Film Review - Shock and Awe


Rob Reiner has always been a political person, but his passion for world events and Washington D.C. activities has taken over his career as a filmmaker over the last year. Eight months ago, there was “LBJ,” a study of the 36th President of the United States. And now there’s “Shock and Awe,” which also examines a presidency, only this time from the perspective of journalists searching for proof that the man in charge is a liar. Reuniting with “LBJ” screenwriter Joey Hartstone and star Woody Harrelson, Reiner attempts to craft his own “All the President’s Men” with “Shock and Awe,” which takes a look at the invasion of Iraq after 9/11, highlighting the struggle of reporters tasked with understanding presidential motivation, making connections between military preparation and the politicians pulling the strings.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Kings


“Kings” is a movie that has a time, place, and talent to bring unusual perspective to the 1992 L.A. Riots. And yet, writer/director Deniz Gamze Erguven doesn’t have anything to say with the feature, which thrives on chaos, not drama. Erguven made a remarkable impression a few years back with the French film “Mustangs,” but she has no vision here, adding clumps of urban distress, social outrage, and racial hostility to a tale of domestic unrest, while the actual riots barely factor into the picture. “Kings” is a mess, edited with a butter knife and emotionally constipated, with Erguven giving up on a focal point as she mashes together subplots, hoping that this weird combination of sobering reality and light comedy will somehow gel on its own.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Flesh and Bullets


Director Carlos Tobalina is primarily known for his work in adult cinema (helming titles such as "Champagne Orgy" and "Sexual Kung Fu in Hong Kong"), but there was a moment in his career where he wanted to try out some professional legitimacy. 1985's "Flesh and Bullets" doesn't contain any hardcore material, but it might as well, with Tobalina treating the "thriller" with the same kind of attention most throwaway X-rated endeavors receive. That's not to suggest the movie isn't a wildly entertaining junk food viewing experience, but "Flesh and Bullets" is no display of creative focus from Tobalina, who sticks to what he knows, only dialing down graphic content. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Murder on the Emerald Seas


Co-writer/director Alan Ormsby endeavors to create something wacky with 1974's "Murder on the Emerald Seas" (a.k.a. "The Great Masquerade"), and his approach to big screen comedy takes some getting used to. Clearly a fan of classic comedies, favoring the work found in silent cinema, Ormsby tries to master the same timing and tirelessness for "Murder on the Emerald Seas," which plays broadly and excitedly with familiar set-ups and punchlines. It's a whodunit, but providing a thorough mystery isn't part of the production's plan, as most energy is poured in generating silliness, which can only reach as far as the iffy screenplay allows. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Muthers


1976's "The Muthers" is happy to participate in a multitude of subgenres, hoping to appeal to as many audiences as possible with a relatively simple product. The overall mood is rooted in Blaxploitation, focusing on tough black women and the nonsense they reject, but there are also cinematic avenues to explore that include martial art displays and women-in-prison entertainment. "The Muthers" isn't classy, trying very hard to follow filmmaking trends, but director Cirio H. Santiago launches an amusing assault, working to keep the endeavor on the go with action encounters and assorted survival challenges.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Hang Up


1969's "The Hang Up" offers no introductions, flinging viewers into a gender fluid bar where a young entertainer known as Suzette sits in the middle of the room, removes her top, and wills herself to orgasm. No characters are identified or motivations established, it's just pure sexploitation filler from writer/director John Hayes, who trusts the core demographic sitting down to watch the picture are far more interested in the baring of breasts than the morality play to come. "The Hang Up" eventually connects to a story, but it's hard to top such a bizarre opener, though the kinky melodrama that ensues is just kooky enough to pay attention to, though it helps to have the knowledge that Hayes never returns to salaciousness with the same verve he offers in the film's opening.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Dungeon of Harrow


In the general DIY movement of horror cinema in the 1960s, perhaps spurred on by successes achieved by Hammer Films and Roger Corman, more than few oddball productions managed to sneak their way into release. 1962's "The Dungeon of Harrow" is one such picture, with co-writer/director Pay Boyette trying to create his own gothic nightmare with only a few passable ideas, struggling with budget issues and a strange imagination for evildoing inside a remote castle. "The Dungeon of Harrow" is painfully inert at times, but for those who have the patience for slow-drip suspense, the feature does have the advantage of an ending, with all the sluggishness, crude technical achievements, and labored performances actually leading somewhere for a change, though it takes an incredible amount of patience to get there.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation


Franchise fatigue is a very real issue with animated features, finding certain productions struggling to dream up something worthwhile to keep up monetary interests and, more often than not, the best ideas have already been used up. Originality isn’t an issue for “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation,” as the previous two installments haven’t been all that inspired to begin with, giving the screenplay free reign to do anything it needs to do to keep the characters busy for 90 minutes. For returning director Genndy Tartakovsky, “Hotel Transylvania 3” is a shot to purge all his cartoon reverence into an unlikely second sequel, cranking up the silliness and general rubbery nonsense to point where the actual plot gets in his way. Tartakovsky is making this one for himself, folks, and while he’s attentive to expectations (don’t worry, there are fart jokes), he’s also going bananas with previously unseen scale and manic animation, making the endeavor the best of the series just by sheer energy alone. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Domestics


With the success of “The Purge” and its sequels, there’s clearly an audience for dystopic visions of the near-future, where a world teetering on the edge of chaos finally plunges into darkness. Writer/director Mike P. Ryan sets up to the plate with “The Domestics,” his take on end-of-civilization horrors, and, unlike “The Purge,” he seems to understand the need for pace and performance when feeling out the edges of inhumanity. It also helps to have an unusual setting, with “The Domestics” a “Mad Max” riff that crosses Wisconsin, finding Hell on Earth in Midwestern surroundings. Ryan has fresh ideas and rhythm to go with his cinematic tributes, with the film also taking notes from “The Warriors,” setting up a chase picture that’s heavy on barbarity and oddity, and smart enough to only take a few pit stops as Ryan arranges apocalyptic violence and bits of dark humor.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Ideal Home


“Ideal Home” brings writer/director Andrew Fleming back to screens after some time away, last seen with 2014’s disappointing “Barefoot.” Fleming was once a promising filmmaker with a string of creative successes in “Threesome,” “The Craft,” and “Dick,” but he lost his vision along the way, getting stuck with underwhelming fare such as “Hamlet 2” and an ill-advised remake of “The In-Laws.” The good news is that Fleming is back on solid ground with his latest endeavor, and it’s one from the heart, taking a comedic look at gay parenting in “Ideal Home,” which does an impressive job riding the line between camp and syrup. It’s a silly picture, which helps to extract a good number of laughs, but the effort also gives Fleming some much needed inspiration, finding his helming mojo with a very funny movie.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The First Purge


Writer/director James DeMonaco ran out of macabre ideas with 2016’s “The Purge: Election Year,” taking matters to their natural conclusion by serving up the same style of carnage as the previous two chapters, while somehow encouraging the worst acting the series has ever produced. With nowhere to go, DeMonaco now pulls a prequel out of his back pocket, which provides a chance to refresh a moldy premise for future sequels, keeping the low-budget mayhem going for another two years. “The First Purge” isn’t here to provide answers or even properly set up the cruel American order that’s established the free-for-all murder night. It’s simply DeMonaco making yet another terrible exploitation movie, only now he fully exposes TrumpWorld touches that were teased in the last installment, turning alleged subtext into finger-painting to fully pander to the target audience.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Ant-Man and the Wasp


Released in 2015, “Ant-Man” was a slight gamble for Marvel Studios, who were trying to branch out beyond the traditional roster of superheroes, tinkering with tone to see what the fansbase could handle while still moving forward with their grand plans of “Avengers”-sized war zones. Directed by Peyton Reed, “Ant-Man” found its audience, and one that was in the mood for something sillier to pair with extensive visual effects, creating a wackier viewing experience that was still attentive to blockbuster expectations, even while it dealt with the miniature universe, even entering the forbidden Quantum Realm. After appearing in “Captain America: Civil War,” Ant-Man returns to his own series with “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” which tries to replicate the mix of laughs and spectacle found three years ago, often contorting itself in awkward positions to do so. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Sicario: Day of the Soldado


Released in 2015, “Sicario” used U.S./Mexico border issues to inspire a thriller about service and revenge, with screenwriter Taylor Sheridan using the gray areas of conduct involving the war on drugs to create a feature that studied nihilism as it constructed taut scenes of suspense. It worked due to creative efforts from Sheridan, director Denis Villeneuve, and cinematographer Roger Deakins, managing to become a small-scale hit in a difficult marketplace, attracting a sophisticated audience in the mood for a grim but effective chiller. The world didn’t need a “Sicario” sequel, but now there’s “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” which isn’t just a follow-up, but a cinematic foundation poured for a new franchise of border-hopping adventures featuring leathered characters and twisted moral cores. Only Sheridan returns to duty behind the camera, and the absence of those responsible for the original installment is felt in a major way. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Black Water


It’s important to note that while the promotional push for “Black Water” highlights a reunion of “Universal Soldier” stars Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, the Swedish action hero has more of a cameo role in the picture. There’s disappointment with this realization, with Lundgren tucked away in a prison cell for most of the feature, and the film could use his unusual chemistry with Van Damme, giving the two a rare shot at playing allies for the run time. “Black Water” doesn’t indulge such B-movie fantasies, instead serving up a serviceable but unremarkable thriller that takes place inside a tight setting, but director Pasha Patriki doesn’t call down the thunder with his screen mayhem, keeping the effort lively with gunplay but finding little else to separate it from the competition. Read the rest at

Film Review - Uncle Drew


“Uncle Drew” began life in 2012 commercials for Pepsi, which were apparently popular enough to inspire a plan to make a feature film out of the idea of a young basketball player made up into an old basketball player who still dominates the game. It’s a thin premise for a movie, but screenwriter Jay Longino cranks up the Cliché 9000 machine to help churn out enough conflicts to fill two pictures. Thankfully, there’s some natural charm to “Uncle Drew” to keep away the sense of deja vu that threatens to overwhelm the production, as the effort is always at its finest when leaning on chemistry and oddity to land laughs. Longino pushes hard to give the endeavor structure, but the comedy doesn’t need boundaries, doing just fine with silliness and underdog cinema aspirations.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Woman Walks Ahead


“Woman Walks Ahead” is based on a real relationship between portrait painter Caroline Weldon and Sitting Bull, with the pair sparking to one another while she assigned herself the mission to capture his likeness on canvas. However, to make the relationship meaningful on screen, writer Steven Knight has softened many of its sharp corners, hoping to locate elements of attraction between two people on opposite ends of the cultural spectrum. “Woman Walks Ahead” doesn’t becomes a Harlequin romance novel, but it certainly threatens to break out in heaving chests and wind-blown hair, with director Susanna White preserving Knight’s quest to transform art into heated activism and eventually forbidden commitment, which takes away some of the essential drama the movie communicates particularly well in its first act.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Distorted


“Distorted” aims to be a thoroughly jarring viewing experience. The film takes a look at the concept of a psychotronic takeover, where dark forces, possibly the government, use subliminal messaging and mind control to turn Average Joes into puppets. It’s an interesting idea, but this is not a movie to take seriously, as screenwriter Arne Olsen serves up the same old platter of paranoia and mildly strange occurrences, trying to remain one step ahead of the audience as he attempts to engineer a proper freak out. Trouble is, “Distorted” plays one too many tricks, and its casting is abysmal, handing an intricate breakdown to an actress who isn’t capable of playing all the notes the character requires, while the actor is more concerned about covering his hair in numerous ways than he is giving an engaged performance.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Loving Pablo


No matter the limited box office potential of the subject, filmmakers love the story of Pablo Escobar. He’s a special figure in South American criminal history, with the reach of his influence legendary, giving writers and directors plenty of violent incidents to choose from. After “Escobar: Paradise Lost,” “The Infiltrator,” and even television’s “Narcos” comes “Loving Pablo,” which sounds like the stuff of a romance novel, but helmer Fernando Leon de Aranoa (“Mondays in the Sun,” “A Perfect Day”) once again details Escobar’s vicious ways with enemies and confidants, working through familiar acts of brutality and intimidation to basically recount the rise and fall of a cocaine kingpin. The twist here is a female perspective, with Escobar’s short-term lover sharing her tale of seduction and agony, handing de Aranoa just enough reason to rehash The Escobar Experience for viewers who haven’t tired of this stuff.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Damsel


Siblings David and Nathan Zellner have been making movies for quite some time now, but they recently made a career breakthrough with 2014’s “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter.” The Zellners are idiosyncratic filmmakers, and “Kumiko” was rich with oddity, also identifying their love of deliberate pacing and specific performances. “Damsel” is the reward for having something notable on their resumes, offered a chance to make a western with recognizable stars in Robert Pattinson and Mia Wasikowska. However, the Zellners aren’t interested in shedding their quirks and games of delay, keeping “Damsel” much like their previous work, offering samples of quirkiness and mental decay while taking their sweet time when moving from one scene to the next. They’re obviously talented men, but their fondness for stillness clouds the highlights of their work.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Penitentiary II


1979's "Penitentiary" was no great drama, but the prison boxing film was dedicated to showcasing true grit and horrors behind bars, adding some light insanity to play up the material's B-movie potential, welcoming people into the viewing experience. Writer/director Jamaa Fanaka doesn't continue the steeliness for 1982's "Penitentiary II," taking the sequel down a bizarrely comedic path that's more about camp than concussions, perhaps fearful nobody would show up if he dared to play the continuation straight. The guilty pleasures of "Penitentiary" are mostly gone in the follow-up, finding Fanaka out of ideas when it comes to the next chapter of the Martel "Too Sweet" Gardone saga, stripping out the inherent hardness of the setting and the participants to create a near-parody of what's come before, only storytelling skills are severely slackened, performances are nuclear, and the central idea of pugilist redemption is now nothing more than an afterthought. Read the rest at