DVD/BLU-RAY

Blu-ray Review - Critters

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Speak to somebody associated with the production of 1986's "Critters," and they often swear the screenplay was written before the creation of 1984's "Gremlins," the Joe Dante-directed masterpiece that gifted the world a Christmas of chaos featuring the antics of mischievous, murderous knee-high creatures rampaging their way through a small town. Of course, "Critters" isn't set during the holiday season, but the picture also enjoys the destructive abilities of tiny monsters working to take over a rural community. I'm not sure why there's such a defensive attitude about the similarities between the endeavors, as there's room for both movies to be fantastic, with Stephen Herek-helmed horror-comedy managing to do something scrappy and scary with very little money, using imagination to turn a promising idea from co-writer Brian Domonic Muir into a fun ride of creature feature highlights, keeping puppetry and casualty lively in this unexpected franchise-starter. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - National Lampoon's Class Reunion

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We live in a day and age when a hit movie is often met with sequels and knockoffs in a year, with Hollywood speeding up their game to secure audience attention, often fearful that waiting to cash-in on a smash will result in swift disinterest. For National Lampoon, the hunt to follow-up 1978's "Animal House" resulted in a lengthy delay, creating a four year wait for 1982's "Class Reunion" (1981's "Movie Madness" was released in 1983), which is an eternity for any company, giving the faithful a chance to seek ribald pleasures elsewhere. Not helping matters is the actual quality of "Class Reunion," with the comedy trying very hard to be the most hilarious release of the film year, only to whiff with every punchline and bit of physical humor. It's an awful effort from director Michael Miller, who doesn't display awareness of funny business finesse, instead using a sledgehammer on sly jokes and tasty parody, keeping the endeavor as far away as possible from the weirdness it craves. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2

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1984's "Silent Night, Deadly Night" was intended to be yet another slasher offering in an increasingly competitive marketplace, using the gimmick of a slaughtering Santa to lure the curious in. Instead of taking over the box office, the picture triggered tremendous controversy over its provocative marketing (Santa holding an ax), which resulted in cult longevity, making the feature something taboo for horror fans to embrace. In 1987, producer Lawrence Appelbaum elected to make a no-budget sequel, trying to rework footage from "Silent Night 1" into "Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2," an editorial assignment that didn't work. Enter co-writer/director Lee Harry, who managed to form something of a new story to tell in this universe, mixing footage from the earlier picture with a fresh tale of mass murder, hoping to inspire a potential franchise with a little post-production magic. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Claire's Camera

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Hong Sang-soo is a prolific director, and not one to spend too much time refining his cinematic poetry. In "Claire's Camera," there's not much more than a central crisis between three people and a woman who studies the unrest with aid from her titular device, with the action basically regulated to conversations in cafes, apartments, and on French beaches, with the tale taking place around the time of the Cannes Film Festival. "Claire's Camera" is simple work, offering those who typically enjoy these minor forays into ennui a chance to embrace the helmer's special way with sparseness, humor, and repetitive anxiety. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Puppet Masters

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Bringing the work of Robert A. Heinlein to the screen isn't easy. Just ask Paul Verhoeven, who transformed "Starship Troopers" into an orgy of excess, upsetting fans in the process. For 1994's "The Puppet Masters," the screenplay (credited to Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio, and David Goyer) tries to be respectful of the source material for as long as possible, and the sci-fi aspects are what keep the feature afloat for its first half. The film doesn't stay inspired, with director Stuart Orme losing his way as the story deepens, making areas of the endeavor ridiculous when they should be emotionally devastating, and he generally loses interest in selling the stranger aspects of the tale, peeling alien intimidation off the finished product. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Blu-ray Review - The Phantom Empire

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While working in the film industry for some time by 1988, writer/director Fred Olen Ray really came into his own during the latter half of the decade. Known for his no-budget entertainment, specializing in exploitation and homage, Ray was pounding out productions around this time, having previously helmed "The Tomb," "Armed Response," "Deep Space," "Cyclone," "Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers," and "Beverly Hills Vamp" in a two-year period, clearing the way for "The Phantom Empire," which, according to legend, was shot over a period of six days. Taking a small crew into the Bronson Caves area of Griffith Park, Ray concocted (with T.L. Lankford) a tiny tale of adventuring, with the main characters coming into contact with monsters, Robby the Robot, dinosaurs, and the blinding presence in Sybil Danning dressed in vinyl. "The Phantom Empire" has no finesse, just forward momentum, working with iffy performances, limited cinematic tools, and sheer enthusiasm for B-movies from the 1950s, finding Ray's adoration for the filmmaking period coming through with more accuracy than the story he's trying(?) to tell. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Ice Harvest

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The late Harold Ramis was an enormous talent. However, his directorial career covered a frustratingly uneven collection of instant classics ("Caddyshack," "Groundhog Day," "Vacation") and immediate duds ("Bedazzled," "Club Paradise," "Year One"). 2005's "The Ice Harvest" (Ramis's penultimate film) falls somewhere between the creative extremes, emerging as a slightly mystifying take on Midwestern noir, taking inspiration from Scott Phillip's 2001 crime novel. One can easily see where Ramis wanted to go with the picture, but his desire to mix black comedy with bits of existential dread and underworld entanglements mostly comes off uninspired, finding such careful stepping draining the endeavor of personality and tension. What should've been a home run for the gifted helmer is instead a disappointing non-starter. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Sudden Fury

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Writer/director Brian Damude only made one movie during his career, and thankfully it's a terrific one. 1975's "Sudden Fury" eschews Hollywood comforts for the great outdoors of Ontario, with the helmer creating an unusual cat and mouse thriller with the simplest of cinematic ingredients. This is spare work, often avoiding music and dialogue to maintain concentration on the movement of characters, but Damude doesn't need much to create a proper nail-biter. "Sudden Fury" is engrossing, with moments of shock and sadness to present it with purpose, while Damude does everything he can with only a few locations, putting effort into characterization and editorial muscle, getting the feature up on its feet as quickly as possible before staging an unusual game of survival. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Beware My Brethren

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Religious fury is slowly unfurled in 1972's "Beware My Brethren" (aka "The Fiend"), a British production that's endeavoring to wind itself up with scenes of murder and holy manipulation, but it takes a long time to get anywhere of note in the picture. Director Robert Hartford-Davis and screenwriter Brian Comport definitely have ideas to share in the stagnant shocker, but takes on serial killing, motherly influence, and Godly damnation just don't have the punch they should, with most of "Beware My Brethren" coming across as a television movie that's occasionally interrupted by scenes of violence and nudity. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Interpreter

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In 2005, director Sydney Pollack's career was in trouble. After scoring a massive success with 1993's "The Firm," Pollack stumbled with 1995's "Sabrina" and 1999's "Random Hearts," leaving the celebrated helmer in a difficult position, requiring a return to his past triumphs to help goose box office returns. "The Interpreter" is Pollack's effort to revive screen energy that once guided his work on titles such as "Three Days of the Condor," making a thriller that's rooted in real-world ills, but still mindful of audience-pleasing suspense and his trademark attention to character. It's also the penultimate film for Pollack and one of his better pictures, delivering a tight, tense look at procedural actions and political concerns, taking what would've been a B-movie in other hands and elevating it with class and thespian encouragement, giving the chase fine performances to sell the growing panic. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Mausoleum

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1983's "Mausoleum" is a horror picture, and the genre is known for its appreciation for the strange and outrageous, with most producers looking for some way to help their endeavor stand out from the considerable competition. Co-producer/co-writer/cinematographer Robert Barich goes for extremity with the effort, and while the feature isn't incredibly violent, its blend of ghoulishness and titillation is, in many ways, charming, helping to define the decade's reliance on visual appeal to support lackluster plots. "Mausoleum" isn't a finely tuned dramatic enterprise, but it does have lots of salacious material and something of a sense of humor, with Barich stopping just short of softcore material as he works to pay tribute to the everlasting appeal of B-movies and make one himself. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Cold Skin

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Last year, Guillermo del Toro won an Academy Award for "The Shape of Water," which depicted a loving, sexual relationship between a mute woman and humanoid amphibian. This year, director Xavier Gens drinks from the same creative well, only his "Cold Skin" showcases a more mysterious love triangle between two salty men and the female humanoid amphibian they both strive to possess. Gens doesn't share del Toro's love of fantasy and textures, but he does offer intermittent intensity with his latest, which is just strange enough to pass, finding oddity often competing for scene attention with overblown dramatics. "Cold Skin" struggles to maintain pace and surprise, but Gens has the right idea more often than not, staying true to an operatic take on man vs. nature, creating something that's better with the dark and violent stuff than anything psychologically profound. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Children

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1980's "The Children" is working uphill in the good taste department. It's schlock, giving it an out when it comes to considered filmmaking, with the production often aiming just for shock value, which in this case covers the use of kids as murderous zombies. There's a way to pull this premise off, giving the uneasy audience a thrill ride of outrageousness. Writers Carlton J. Albright ("Luther the Geek") and Edward Terry don't understand the care required to make a movie where children murder and, in return, are murdered. Some humor remains in "The Children," but laughs are often buried under the weight of idiotic tonal directions and an absence of pace, keeping the endeavor an absolute chore to sit through when it isn't completely wrongheaded. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Blu-ray Review - City Slickers

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There were a good few years where a Billy Crystal comedy was generally considered an appealing event. His follow-up to "When Harry Met Sally," "City Slickers" was the comedian's "Avatar" in terms of box office success and media saturation, fitting Crystal for leading man shoe lifts via an unlikely vessel of bellylaughs and cowboy buffoonery. "City Slickers" is easily digestible as a well-crafted comedy, loaded with slapstick and sincerity, permitting Crystal a starring vehicle to exercise his best Jackie Mason impression while submitting a successful catchphrase in Mitch's greeting, "Helllllooooo." The man is genuinely funny here, distributing one-liners and pained expressions, playing beautifully off the likes of Daniel Stern and Bruno Kirby, while the producers filled supporting roles with a number of colorful character actors, including Supergirl herself, Helen Slater. And then there was Jack Palance, who clearly beamed down from his private asteroid to portray leathery cowboy Curly, a man so cured, he can light a match off his own cheek. Palance would go on to accept accolades and an Academy Award for his work here (cue the one-armed push-ups clip), and all of the love was heartily deserved, with the actor playing to his breathy strengths as a tough guy who develops a fondness for Mitch's neuroses. Palance and Crystal worked beautifully together, creating wonderful highlights along the way. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Cutting Class

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1989's "Cutting Class" (shot in 1987) is a slasher film that would normally be lost to the sands of time if it wasn't for one little detail: Brad Pitt. The now globally renown actor, as famous as a human being can get in this day and age of tribal popularity, made his starring debut with the horror endeavor, securing its position as a perennial curiosity, with most viewers drawn to the potential fun of watching an icon get his start. The good news is that there's plenty of Pitt in the feature, which gives the young, hungry actor a lot of screen time to work on his emoting, trying his best to make as big an impression as possible. The bad news is that "Cutting Class" is mostly a confused production, unsure if it wants to be frightening or funny as it works out subgenre formula. Screenwriter Steve Slavkin never clarifies his vision for the endeavor, while director Rospo Pallenberg mostly fumbles everything that's handed to him, forcing the actors, including Pitt, to make the most of their scenes on their own. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Extremity

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"Extremity" uses the culture of extreme haunts to inform its screenplay. These establishments aren't regular haunted houses, but something much more personal, requiring those interested in pushing their fear factor to the limit to sign away their lives to achieve it in the hands of strangers. It's a subject that's ripe for a cinematic rendering, but "Extremity" doesn't go very far in terms of understanding what drives the daily business of such a back alley enterprise, preferring to take on therapy, not terror, when it comes to the ins and outs of an extreme haunt. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Def by Temptation

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James Bond III was a child actor, appearing in such pictures as "The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh" and "Go Tell It on the Mountain." 1990's "Def by Temptation" is the thespian's attempt to take control of his career, pouring time and energy into a low-budget horror feature, taking writing and directing duties, along with a co-starring role. For Bond III, the creative experiment delivers an odd but compelling B-movie, and one that has a little more style and enthusiasm than its competition. "Def by Temptation" isn't an offering for those who require the cleanest filmmaking standards, working as a more of a loose, intermittently inventive journey into monsterdom, adding bits of seduction and psychological inspection to help spice up the viewing experience. Bond III is a tad sloppy here and there, but his need to add his voice to the genre shows throughout the endeavor, making something unique and charmingly bizarre. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Killing Kind

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Director Curtis Harrington creeps in the mind of a murderer in 1973's "The Killing Kind," which, in a way, could be approached as a kind of prequel to "Psycho," observing the psychological thin ice created when a son has a special relationship with his domineering mother. Harrington doesn't completely cross over into slasher territory, instead finding fright in the cracking of a young man's psyche, surveying the sinister creep of dangerous behavior as it grows over the course of the run time. "The Killing Kind" isn't lively in the least, but those able to tune into special frequency of dysfunction and dangerousness are rewarded with an unusual study of evil, brought to life by leads John Savage and Ann Southern. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Big Trouble

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To be fair to "Big Trouble," it's not like it had a chance to be a success at the box office. A chaotic comedy that includes a subplot concerning the movement of a nuclear bomb around an airport, the movie was originally scheduled for release on September 21st, 2001, only to find its content reconsidered by Disney after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, who decided to push the release date to April, 2002. By the time the feature finally opened, it was damaged goods, lacking a refreshed marketing push and positive press, with the studio basically scraping the film off the bottom of its shoe before moving on to more important pictures in the pipeline (like "The Country Bears" and "The Hot Chick"). "Big Trouble" isn't a masterclass in cinematic storytelling, but as silly, swiftly paced ensemble endeavors about Floridian mischief go, it's very entertaining, becoming something of a highlight in the disturbingly uneven career of director Barry Sonnenfeld. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

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The marketing for 1938's "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" promises a throwback viewing experience for audiences looking to detach from the hustle and bustle of the modern age. Producer David O. Selznick follows this mission in the film as well, opening with a quote from author Mark Twain, selected to remind ticket-buyers that the material is meant to evoke the mischief and raw emotion of childhood. Selznick orders up a highlight reel of Twain's novel, but his intended tone carries throughout, delivering a spirited take on "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" that's big on gesturing, reaction, and episodic tangles with authority and danger. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com