Blu-ray Review - Death Machines


There are many odd details and turns to 1976's "Death Machines," but the fact that it was marketed as a futuristic thriller is perhaps the most bizarre aspect of the feature. It's simply not one, arriving as a thoroughly 1970s-styled martial arts demonstration with unstoppable killer motivation. Director Paul Kyriazi has a vision for his picture, which is a nice change of pace from the fight film norm, giving "Death Machines" some real teeth for 1976, managing an orgy of violence that includes bar brawls, bazooka attacks, and mass murder, sold with a certain style of stunt-heavy gusto that makes the effort enjoyable, even when it doesn't exactly make sense. Kyriazi is out to give audiences a joy ride of nonsense, and he accomplishes his goal, delivering screen aggression that keeps on coming, while the cast is filled with all types of bruisers and cowards, making conflicts highly amusing. Read the rest at


Blu-ray Review - Jack Frost


1997's "Jack Frost" is a monster movie, though one that doesn't always follow the genre routine. Instead of a truly ghoulish creation terrorizing innocents, there's a killer snowman, which doesn't inspire any particular level of fear, ever during its most intimidating attack sequences. Writer/director Michael Cooney understands the tonal challenge ahead of him, eventually turning into the skid, transforming "Jack Frost" into a cheeky, self-aware chiller with pronounced elements of comedy. However, without a budget to successfully launch the visual of a snowman on a homicidal tear around a small town, Cooney gets creative, using interesting low-fi special effects and an agreeable script to make something memorable out of a potential disaster. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Luna


After stunning the world with 1972's "Last Tango in Paris," and exhausting himself with the botched release of 1976's "1900," writer/director Bernardo Bertolucci changes pace with the intimate ways of 1979's "Luna," which intends to return the helmer to his softer, more observant side. Of course, there's a return of controversy as well, as the picture is primarily about the ravages of grief, but also indulges a certain amount of incestuous thoughts and deeds, with the screenplay approaching themes of love and control with a plan of extremity to snap the material to attention. Bertolucci is never one to turn down a chance to attract attention to his work, and "Luna" certainly does a fine job of flailing to maintain eyes on the screen. However, the movie is also something of a mess, albeit a highly artistic one with committed performances. As much as Bertolucci believes in the power of such raw emotions, he fails to make a cohesive effort, with nearly every scene a random assortment of volatile emotions and blurry storytelling. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - 100 Rifles


Bringing the lively Spaghetti Western mood to Hollywood, 1969's "100 Rifles" doesn't follow through with its initial Sergio Leone admiration, soon settling into a story about passion and political defiance that tends to drain away the pure escapism the feature initially seems intent on delivering. Co-writer/director Tom Gries doesn't have an easy job, managing three intense personalities in lead actors Burt Reynolds, Jim Brown, and Raquel Welch, but he periodically commits to large-scale action and cultural interests, keeping "100 Rifles" a stylish, spur-jangling cartoon. Read the rest at

Film Review - Trespass Against Us


“Trespass Against Us” marks the second collaboration between actors Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson in just a matter of weeks. The last was December’s “Assassin’s Creed,” which offered Fassbender a chance to play a superhuman with extreme martial art skills, and Gleeson portrayed his mysterious father. “Trespass Against Us” is a far more sobering feature, but the character dynamic is almost the same, this time taking a look at the tight-knit world of Irish travelers, where privacy is almost as impossible to achieve as a personal dream. It’s easy to see why Fassbender and Gleeson are joined at the hip recently, generating a usable comfort between them that creates opportunities for silent hostility and frightening acts of parental intimidation. Instead of managing drama around CGI, the pair creates their own visual effects with this crime saga, building a credible relationship to help carry screenwriter Alastair Siddons’s somewhat lukewarm take on generational influence. Read the rest at

Film Review - Split


Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan recently restored his fledgling filmmaking career to an upright position. After a solid decade of critical and commercial failures, “The Sixth Sense” helmer shed budgetary needs and chased a trend for 2015’s “The Visit,” a tepid found footage endeavor that unexpectedly found an audience hungry for cheap thrills, giving Shyamalan a second wind as a conductor of low-budget genre shenanigans. “Split” is his latest effort, and while more traditional in execution, the feature remains fixated on exploitation pursuits, working to find nail-biting manipulations with a screenplay that’s rooted in real-world agony. Shyamalan knows a thing or two about suspense, but he has questionable awareness of good taste, keeping “Split” more of a bummer than a barnstormer. Read the rest at


Film Review - xXx: Return of Xander Cage

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Moviegoers had to endure “xXx” back in 2002 because Hollywood smelled blood in the water, jumping on the chance to cash-in on star Vin Diesel’s sudden popularity after his work on 2001’s “The Fast and the Furious.” The feature was a valentine to Diesel’s meaty screen persona, with the production attempting to shape a spy movie for Generation X, using extreme sports and extreme mumbling to give James Bond some youthful competition. The film did well mostly due to hype, but Diesel promptly abandoned the franchise, handing the reins to Ice Cube for a 2005 sequel that completely tanked. Now that the “Fast and Furious” franchise is capable of producing billion-dollar hits, the industry wants Diesel all over again, resurrecting the tattooed hero for “xXx: Return of Xander Cage,” hoping there’s still some box office magic left in the teat for the now 49-year-old actor to squeeze. Read the rest at

Film Review - 20th Century Women


In 2010’s “Beginners,” writer/director Mike Mills mined personal experiences to inform a tender story of parental understanding and acceptance, delivering a level of intimacy his debut effort, 2005’s “Thumbsucker,” completely lacked. “Beginners” offered a more exploratory viewing experience, and Mills wisely builds on it for “20th Century Women,” which also presents a semi-autobiographical approach to best capture nuanced human behavior. Taking audiences to 1979, a year of remarkable social, political, and music transitions, Mills inspects ways of sexuality, friendships, and maturation, but he really zeros in on parenthood, showing interest in the dynamic between a mother and her rebellious son. While a collection of actresses contributing some of their finest work is enough to entice, it’s the texture Mills brings to his characters that completely sells “20th Century Women,” securing a rich understanding of personality to go along with his more artful take on the flow of life. Read the rest at

Film Review - Antarctica: Ice & Sky

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For most people on Earth, Antarctica is an unreachable continent, possessing an environmental fury and physical distance that makes a full understanding of its secrets and beauty impossible to understand. For scientist Claude Lorius, Antarctica is a second home. For such a faraway land, Antarctica is now the key to Earth’s future, home to evidence of life before industry and population began to change the planet’s climate. “Antarctica: Ice & Sky” recounts Lorius’s multiple trips to the frozen land, greeting the 82 year old as he reflects on his excursions and discoveries, including critical research into climate change over 30 years ago that’s now beginning to take shape. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Patch of Fog


Actor Stephen Graham has appeared in a great number of films, showing up in supporting roles, typically playing lackeys and goons in pictures like “Snatch,” “Gangs of New York,” and “This is England.” “A Patch of Fog” doesn’t rework Graham’s screen presence, but it does offer him atypical depth, gifting him a chance to play a “Single White Female”-style game of stalking with screenwriting that sympathizes with the monster, using thriller conventions to make sense of loneliness. Graham is terrific here, joined by an equally sharp turn from co-star Conleth Hill, with the men committed to the inspection of a particularly tense relationship built on blackmail and opportunity. However, “A Patch of Fog” doesn’t work itself up into a frenzy, taking a more subtle direction when spotlighting a toxic union between predator and prey. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mad Families


When comedians speak about Fred Wolf as a person, they’re usually very kind, describing his sharp sense of humor and general pleasantness. I’m sure Wolf is a gentleman, but he’s a lousy filmmaker. The screenwriter of “Joe Dirt 2,” “Grown Ups” and its sequel, and “Black Sheep,” Wolf returns behind the camera to guide “Mad Families,” which isn’t really a movie, but more of a loose collection of improvisational dueling and random characterization that’s occasionally broken up by childish racial humor. Wolf is credited as the director, but there’s no noticeable control over the picture, which basically brings a large group of actors to a single rural location and allows them to do whatever they want, no matter how useless and painfully unfunny it is. “Mad Families” is available to watch free online, but even then, it feels like too high a price, handing a chunk of life over to Wolf, who doesn’t deserve it. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Book of Love


As an offering of quirky sentimentality, “The Book of Love” fails miserably. It’s a replication of a mid-1990s indie hit, trying to reach audiences with heavy amounts of eccentricity while dealing with heavy real-world issues such as abandonment and death. Screenwriters Bill Purple (who also directs) and Robbie Pickering (“Natural Selection”) push too far with plastic personalities, working to win over viewers with peculiarity, which comes off strained and unpleasant. Building a bridge between paralyzing grief and raft construction, the production ends up a tedious routine of manipulation. Perhaps Purple and Pickering have honest intentions, but “The Book of Love” doesn’t deliver sincerity. It’s more comfortable with heavily sugared predictability. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Undying Monster


While it boasts the presence of a shadowy wolfman, 1942's "The Undying Monster" isn't truly a horror picture. Adapted from a novel by Jessie Douglas Kerruish and directed by John Brahm (1944's "The Lodger"), "The Undying Monster" is more of a murder mystery, preferring acts of sleuthing to shock value. It's a talky effort, but wonderfully constructed by Brahm, who works overtime to make what ends up becoming a series of conversations and tasteful confrontations somewhat unsettling, bathing the feature in gothic mood. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Frontier


On co-writer/director Oren Shai's IMDB page, there's a picture of him engrossed in a pulp novel. It's unlike most photos on the website, highlighting his literary interests, which have been funneled into his feature-length directorial debut, "The Frontier." Playing around with time and motivation, Shai constructs a criminal chess game in the middle of the Arizona desert, using broad characters and secret pasts to manufacture a mild mystery with noir-ish flavorings. "The Frontier" doesn't have a big enough budget to completely erase signs of production limitation, but Shai gets an impressive amount accomplished with the resources he has, finding enough tension to preserve interest in this saga of bad people involved in dirty deeds. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Cosmos


Writer/director Andrzej Zulawski is perhaps best known for his 1981 endeavor, "Possession," an authentically bonkers feature that's breathtakingly nightmarish and unhinged. "Cosmos" welcomes the helmer back to a similar playground of madness, making a return to filmmaking after a 15 year absence. "Cosmos" is also Zulawski's final movie (he passed away earlier this year), but it's another doozy. Replacing horror with a macabre mystery, the effort successfully braids the unexplainable with the unknowable, transforming a simple visit to a country house into a carnival of warped behavior. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman's The Fantastic Four


The saga of 1994's "The Fantastic Four" is no Hollywood secret. Over the last two decades, details have leaked about the film's quickie production and aborted release, with the picture eventually discarded altogether after some promotional work was already underway. It's one of those industry black eyes, and while journalistic endeavors have explored the creation and disintegration of "The Fantastic Four," director Marty Langford looks to dig deeper with "Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman's The Fantastic Four," constructing a documentary that collects stories from those on the front lines. It's not a cheery tale of creative and financial success, but it delivers a wider appreciation of what was attempted in the 1990s, with B-movie imagination eclipsing the blockbuster intentions later iterations of the property attempted. Read the rest at

Film Review - Live by Night


As a writer/director, Ben Affleck enjoyed an impressive streak of exceptional pictures, creating truly fantastic efforts in “Gone Baby Gone,” “The Town,” and “Argo.” He showcased a filmmaking talent unseen in his thespian pursuits up to this point, regenerating his enthusiasm for the art form with movies that were easily among the best of their respective years. With “Live by Night,” Affleck’s instincts fail him for the first time, abandoning the relative intimacy of his previous endeavors to mastermind a gangster saga adapted from a 2012 Dennis Lehane novel, giving him narrative responsibilities that quickly overwhelm him. “Live by Night” is a frustrating sit before it becomes a dull one, with Affleck unable to shake himself out of a creative coma, treating the material too preciously, refusing to give it the adrenaline shot it needs. It certainly doesn’t suggest Affleck has lost his touch, but the feature does showcase his tendency for misguided passion. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sleepless


Jamie Foxx wants his own “Taken,” and he’s turned to 2011 French thriller to make it happen. “Sleepless” is a decidedly American remake of “Sleepless Nights,” taking the action to Las Vegas, a location that celebrates the outrageous and reckless, making it a perfect setting for the film, which starts off as an enjoyable junk food actioner and slowly transforms into a tiresome cartoon. However, it does serve its function as a vehicle for Foxx to showcase his stunt skills, tossing himself around the frame for director Baran do Odar, who sticks with the basics when it comes to coverage, editing, and general velocity. That “Sleepless” is idiotic isn’t the problem. It’s the good kind of dumb for 45 minutes. But it doesn’t sustain itself for the full feature, relying on ridiculous extremes to keep viewers awake. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Bye Bye Man


Horror needs inspiration to survive, delivering at least the illusion of care when it comes to the construction of frights and the identity of the villain. “The Bye Bye Man” has no real reason to be, it simply exists as a product due in multiplexes on Friday the 13th, with its original R-rated cut whittled down to a more teen-friendly PG-13. The producers erased most of the blood, but it’s debatable if they had a decent screenplay to begin with. “The Bye Bye Man” isn’t much more than a terrible title, gifting paying customers wretched performances, murky mythology, and low-wattage chills, with stupidity the dominating vibe of the picture. When it’s not in expositional hell, it comes to a complete stop, with director Stacy Title bungling even the most basic scenes in this amateurish mess. Read the rest at

Film Review - Monster Trucks


It’s not been an easy road to release for “Monster Trucks.” Shot three years ago, the feature has endured several delays and bad buzz, with releasing studio Paramount basically blaming recent financial woes on the seemingly harmless family film, which wasn’t cheap to produce. Finally ready for public exhibition, and it’s easy to see why the picture was involved in an elaborate corporate game of “Not It.” Longtime animation director Chris Wedge makes his live-action debut with “Monster Trucks,” and it seems like the challenge of dealing with real people was too much for the helmer. While the effort isn’t disastrous, it’s deathly dull, scripted in Crayon, and strangely cast, hoping the central visual of a monster positioned as the engine of a truck is enough to forgive all moviemaking sins the production commits. Read the rest at