Blu-ray Review - The Unholy Four


While it details strong violence at times, 1970's "The Unholy Four" remains a jaunty spaghetti western, keeping the cowboy routine lubricated by a wonderful score from Riz Ortolani, who's the real white hat of this production. Music helps to point the picture in the right direction, as helmer Enzo Barboni makes a stylish, short-tempered effort, but also one with bizarre pit stops, including a full minute of screen time devoted to watching four characters eat in extreme close-up. Barboni has a firm handle on the basics of the genre, but his ideas for dramatic grit are occasionally bewildering. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Who?


There was no shortage of strange sci-fi and fantasy tales from the 1970s, a decade that was wallpapered with outrage and paranoia, fueling such endeavors. It was a way to provide global commentary to those perhaps unwilling to listen, or identify trouble when it wasn't allowed. 1974's "Who?" is one of the stranger offerings from the era, merging the oddity of cyborg construction with the gamesmanship of Cold War spy missions, wrapped up in a detective story of sorts that takes everything presented onscreen with the utmost seriousness. It's an adaptation of an Algis Budrys novel, which keeps it away from B-movie shenanigans. Instead, "Who?" questions the nature of identity and the price of national security, all the while featuring actor Joseph Bova dressed up as a robot, and there's not a single character who's disturbed by the sight. While hardly outrageous, the picture is strange enough to hold attention, using the oddity of the robot visual to sneak in some interesting thoughts on the nature of humanity. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Scavenger Hunt


Released during the 1963 holiday season, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" broke several comedy rules, making it a filmgoing event. Besides achieving an absurd length, the feature collected a wealth of funny people to participate in a madcap adventure, making it a must-see during its theatrical release, triggering the envy of producers around town. Knock-offs weren't immediate, but they eventually arrived, including 1979's "Scavenger Hunt," which is a rather bold photocopy of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," only without the sterling cast and widescreen expanse. While it retains a lack of editorial control, "Scavenger Hunt" attempts the same manic energy, boosted here with pronounced "Looney Tunes" inspiration, finding director Michael Schultz more of a manager than a director, trying to juggle groups of actors who are here to play, delivering extremely broad performances in a movie that welcomes any and all forms of goofballery. It's a silly endeavor, but it's also exhausting to watch, with its inherent harmlessness evolving into a threat as the one-dimensional picture is stretched over nearly two hours of screen time. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Belko Experiment


Before he became the affable architect of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” franchise, director James Gunn was once a filmmaker who reveled in extreme violence, always sold with a dark sense of humor. With credits such as “Super” and “Slither,” Gunn’s particular way with tone was always polarizing, and while he doesn’t helm “The Belko Experiment,” his inky fingerprints are all over this oddball slaughterhouse movie. Gunn hands control to Greg McLean, who tries to keep up with Gunn’s scripted vision for nonstop carnage, but so much suffering and whiffed jokes tends to wear down any possible appreciation of the material’s study of abominable human behavior. Gunn cherry picks from the boldest in battle royal cinema (including the 2000 Japanese cult hit, “Battle Royale”), but doesn’t sharpen the effort into a fine point, content to manufacture a massacre, but wary of assigning any deeper meaning to it. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mean Dreams


The oddly titled “Mean Dreams” is reminiscent of “Mud,” the 2013 Jeff Nichols picture that explored adolescent awakening in the great outdoors while maintaining suspense from troublesome adults. While it doesn’t share the same poetic qualities, “Mean Dreams” has a compelling way with young hearts blurring critical decision making skills, with director Nathan Morlando maintaining a consistent mood of contemplation and confrontation, filling up the effort with enough feeling and tension to satisfy. Morlando does an excellent job tapping into the thought process of a juvenile in love, sustaining that behavioral authenticity as it snowballs out of control, allowing the story to feel energetic when it’s actually formulaic, finding the helmer skilled enough to reanimate clichés. Read the rest at

Film Review - Deidra and Laney Rob a Train


While it resembles a typical teen picture centered on community shenanigans and troubled times, it’s a relief to report that “Deidre and Laney Rob a Train” has some defined spunk to help it navigate a plot that plays tribute to heist movies and makes time to deal with broken hearts. It’s the latest from director Sydney Freeland, who’s enjoying her most high profile gig to date, coming through with a brightly performed and thoughtfully written (by Shelby Farrell) dramedy that takes time to celebrate individuality, the value of education, and confront the universal fear of change. “Deidre and Laney Rob a Train” can be a silly film, but its heart is always in the right place, supplying meaningful themes and characterization, which are always supported by fantastic performances. Read the rest at

Film Review - Burning Sands


The experience of fraternity pledging is usually depicted a certain way, putting heavy emphasis on the brutality of hazing rituals, which often push pledge minds and bodies to the breaking point, guaranteeing lasting loyalty. Rarely does a film showcase the initiation process as one of hearty exchanges and firm handshakes. “Burning Sands” is the latest in a long line of college disaster movies, but it manages to locate a few new avenues of humiliation to explore, taking in the choreographed barbarity of fraternity life at a black college, pitting the savagery of daily abuse against clearness of though provided by historical leaders who’ve truly gone through their own version of hell night. “Burning Sands” has a problem with formula and predictability, but it’s also distinct in its point of view, with co-writer/director Gerald McMurray creating terrific scenes of anxiety and confusion to help support a periodically disappointing feature. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Dark Below


Writer/director Douglas Schulze should be commended for at least trying to pull off something a little different. “The Dark Below” is thriller cinema, and a B-movie that’s searching for ways to unsettle its audience, also hunting for a gimmick that might help the feature to stand out from the genre pack. First and foremost, the film is partially set underwater, with the lead character struggling to survive under ice. Secondly, there’s no dialogue for the majority of the effort, with Schulze using silence as a way to shake up expectations. “The Dark Below” supplies an unusual viewing experience, but not a satisfying one, with Schulze coming up short in the chills department, exhausting the audience with iffy offerings of style that do next to nothing for the endeavor’s fear factor. Read the rest at

Film Review - Atomica


Like many B-movies, “Atomica” submits a vision for the end of the world. However, it’s a slow ride in planetary decay and filmmaking, with director Dagen Merrill struggling to make a picture that’s basically conversational in nature exciting. There’s some design effort at work in the feature, which gives it a visual presence despite a clear lack of funds to truly bring a dying Earth to life, but “Atomica,” which aims to increase tension through a story of questionable identities and industrial exploration, rarely has the emphasis an endeavor like this requires to rise above its limited means. Merrill wants to transform limited spaces and dark motivations into a Hitchcockian ride, but it rarely grips as tightly as the production would like. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - David and Bathsheba


The 1950s were an amazing time for biblical epics. Studios were attempting to best one another with different tales of Heavenly might, and they were spending serious coin to produce these varied tales, keeping productions immense, with thousands of extras, towering sets, and ornate costuming. The bible provides plenty of opportunity for flashy extravaganza, and a major player in the race was 1951's "David and Bathsheba," which turned to a particularly dark section of scripture to fuel a big screen journey that takes on life and death, sex and temptation, and giants and sin. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Steaming


Based on the play by Nell Dunn, 1985's "Steaming" is the last feature film for director Joseph Losey, the helmer of "Modesty Blaise," "The Trout," and "The Romantic Englishwoman." Losey's career ends on a confident note with this production, which preserves the movements of the source material, maintaining concentration on the lives of women who frequent a Turkish bath, sharing their stories, hopes, and fears with one another as the business becomes a center of therapy for the customers. Although it isn't a sophisticated transfer from stage to screen, Losey wisely preserves the flat look of the production, keeping concentration on the characters and the drama they encounter and periodically invent. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Revenge of the Blood Beast


An Italian chiller, 1966's "Revenge of the Blood Beast" (aka "She Beast") is a peculiar endeavor to merge horror with broad comedy, using extremes to give the picture a level of liveliness other productions tend to avoid. Director Michael Reeves barely holds the feature together, but he's rather good with macabre details, putting time and effort into gruesome encounters and fiendish turns of plot. But for every bizarre, demonic scene in the movie, there's a slapstick counterpart, including a conclusion that appears to be a tribute to the Keystone Cops brand of mischief -- an unexpected addition when dealing with a film that's primarily about a witch's rampage. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Ixcanul


Slow burn doesn't even begin to describe the "Ixcanul" viewing experience. It's a film of complete stasis at times, but the fact that writer/director Jayro Bustamante is able to find a mesmerizing creep to the picture is a major achievement. A full immersion into culture, poor decisions, and responsibility, "Ixcanul" is not a feature that exits the system quickly, gradually locating outstanding character detail and, surprisingly, potent social and political commentary, making it much more than an admittedly hypnotic series of thousand yard stares. Bustamante doesn't have much here besides his evocative vision, but he makes his moments count, following a plot that's filled with common adolescent blues and disasters, yet arrives at a completely unpredictable destination. Read the rest at

Film Review - Kong: Skull Island


With the release of 2014’s “Godzilla,” Legendary Entertainment kicked off the “MonsterVerse,” their answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, only instead of costumed superheroes, the company’s features will tie together building-sized creatures unsure if they want to tolerate or decimate humankind. From a moneymaking standpoint, it’s a tired idea, with seemingly everything open for franchise material these days, but Legendary has enthusiasm for their monsters, building on a best parts of “Godzilla” to inspire “Kong: Skull Island,” which turns the tragic super-ape into a ferocious defender of his jungle territory. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts keeps up the pace, but also spends time on his “Apocalypse Now” and “Jurassic Park” fandom, pouring his energy into a lively picture that brings out a fresh side of the titular menace, making the effort less about broken hearts and stunning beauty, and more about pummeling puny invaders. Read the rest at

Film Review - Don't Kill it


In 2013, director Mike Mendez broke through with “Big Ass Spider,” which miraculously turned a basic monster movie premise into an entertaining ride of thrills and comedy. The film showcased what Mendez was capable of doing with a limited budget and cast, giving the picture some scale to compete with trends in wink-happy schlockbusters. I didn’t make time for the follow-up, “Lavalantula,” which was more of a “Police Academy” reunion than a creature feature, and 2016’s “The Last Heist” was fairly forgettable. Thankfully, Mendez returns to form with “Don’t Kill It,” a wild and inventive comedic chiller that really doesn’t have much of a budget, with the production working extra hard to give the effort some presence with lighting and mayhem, putting its faith in the power of gore and the charms of its lead actor, Dolph Lundgren. Read the rest at

Film Review - My Scientology Movie


In 2015, director Alex Gibney created “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief,” a documentary that attempted to cut the religious organization deep, exposing its curious and possibly destructive practices to the world, with hopes to disturb its secretive methods of physical and mental control. The picture was a smash success, attracting near-record viewers during its HBO debut, bringing Scientology back into the national conversation, stirring up fascinating debate on its methodology. Last year, the show “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath” aired to high ratings, providing a look at someone once part of the machine now facing a future away from her once vital network of support, with the actress growing critical of Scientology, dissecting it with an insider’s perspective. And now it’s Louis Theroux turn to take Scientology for a spin, though his documentary, “My Scientology Movie,” isn’t nearly as dire, tracking the comedian’s attempt to replicate the experience of the religion instead of merely highlighting its fallacies, dangers, and mystery. Read the rest at

Film Review - Love & Taxes


There’s a cult following for 2001’s “Haiku Tunnel,” and those people are going to be very happy that brothers Jacob and Josh Kornbluth have finally decided to return to the source of their only big screen success, albeit unconventionally. In many ways, “Love & Taxes” is another pass at “Haiku Tunnel” without remaking the whole thing, offering writer/star Josh Kornbluth a chance to explain his tumultuous life during the creation of the earlier picture, and doing so in the monologue format, where he’s most comfortable. It’s a performance piece broken up with dramatic interpretations of key events, delivering a mischievous take on Josh’s profound tax problems while director Jacob tries to transform stage work into a beguiling no-budget version of his brother’s ruined life. “Love & Taxes” is a bit unsteady at times, but Kornbluth charm and eccentricity remains as potent now as it was 16 years ago. Read the rest at

Film Review - Brimstone


To his literal credit, writer/director Martin Koolhoven takes complete responsibility for his latest endeavor, which is titled “Koolhoven’s Brimstone” on the print, picking up where artists such as John Carpenter and Lars von Trier have left off. While there’s undeniable production heft on display throughout the picture, it’s Koolhoven who’s standing up for the effort, which concentrates on lessons of punishment in the American west, frosted with incestual appetites, ultraviolence, and a 148 minute run time. “Brimstone” is punishment, but that’s the idea, trying to inflict as much pain as possible as it explores kinks and sadism, bending genre traditions with an unnerving fixation on prolonged suffering. It’s a brutal film, in aggression and pacing, and I can only hope some of Koolhoven’s helming fee went to some badly needed therapy sessions. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Doomwatch


While it began life as a BBC show in 1970, 1972's "Doomwatch" hopes to bring its message of global health to a larger audience with a feature-film continuation. Mindful of repetition, the production alters a few elements from the television program, attempting to make the movie its own thing, which generally involves isolating the lead character from the comforts of big city science as the story plays out inside a coastal Scottish village. Perhaps this attempt to revive "Doomwatch" is best left for longtime fans of the series, who already have an appreciation for its blend of genre pursuits and procedural might, though newcomers to the concept aren't left hanging, as director Peter Sasdy tries to infuse the picture with a sense of environmental urgency, even if the overall effort has trouble unearthing chills and thrills. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Neptune Factor


1973's "The Neptune Factor" takes viewers into the depths of the ocean on a rescue mission that encounters its share of fantasy challenges and enormous amounts of exploration. It's meant to be engrossing escapism, showcasing actors concentrating on the moment, attempting to turn some crude filmmaking magic into a pulse-pounding ride of bizarre discoveries. Intention is there on the screen, often carried along single-handedly by co-star Ernest Borgnine, but "The Neptune Factor" can be quite ridiculous if one doesn't buy into the special effects wizardry on display. Its cheesiness is pronounced, making any viewing of the effort a game of stifling laughs and battling yawns, as director Daniel Petrie is so enamored with his submersibles, he forgets to build an engaging thriller, with long stretches of the feature devoted to characters staring out of windows, trying to project a feeling of awe the picture doesn't inspire. Read the rest at