Blu-ray Review - Making Contact

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Today, we know director Roland Emmerich as a craftsman of Hollywood blockbusters, eagerly attempting to achieve massive success with big- budgeted fantasy actioners. He's had a rough period recently, guiding massive disappointments like "Independence Day: Resurgence" and "White House Down," but Emmerich appears to love the possibility of big screen scale, trying to make escapism with as much noise and stupidity as possible. However, he wasn't always like this, with 1985's "Making Contact" (a.k.a. "Joey") returning to a time in the helmer's early career when all he wanted to do was ape his creative inspiration, Steven Spielberg. Armed with enough homage to make Amblin Entertainment lawyers nervous, Emmerich sets out to create the best "E.T." and "Poltergeist" rip-off he can, using "Making Contact" to share as much Spielberg love as possible, shamelessly lifting every move from the maestro, down to cinematographic moves and the setting of suburban America. In true Emmerich fashion, he's made a spectacular mess of everything, and while his heart is in the right place, his filmmaking vision is cross-eyed at best, as little to nothing about this tedious feature makes any sense.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Optimists

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Imagine if Mike Leigh directed a Disney movie, and that's close to the viewing experience provided by 1973's "The Optimists." The production wins points for its interest in the bleak corners of life, trying to live up to its titular promise with a sincere take on relationships and broken dreams, watching director Anthony Simmons laboring to make some magic with lead Peter Sellers, asking him to lift considerable dramatic weight. It's difficult to label "The Optimists" as an all-ages charmer, but Simmons certainly wants it to be, aiming to achieve a bittersweet tone of connection in a hauntingly unforgiving world.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Girls Trip

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The summer of 2017 already endured one female-centric party-gone-wrong movie in June’s “Rough Night,” which offered plenty of riffing and nightmarish scenarios, but brought very little funny, eventually taking itself far too seriously. The festivities continue with “Girls Trip,” which also features R-rated shenanigans in a party city and a cast of exceedingly eager actresses looking to feast on the potential for naughty behavior. The difference here is that “Girls Trip” is actually very funny, and its eventual slide into dramatic sobriety is far less painful. Director Malcolm D. Lee doesn’t have the strongest filmography (helming “The Best Man,” but also “Scary Movie 5”), but he catches the vibe here, taking advantage of the restrictive rating to mastermind some effective crude humor, sisterly love, and mild conflict. And it’s hard to dislike a picture about four zany women that includes a reference to “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Dunkirk

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It’s strange to consider that after two decades of making feature films, “Dunkirk” the first production from writer/director Christopher Nolan where he’s the marketable star of the picture. His latest employs famous faces, but no single stratospherically famous person to create buzz and fill seats. It’s all about him, and this is exactly what he’s been looking to achieve throughout the years. “Dunkirk” is a war story but it’s also a disaster film, putting everything it has into a bruising audio and visual experience that’s meant to represent pure cinema from a helmer who’s addicted to the stuff, shooting up with 65mm equipment and guzzling 12-track theater sound. It’s not a movie that requests a passive viewing experience, putting the audience into the thick of combat, taking to land, sea, and air to fully inhale an historical event goosed considerably by Nolan’s love of spectacle. He’s made an intimidating endeavor, but those hoping for an exhaustively emotional event should seek their wartime blues elsewhere. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

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In 1997, writer/director Luc Besson unleashed “The Fifth Element,” a fantasy epic that rippled with idiosyncratic comedy and was shellacked with style, merging American-branded blockbustering with French-scented oddity, making for a delicious mix of the bold and the bizarre. It was a minor hit, growing into a cult jewel in later years, but Besson never revisited it, preferring to stick with minor concoctions and more Earthbound projects in the ensuing years. Two decades later, Besson finally works up the nerve to reenter space and beyond with “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” an adaptation of a French comic series that debuted in 1967. Now armed with every CGI tool imaginable, and a budget to feel out every inch of his imagination, Besson goes for…something with the feature, which is dutifully colorful, populated with weird creatures, and appropriately European when it comes to humor. And yet, with all this work up on the screen, “City of a Thousand Planets” rarely conjures excitement, with the production working to suffocate the audience with artifice, while the lead actors fight an unwinnable war against miscasting.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - 13 Minutes

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It’s fascinating to watch filmmakers attempt to wring suspense out of movies that explore assassination attempts on Adolph Hitler. Unless it’s a Quentin Tarantino production, there are few surprises waiting for viewers who know how the real story ends when it comes to Hitler’s final hours. For “13 Minutes,” director Oliver Hirschbiegel opens with a failed plot to kill the emerging leader of the Nazis, working backward to explore the life of the mousy man who attempted to pull off the impossible at the dawn of World War II. “13 Minutes” wisely avoids a history lesson to examine the true grit of an unlikely assassin, going in a more character-oriented route with its often harrowing account of Georg Elser’s rise in radicalism and his problematic plan to save Germany.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - First Kill

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Steven C. Miller is a name that’s come up often in recent years. He’s a B-movie director specializing in VOD entertainment, which has become the new VHS gold rush for distributors looking to make a quick buck. He’s been supported by producers with deep pockets, willing to pony up for fading A-listers looking for easy paychecks, helming features with short, nondescript titles like “Extraction,” “Submerged,” “Marauders,” and the recent “Arsenal” (titles that easily fit in on-demand directory listings). None of them have worked, but Miller keeps chopping away, recently graduating to bigger fish with “Escape Plan 2: Hades,” a Sylvester Stallone-starring sequel due for release next year. Before his launch to the big time, Miller has one more scrappy actioner to share, guiding “First Kill,” a kidnapping/heist-gone-wrong thriller that reteams him with his favorite actor, Bruce Willis (in their third collaboration), joining forces once again for a simplistic adventure that details blue collar blues, small-town woes, and a battle over a bag of stolen cash.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The Gracefield Incident

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Found footage returns to duty in “The Gracefield Incident,” which is the second film this year (after the spring flop, “Phoenix Lights”) to use the aesthetic to explore an alien visitation in the middle of nowhere. Writer/director/producer/editor/star Mathieu Ratthe isn’t about to let the exhausted antics of shaky cam chaos slow him down, mounting a clichéd, deafening adventure about a group of strangers in the woods armed with cameras. There’s nothing innovative here to help Ratthe separate himself from the crowd, leaving “The Gracefield Incident” tired, somewhat predictable, and, at times, far too silly. Found footage usually results in creative dead ends, and this production just isn’t strong enough to conquer the myriad of shortcomings it encounters. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Killing Ground

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There’s going to be a great number of people drawn to the darkness of “Killing Ground.” It’s an Australian production that delves into displays of barbarity and isolation, using extreme violence as a tool to unnerve its audience, showing no remorse when detailing character suffering and death. And it would all be far more interesting if there was a single sliver of invention to it. Another chapter in the “Wolf Creek”-ening of Australian horror films, writer/director Damien Power (making his feature-length helming debut) plays a tedious game of slow-pitch softball with this clichéd effort, which always turns to cheap shock value to make its impact. It’s vile stuff, and “Killing Ground” would much more compelling if there was a scene contained within it that wasn’t featured in dozens of similar endeavors. Power has a desire to disturb, but his cheat sheet shows throughout this dismal offering of backwoods survival.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies

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A follow-up to the 1965 hit, "Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines," 1969's "The Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies" (also known as "Monte Carlo or Bust!") looks to sustain a sense of widescreen pandemonium, taking a European car race to the extremes of slapstick comedy. Co-writer/director Ken Annakin certainly maintains a vision for the production, and his management of style and action is impressive, able to keep a ragtag group of characters in focus as they tear around multiple locations. But just over two hours of silly business? "Jaunty Jalopies" pushes its luck when it comes to asking the audience to endure a marathon of mischief. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Blu-ray Review - Papa's Delicate Condition

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What a strange movie 1963's "Papa's Delicate Condition" is. It hopes to be a family feature, pitting star Jackie Gleason against a Disney-esque collection of children, animals, and stymied adults, but at the core of this dramedy is a study of alcoholism, with the title not referencing the lead character's desire to please, but his heavy drinking. Going from light to dark with whiplash-inducing speed, "Papa's Delicate Condition" doesn't necessarily challenge Gleason, who spends most of the picture playing up his industry persona, periodically reaching within to depict a sick man stuck in a cycle of reckless behavior.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Blu-ray Review - Tristan and Isolde

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Kevin Reynolds is a director worth defending in the Court of Cinema Elitists. He picked up a bad reputation with his work on 1995's "Waterworld," taking heat for his inability to keep an inherently chaotic shoot under control, and there have been a few stinkers during his career, including 1997's "187." But Reynolds, when offered a chance to spread his wings, can be a kinetic filmmaker with a terrific sense of action and adventure, marrying matinee derring-do with grittier visuals, finding efforts like 2002's "The Count of Monte Cristo" and 2012's "Hatfields & McCoys" enjoying their genres instead of merely participating in them, and there's 1991's "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," a wildly entertaining blockbuster that showcased the helmer's special way with period mayhem and romance, going big but remaining steady. Ingredients for another charging extravaganza are professionally portioned out for 2006's "Tristan & Isolde," but the picture has no flavor. Aspiring to be a love story for the ages, the feature is trapped between its mission to treat regional conflict with the severity it deserves and the production's hope to appeal to teenage viewers, soaping up a love triangle that holds no appeal. Instead of conquering another roughhouse tale of war, Reynolds is lost from the get-go, unable to reach his customary verve with this deathly dull endeavor.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Blu-ray Review - The Pied Piper

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It's hard to fault "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" director Jacques Demy for attempting his own take on the legend of the Pied Piper. And there's certainly a pronounced dark side to most fairy tales, providing a creative challenge. However, it's difficult to grasp what audience Demy is hoping to reach with this 1972 effort. "The Pied Piper" isn't truly for children, but the production has moments of broad behavior, and the casting of rock star Donovan in the titular role appears engineered to reach a young audience. But the rest of "The Pied Piper" is quite bleak, though fascinatingly staged by Demy who respects elements from the original tale, trying to remain as faithful as possible while arranging his own special black plague costume party.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Film Review - War for the Planet of the Apes

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It’s a rare event when a movie franchise actually improves as it develops. Granted, the “Planet of the Apes” saga has carried on in one form or another for the last 50 years, but its recent incarnation, the Caesar Trilogy, has offered a radical reinvention of the source material, using hindsight and cutting-edge technology to craft a strikingly realistic version of a fantasy premise. And it just keeps getting better and better. Following 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and 2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is “War for the Planet of the Apes,” which doesn’t promise series finality, but if it all ended here, the production goes out with its finest achievement. An unsettlingly emotional viewing experience, “War for the Planet of the Apes” manages to achieve what so many blockbusters fail to do: it makes the unreal live and breathe. Director Matt Reeves completely moves beyond demands for extravaganza to create a strikingly intimate second sequel that fully delivers on the empathy “Rise” introduced and “Dawn” developed, making viewers feel just about everything for these damn dirty apes.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Wish Upon

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“Wish Upon” isn’t based on an original idea, but it has the opportunity to do something fresh with known horror elements. It’s the umpteenth take on “The Monkey’s Paw,” a 1902 short story that’s spawned countless adaptations and rip-offs, but rarely does the saga of wishes and rashness hit the high school scene. Sadly, in the hands of director John R. Leonetti and screenwriter Barbara Marshall, “Wish Upon” becomes an unbearable mess in a hurry, displaying a level of production confusion and botched editing one doesn’t encounter very often. It’s nonsensical work, poorly constructed and considered, also torpedoed by obnoxious performances and a general disregard for its audience, assuming all they care to see are occasional scenes of murder and social humiliations, as clearly defined personalities, relationships, and even deaths are jettisoned from frame one.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - To the Bone

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Anorexia is an extremely difficult disorder to dramatically communicate. It certainly can be very visual, challenging actors to drop significant amounts of weight to physically portray the refusal of food, but there’s a heavy psychological component that demands a depth of understanding to fully absorb, as the impulses of anorexia are tough to understand. “To the Bone” feels as lived-in as possible, with writer/director Marti Noxon doing an excellent job slipping into the skin of the lead character, grasping her urges, habits, and reluctance to help herself out of a dangerous medical situation. As with any tale of torture, it’s difficult to watch at times, but Noxon is able to warm up the viewing experience through her study of character, trying to communicate headspaces in flux rather than linger on torment. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Film Review - Moka

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The agony of personal loss inspires unique reactions to revenge in “Moka,” the latest from director Frederic Mermoud (“Accomplices”). While other productions generally head in a “Taken” direction, using the inner fire of a parent in the throes of grief to burn the screen, “Moka” plays a different kind of game. It’s a largely psychological study of a restless mother who needs to feel vengeance to feel anything at all, and Mermoud treats the material (an adaptation of a novel by Tatiana De Rosnay) with care, tending to intimate emotions and subtle shocks to the system. The feature is suspenseful, outstandingly so at times, but it doesn’t indulge bloodlust, taking a far more disorientating route to a sense of satisfaction, and doing so with terrific performances from stars Emmanuelle Devos and Nathalie Baye.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The Sabbatical

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“The Sabbatical” is a Canadian production. One can identify a country of origin though accents and locations, but there’s a special comedic vibe to the picture that could only originate from Canada. Co-writer/director Brian Stockton (“I Heart Regina”) has fashioned his own take on “Lost in Translation,” though he doesn’t submit the same whispered screen poetry, working with a small budget and a cast of unknowns. Still, the overall vibe of “The Sabbatical” is lively and highly amusing, asking questions of aging and purpose while tracking a wonderfully sly sense of humor in the largely improvised feature, The helmer respects the talents of his cast yet pushes onward with this study of a mid-life crisis, creating distinct personalities and memorable reactions to even the slightest hint of a challenge, approaching an exploration of personal inventory with steady laughs and authentic behavior.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Austin Found

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While it’s not a challenging picture, “Austin Found” does a fine job managing darkly comic material, not exactly trying to be hilarious, and teasing some rather grim behavior from morally dubious characters. Co-written and directed by Will Raee, the film explores the pursuit of fame and fortune through media manipulation, using a common depiction of mental illness to inspire a domino-tipping viewing experience that encounters less-than-bright characters and the schemes they hope to pull off. Again, “Austin Found” isn’t profound, and as a satire of television sensationalism, it falls flat, unwilling to snowball into something truly daring. But accepted on a lowered level of expectation, and the movie manages to balance varying degrees of stupidity and eccentricity.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Blind

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This isn’t the first time Alec Baldwin and Demi Moore have starred together in a film. Their last pairing was 1996’s “The Juror,” a moronic thriller that attempted to cash in on the John Grisham gold rush of the decade. It was one of the worst movies of the year. 21 years later, Baldwin and Moore try again with “Blind,” which heads in the more romantic direction. The results are better, but not by much, as the screenplay by John Buffalo Mailer (“Hello Herman”) actually achieves some sense of intimacy and personal loss before it plunges into complete stupidity. “Blind” might work on a lazy Sunday afternoon with relaxed expectations and an iPad on the lap, but it’s hardly successful, almost obsessed with sabotaging itself in its pursuit of dramatic motivation that’s completely unnecessary.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com