeavors, with writer/director Jill Culton (“Open Season”) focusing on pace for her grand adventure, keeping the effort on the move, with mild jokes and a big heart making sure the picture remains with viewers long after it’s over. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Sound of Silence


“The Sound of Silence” is a very intimate picture about the bigness of the world around us. Co-writer/director Michael Tyburski shows some stretch marks while trying to expand his short film into a feature-length endeavor, but he presents numerous ideas on the potency of sonic disorder and emotional denial in the drama, giving what becomes a tale about two people figuring each other out some sophistication and necessary tension. “The Sound of Silence” is short and doesn’t build up many dramatic challenges, but Tyburski displays confidence with what he has, leaning on star Peter Sarsgaard to articulate the frustration of a man who’s uncovered an aural code to the city, but can’t escape his own shortcomings as a vulnerable human being. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar


While we live in the age of "Drag Race" and other programs that examine (and occasionally celebrate) the world of drag queen culture, perhaps it's hard to imagine that 24 years ago, a film like "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar" was considered a major risk for Hollywood. While 1994's "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" managed to find business across the globe, the concept of putting major action stars in a road movie about helpful drag queens wasn't something the studios were rushing to make. Steven Spielberg and his Amblin Entertainment provided support for the project, giving Douglas Carter Beane's screenplay a chance to be realized without being watered down, while director Beeban Kidron provides production leadership, hoping to preserve elements and messages Beane works hard to communicate. However, while an appealing picture with a big heart, the core appeal of "To Wong Foo" are the actors, with Patrick Swayze and Wesley Snipes providing pure commitment to their parts, while John Leguizamo contributes the right kind of sass to sell the visual of three fabulous girls experiencing the challenge of a lifetime during a stay in small-town America. Read the rest at

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