Blu-ray Review - Trip with the Teacher


1975's "Trip with the Teacher" is an exploitation movie, filled with sleazy material, but it's actually is more of a horror film when one processes the dire tone and threatening behavior found in the picture. Directed by Earl Barton (his lone helming credit), "Trip with the Teacher" isn't harmless entertainment, made with a certain edge that's unusual for material that's not striving to be the most intelligent offering at the local drive-in. Barton isn't a craftsman, but there's menace to the work, which helps to pull the feature out of a few dead spots and endure the habitual overacting of co- star Zalman King.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Killer Barbys


After covering Jess Franco titles from the 1960s and '70s, it's interesting to watch the frightfully prolific filmmaker take on the 1990s. "Killer Barbys" is a 1996 effort that's meant to give Franco some appeal to younger audiences, merging his interests in gothic horror with the wicked musical and sexual appetites of punk band traveling across Europe. As with most Franco endeavors, it's all borderline unwatchable, but I recognize the man has his fans. I just need them to explain his appeal to me, because "Killer Barbys" is a complete mess of ideas aching for proper direction. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hostiles


Writer/director Scott Cooper doesn’t take it easy on his characters. He’s sustained a fascination with guilt and punishment with efforts such as “Crazy Heart,” “Out of the Furnace,” and his last endeavor, the middling “Black Mass,” exploring violence in all its forms, saving some specialized aggression for his climaxes. While he’s flirted with western motifs before, he goes all in on the genre for “Hostiles,” which doesn’t take the challenge of mounting a western expansion drama in 2018 lightly. It’s a graphic feature, with a few exchanges of brutality that will likely turn off some viewers, but Cooper doesn’t lose sight of his narrative and atmospheric goals, handling “Hostiles” with the muscularity it needs to power through its inspection of personal corruption and seeds of salvation in the still-wild west. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Polka King


His career choices have been a little unsteady in recent years, but “The Polka King” is a great reminder that with the right material, Jack Black is capable of wonderful things. The feature is an adaptation of a 2009 documentary (“The Man Who Would Be Polka King”), delivering a glossy overview of Jan Lewan, a Polish polka musician and odd-job guy who elected to set a musical empire on a foundation of fraud, dancing, singing, and hustling his way to financial freedom while believing in the power of the American Dream. Black is unleashed on the man and the material, filling the frame with such undeniable energy, giving co-writer/director Maya Forbes (“Infinitely Polar Bear”) much to work with as she details the unbelievable experience of a polka-slinging crook who couldn’t help himself.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Road Movie


I’ve seen some pretty flimsy film concepts in my day, but “The Road Movie” should win some type of award for simplicity. In an age where everything is available online, director Dmitrii Kalashnikov has elected to curate only the finest in Russian dash cam footage, weaving together a fantasia of accidents, speed, and surprises that highlight the pure insanity casually recorded during seemingly average rides across the country. Of course, one can find this stuff anywhere at any time, but the beauty of “The Road Movie” is how it generates a thrill ride atmosphere of horror and humor, with Kalashnikov delivering a vivid viewing experience with his highlight reel of disasters and near-misses. It’s 3D without the glasses.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Den of Thieves


It’s been about 22 years since the release of Michael Mann’s “Heat,” and the producers of “Den of Thieves” have decided it’s time for a remake. However, it’s not easy to create another “Heat,” a feature beloved in cineaste circles, often hailed as one of the best of the 1990s. Instead of outdoing Mann’s movie, screenwriters Paul Scheuring and Christian Gudegast (who also directs) go the inferior route, trying to toughen up their sprawling L.A. crime saga with enough testosterone and violence to make the audience forget they’ve already seen the picture. “Den of Thieves” isn’t the first film to sneak a few bites off the 1995 endeavor, but it’s definitely chewing the loudest, with Gudegast perhaps aiming for reverence, but comes up with mimicry instead, making for a particularly long 140-minute-long sit, especially without De Niro and Pacino around.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Mom and Dad


Brian Taylor made his directing debut (joined by Mark Neveldine) with 2006’s “Crank,” a low-budget endeavor that reveled in anarchy, finding a cult following that celebrated the feature’s maniac style and pitch-black sense of humor. “Crank” made a little bit of money. 2009’s “Crank: High Voltage” made considerably less, suggest audience fatigue with the duo’s scattergun cinema style, but they remained committed to the cause, making “Crank”-style movies with “Gamer” and “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance,” and both efforts were met with a collective shrug from filmgoers. Making his solo helming debut, Taylor once again goes to the “Crank” well for “Mom and Dad,” a predictably berserk creation that plays like a cross between “Parenthood” and “Dawn of the Dead,” chock full of the needlessly quaking camerawork, random editing, and screaming performances Taylor once required a partner to master.  Read the rest at

Film Review - 12 Strong


While war stories are common in American cinema, a project like “12 Strong” doesn’t just come from out of nowhere. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer is looking to create his own version of the 2014 smash hit, “American Sniper,” returning audiences to the battleground of the Middle East, where noble military men clash against local enemies, emphasizing sacrifice, honor, and the sheer trained might of U.S. forces. A movie doesn’t simply make superhero cinema money and go unnoticed, and while “12 Strong” doesn’t have the tragic angle of “American Sniper,” daring to go forward with a positive Afghanistan tale, it shares the same simplicity and jingoistic fervor that’s meant to play to certain audiences, buttering up the cruelties of war with fetishistic violence and steel-jawed performances.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Showdown in Manila


I first became aware of Alexander Nevsky last year, when his 2014 thriller, “Black Rose,” was finally picked up for a U.S. release. The picture was painful to sit through, but it showcased a certain fervor for stardom from Nevsky, who handled a good portion of the production’s credits, trying to launch himself as the next big thing in international action cinema. “Black Rose” didn’t find an audience, but Nevsky is back with “Showdown in Manila,” which brings the hulking star to another part of the world to do a little hellraising, but this time the results are weirdly amateurish, with Nevsky handing directorial duties to Mark Dacascos, a longtime actor (and performer on “Iron Chef America”) who makes a particularly clumsy helming debut. For those who can endure the feature’s considerable shortcomings and tone-deaf creative choices, this might be the next “The Room” for action cinema fans, giving Nevsky the spotlight he craves.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Acts of Violence


There’s truth in advertising here, as “Acts of Violence” contains plenty of aggressive encounters, embracing the freedom of brutality the title grants. It’s also a hopelessly ugly, moronic picture that appears to be under the impression that it’s a valuable clue in the ongoing assessment of modern law enforcement, criticizing police procedure as ineffective, perhaps intentionally so. In a sharper effort, such a provocative idea would inspire a multi-layered study of honor, duty, and desperation. In “Acts of Violence,” it’s a green light for lame characterizations, dreary action, and a strange consideration of vigilante justice. It’s brutal work, no surprise there, but the production doesn’t consider material deeply, going the urban western route, rendering the feature completely useless.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Freak Show


All the good intentions in the world can’t prevent “Freak Show” from becoming a trite, borderline obnoxious tale of empowerment via a quest for identity inside a conservative battle zone. Director Trudie Styler has her heart in the right place, hoping to reach out to a younger demographic with this tale of persistence in the face of prejudice, scraping the zeitgeist as the material confronts uncertain sexuality and gender identification, with hope that its saga of personal inventory is able to provide a light of hope for those who remain in the dark. “Freak Show” has a to-do list of clichés to work through, and few of them retain any dramatic impact, finding Styler more interested in dressing up the main character in wild fashions than truly dealing with the psychological tears that comes from social rejection and a broken family.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Psychos in Love


1986's "Psychos in Love" certainly has the external appearance of a horror extravaganza, with an eye-catching title and marketing materials that emphasize a ghoulish viewing experience to come. But the feature isn't a nightmare machine, it merely wants to tell a plethora of corny jokes and showcase freshly chopped limbs. And if you happen to hate grapes, here's a cinematic experience tailored directly to that phobia. Co-writer/director Gorman Bechard arranges a massacre with "Psychos in Love," but his heart belongs to comedy, pinching from the Marx Brothers and Monty Python as he sets up shop in Tromaville for this unexpectedly goofball take on "Annie Hall," diluting the direct Woody Allen lifts with bloodshed and multiple maniacs. It's a strange picture, but that's the point.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Take the Money and Run


Technically, 1969's "Take the Money and Run" isn't Woody Allen's directorial debut. That distinction belongs to the dubbed farce, "What's Up, Tiger Lilly?" However, what the second effort in a long, decorated career represents is Allen's initial offering of pure silliness, taking his interests and timing as a comedian and film performer, and funneling it into a faux documentary about the life and times of a terrible crook. It's the first shot fired in an early career what would go on to introduce several comedy classics, but with "Take the Money and Run," Allen provides a raw form of cheekiness to come, showcasing early instincts to offer as many jokes as possible, fueling the endeavor on pure goofiness. It's a joy to watch at times, even at its most exhausting, delivering a hungrier Allen at the start of his helming career, eager to please with this zany snapshot of criminal stupidity.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Opera


Dario Argento certainly doesn't have the career today that he once had in the past, and the line of quality tends to be drawn at 1987's "Opera," which represents a final push of youthful exuberance when it comes to staging ghastly acts of violence as stylishly and surreal-like as possible. "Opera" is one of Argento's better pictures, partially because it plays directly to his artistic interests, mixing the theatricality of stage performance with the grim appetites of giallo filmmaking, coming up with a slightly deflated but fascinating horror endeavor that comes alive whenever the helmer frees himself from narrative rule and explodes with evil and animal wrangling. Perhaps in the grand scheme of a career that produced "Suspiria," "Deep Red," and "Tenebrae," Argento's push to make a winded tale of insanity isn't going to penetrate deep enough, but visual delights remain, with Argento working up the energy to supply a proper jolt of the macabre and the exaggerated.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Red Line 7000


The aching hearts of stock car racers and the women who love them are explored in 1965's "Red Line 7000." Director Howard Hawks clearly has a lot of respect for the sport, but his ability to find something interesting to do once the action steps away from the track is iffy at best. "Red Line 7000" aims to be a butch overview of dented masculinity, but it's surprisingly sudsy and a little protracted, though Hawks does well with his cast, putting together an ensemble of disparate talent who lend the feature the little excitement it provides. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Score: A Film Music Documentary


Movies wouldn't be movies without music. However, film scoring is often an unheralded art, left as something for the senses, difficult to separate from the overall viewing experience. Writer/director Matt Schrader hopes to achieve a level of appreciation with "Score: A Film Music Documentary," which examines the history of composing and performing as it's developed over the last century. It's not an easy task to cover such an enormous time period in just 90 minutes, and Schrader certainly speeds around the subject like the Tasmanian Devil, but the effort is there to spotlight dozens of creative people who painstakingly put together what often becomes the heart and soul of cinema, creating music that inspires emotion and, sometimes, life itself, offered clear identification in this wonderfully vibrant and insightful documentary. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Proud Mary


I certainly get why many are rooting for the success of Taraji P. Henson. She’s a talented actress and a force of nature, but her taste in scripts leaves much to be desired, as found in recent gigs such as “Term Life” and “No Good Deed.” After scoring positive notices for her turn in last year’s “Hidden Figures,” Henson returns to the bottom shelf with “Proud Mary,” a wannabe Blaxploitation effort that’s more like a Lifetime Original, spending 80 minutes on banal relationships and the remaining five on stiffly imagined action. Henson looks bored throughout the picture, which doesn’t challenge her in the least, merely asking her to cry on cue and pose in black outfits, with the promise of creating a fascinating, empowering character of authority erased by the production’s strange obsession with screen inertia.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Paddington 2


Moviegoing surprises are always the best, and 2014’s “Paddington” was one of greater ones in recent memory. Sold as a crude, dumb comedy for little children, “Paddington” was actually a cute and clever picture, with unexpected warmth and a decent sense of adventure. Co-writer/director Paul King brought author Michael Bond’s creation to the big screen with care, and now he does it again with “Paddington 2,” a sequel that manages to best the original in laughs and tenderness. King sticks to comedy formula, but he makes a grander, slightly weirder follow-up that offers plenty of bear-based mischief, backed by an exceptional supporting cast of British talent who seem genuinely delighted to be part of the franchise, showing needed enthusiasm for the marmalade-smeared high jinks.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Commuter


Director Jaume Collet-Serra and star Liam Neeson enjoying working together. They’ve collaborated on three previous occasions, showcasing a professional comfort and a shared interest in B-moviemaking with A-list credentials. However, this partnership hasn’t delivered significant thrills, with 2011’s “Unknown,” 2014’s “Non-Stop,” and 2015’s “Run All Night” providing lackluster viewing experiences with little suspense, generally tripping over promising premises for slick, efficient entertainment. The latest addition to this dispiriting tradition is “The Commuter,” which aims to be a Hitchcockian nail-biter featuring an average man caught up in extraordinary circumstances, but Collet-Serra and the screenwriters (three in total) don’t push beyond the visual of Neeson in paranoia mode, delivering a contrived, slapdash, and ultimately useless thriller that has no perceptible interest in pace or surprise.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Humor Me


Writer/director Sam Hoffman plays it safe with the plot of “Humor Me,” his directorial debut, making a movie about the arrested development of a man facing substantial responsibilities, moving in with his father for a free room and to find some clarity. However, formula is thinned out by personality, with Hoffman generating appealing characterizations, putting the players through amusing challenges as he hunts for significance in the dramedy. As the title suggests, there’s plenty of levity and passive-aggressive behavior to enjoy, and Hoffman secures success with the pairing of leads Jemaine Clement and Elliot Gould, who pull off an itchy family dynamic with terrific timing, bringing heart and laughs to “Humor Me,” which benefits greatly from their unique talents.  Read the rest at