July 31, 2016

Rest in Peace, Jack Davis

Jack Davis (1924-2016)


Starring Adrien Brody, Yvonne Strahovski, Jennifer Beals, Campbell Scott, Linda Lavin, Steven Berkoff. Directed by Brian DeCubellis. (2016, 114 min).

Manhattan Night has many of the same ingredients we typically find in classic film noir. There's the cynical world-weary narrator led astray by a woman. In this case, it's Adrien Brody as Porter Wren, a newspaper columnist who specializes in covering tragedy. Caroline Crowley (Yvonne Strahovski) is the sultry femme fatale Wren is unable to resist, even as she's leading him down a dark path. She implores him to investigate the mysterious recent death of her husband, Simon (Campbell Scott). While trying to unravel this mystery, Wren is blackmailed by his powerful, lecherous new boss, Hobbs (Steven Berkhoff), into recovering a flashdrive containing scandalous video, which he suspects Caroline possesses.

If we weren't convinced this was intended as an homage in the tradition of classic-era film noir, right down to Brody's grizzled voice-over narration, much of this would seem rather silly. There's also a lot of the same prerequisite soft-core sex featured in most neo-noir since 1981's Body Heat. So while Manhattan Night isn't the most original or memorable movie in the world, it's assembled well enough to maintain interest. Brody makes a fine cynical sap who's in over his head; Strahovski exudes enough sultry sexiness to get the blood boiling while still maintaining a vulnerability that keeps us invested in the character.

Adrien could use a Tic Tac.

Plotwise, the film is less successful, trying to tell to two stories at once (both involve recovering missing video recordings) without really tying them together. Neither thread comes to a very satisfying conclusion, and one throws in a depressing out-of-the-blue flashback at the end that's totally out of place with established tone of the film.

Ultimately, Manhattan Night is certainly watchable, though a notch or two below the many popular quasi-erotic, neo-noir films which inpsired it. Performances by both lead actors help gloss over its narrative inconsistencies, at least the first time we're watching. After that, you and your pause button are on your own

Featurettes: "Behind the Scenes with Cast & Crew" (Interviews); "The Watcher" (making-of)
Audio Commentary (with Writer/director Brian DeCubellis, cinematographer David Tumblety & Actor/producer Campbell Scott
Deleted/Extended Scenes
Digital Copy

July 29, 2016


Dan Mumford's 'This Next Part Might Hurt'
In conjunction with Universal Pictures Home Entertainment and STX Entertainment Hero Complex Gallery is pleased to present two new official Hardcore Henry posters by artists Adam Rabalais and Dan Mumford.

If you haven't seen the film yet, Hardcore Henry is a fast-paced action film that launches viewers through a cavalcade of gravity-defying extremes, all told via POV photography that is incredibly reminiscent of first-person gaming. The film features Sharlto Copley, Haley Bennett, Danila Kozlovsky and Tim Roth, and is now available on Blu-ray™ and DVD.

To View Posters and Additional Hero Complex Gallery Information please CLICK HERE

July 28, 2016

Movie News: WELL GO USA Acquires Remastered PHANTASM Series

Well Go USA Entertainment announced its acquisition of North American rights for Don Coscarelli’s legendary Phantasm seriesincluding an all-new 4K restoration of the original 1979 cult classic Phantasm: Remastered, never-before-seen HD restorations of 1994’s Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead and 1998’s Phantasm IV: Oblivion, and the long-anticipated debut of the fifth and final film in the series, 2016’s Phantasm: Ravager.

On October 7th, for the first time ever, the Phantasm series will be available in remastered, high-definition versions across all cable and digital platforms. A Blu-ray and DVD Collector’s Edition Set of the Phantasm series will follow later this year, along with individual Blu-rays and DVDs of Phantasm: Remastered and Phantasm: Ravager, all of which will be packed with special bonus features.

Phantasm: Remastered and Phantasm: Ravager will hit theaters as well.  Phantasm: Remasteredwill screen across the county as part of the inaugural Art House Theater Day on September 24, 2016, and Phantasm: Ravager will be released in select theaters on October 7, day and date with its digital HD release.  In addition, fans across the country will have the ability to bring both films to their hometowns using Tugg, an innovative platform that empowers individuals and groups to host screenings in their local theaters and community venues.

Phantasm: Remastered came into being when filmmaker J.J. Abrams, a fan of the original, wanted to screen the film for his team at Bad Robot Productions, only to find the available prints in terrible shape. Working on the premises of Bad Robot with their expert staff, director Don Coscarelli was invited by J.J. to supervise a meticulous 4K digital remaster using their state-of-the-art tools. This included a brand-new 5.1 audio mix using the original stems, ensuring Phantasmwill forever be available to scare the hell out of generations to come with perfect picture and sound.

Phantasm: Ravager is an all-new film that brings one of cinema’s longest-running franchises (36 years!) without a reboot to a close, with Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) and Reggie (Reggie Banister) teaming up to confront the dimension-hopping Tall Man (Angus Scrimm, in his final role) once and for all. 
“The Phantasm films are iconic, and Well Go is ecstatic to have them. We get to bring a classic to a whole new audience with Phantasm: Remastered, and with Phantasm: Ravager we get to bring the die-hard fans - of which I am one - the closure they’ve been waiting for,” said Dylan Marchetti, SVP of Well Go USA Entertainment. “This is the kind of deal that every distributor dreams of doing, and when you get to do it with a true independent like Don, well, that’s just the extra cherry on the sundae.”
"I’m thrilled to be working with Well Go USA and their talented and dedicated team,” saidPhantasm creator Don Coscarelli. “I am excited by their innovative new ideas and intense drive to bring the Phantasm franchise to a new generation of fans."

Phantasm: Remastered, Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead, and Phantasm IV: Oblivion were written and directed by Don Coscarelli.  Phantasm: Ravager was written by Coscarelli and David Hartman, executive produced by Brad Baruh, and directed by Hartman.  All films star Angus Scrimm, Reggie Bannister, and A. Michael Baldwin.


Starring Kerry Washington, Wendell Pierce, Alison Wright, Zoe Lister-Jones, Erika Christensen, Jennifer Hudson, Greg Kinnear, Jeffrey Wright, Bill Irwin, Treat Williams. Directed by Susannah Grant. (2016, 126 min).

Ah, the good old days, when political scandals were real news. Today, whenever a public figure says or does something that could be considered even remotely objectionable, the media turns it into the next Watergate. Tomorrow, yet-another scandal will replace it in the headlines. Some of us will be outraged, forming opinions based on whatever news source reflects our personal values, while the rest of us have become too jaded to give it much more than night's worth of dinner conversation before moving on. We're so accustomed to scandal that it's simply another part of our daily routine.

It wasn't always this way, which is important to remember when watching HBO's Confirmation. The film dramatizes the 1991 hearings in which Anita Hill (Kerry Washington) came forward with allegations of sexual harassment by her former boss, Clarence Thomas (Wendell Pierce), just as he's about to be nominated into the Supreme Court. At the time, this case was not only shocking, but unprecedented, and was a major catalyst in shaping how incidents of sexual harassment are currently viewed and defined.

The film wisely humanizes both Hill and Thomas without deifying one and demonizing the other (though, with her initial reluctance to come forward, Hill is obviously the more sympathetic character here). If anything, the real villains of the film are those overseeing the hearing, many of them trying to discredit Hill in any way possible to avoid further embarrassment over their choice of Thomas as a Supreme Court judge. Washington effectively portrays Hill as a deer caught in the headlights. Meanwhile, Pierce convinces us that Thomas truly doesn't believe he did anything wrong, to the point we - almost -  empathize with him, even though public opinion has-since rendered him guilty.

Like the hearings themselves, Confirmation doesn't come to any concrete resolution, content to simply reenact recent history. As such, it is quite interesting when viewed within the context of when it takes place, long before public scandal was standard routine.

Featurettes: "Kerry Washington on the Historical Impact"; "Wendell Pierce on the Historical Impact"; "Confirmation: Character Spots"
Digital Copy

July 27, 2016


Starring Diego Boneta, Jocelin Donahue, Maiara Walsh, Andres Velencoso. Directed by Alberto Marini. (2014, 84 min).

While a more accurate title for Summer Camp would be Deja Vu, it isn't without its rewards, though you have to be really, really patient.

Four young & pretty - and pretty dumb - counselors arrive at an old Spanish villa in the woods to prepare for a children's summer camp. There's also a creepy group of strangers living nearby in an RV, whom we briefly assume will spend the remainder of the film terrorizing these kids. Instead, a weird virus starts infecting everyone, turning them vicious, drooling and homicidal. While fighting and fleeing from these ravenous monsters, a few of the counselors try to figure out what's causing the outbreak.

Horror fans will easily be able to name-drop numerous classics this film liberally rips off during the first half hour alone, such as Friday the 13th, Evil Dead, 28 Days Later and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Summer Camp starts off hopelessly derivative and predictable, which isn't necessarily a deal breaker, but not only are these characters uninteresting, the film hardly makes a single attempt to put its own spin familiar tropes. One might even be tempted to quit watching because we're pretty sure we've seen this entire movie before (not helped by an introduction that nearly gives the ending away).

The consequences of smokeless tobacco.

However, Summer Camp eventually throws in a few interesting surprises that snap us back to attention. It turns out the infection is only temporary, caused by a weird fungus in the camp's water pipes, originally grown and cultivated by the backwoods hicks (who've built a drug lab in their RV). Since the virus is actually survivable, the film creates some real tension at various times as these counselors put their thinking caps on and use actual logic to try and survive. The temporary nature of this virus also leads to an amusing scene where two uninfected characters are beating the shit out of each other.

By the final act, we've ultimately been given enough narrative twists which make the entire film worth sitting through (though thrill-seeking gorehounds might still be disappointed). Summer Camp won't make you forget the horror classics it liberally rips off, but I'd be willing to wager you've probably sat through a lot worse.


July 26, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: THE LOBSTER

Starring Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Lea Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Jessica Barden, Olivia Colman, Ariane Labed, Ashley Jensen, Angeliki Paroulia. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. (2015, 118 min).

The Lobster is one of those films where you're either totally onboard from the get-go or you're screaming for the director's head. There isn't likely to be much middle ground. But love it or hate it, rest assured you've never seen anything quite like it.

In the near dystopian future, Colin Farrell is David, whose wife just left him. Aside from the heartbreak, what makes this a cause for concern is that, in this world, being single is illegal. Anyone who loses their significant other, for any reason, is sent to a posh 'hotel' in the country and have 45 days to find a compatible mate. If unsuccessful, they will be turned into the animal of their choice. David chooses a lobster because of their virility and lengthy life expectancy (providing they aren’t eaten, of course).

Guests can increase their days by going on daily hunting excursions to catch rogue loners lurking in the woods; for each person you snare, one day is added to your time. David isn’t particularly good at this, so he sets his sights on finding a compatible partner. He initially thinks he finds one - a cold-hearted, emotionally vacant woman (Angeliki Paroulia) who’s a expert at catching stray singles - but through circumstances that are both humorous and disturbing, he ends up on the run, retreating into the woods where he falls in with a band of loners.

The loners are the polar opposite of the world around them. Love, companionship and physical affection are completely forbidden, and the penalty for violating the rules is severe. Still, that doesn’t prevent David from falling in love with a woman (Rachel Weisz) whose short-sightedness would have ironically made them legally compatible if they had met anywhere else. While the loners’ leader (Lea Seydoux) makes plans to raid the hotel, David and the woman decide to try and leave the group.

Unable to find the TV remote, Colin is lost.

That’s the nuts-and-bolts plot description of a film that is far stranger and more complex, but to say more would give away its surprises, of which there are many. Writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos obviously has a bigger agenda than the bizarre premise, mostly about how we superficially base the quality of relationships on preconceived ideas of compatibility. The narrative itself also offers an interesting dichotomy between the two worlds presented here. Sure, the conformity required to exist in this dystopian society is disturbing, but the alternative offered by the loners may be even worse. After all, what's life without someone to share our experiences with?

While deliberately paced, The Lobster is consistently engaging, even when it has us scratching our heads. It’s often funny, though the humor is pitch-black. Similarly, these characters may seem cold and emotionally aloof on the surface (David, in particular) until we later realize The Lobster is, at its heart, a deceptively powerful love story with main characters who express their feelings more through actions than words (as exemplified in the very final scene...which is also rather disturbing).

Some of you reading this will certainly hate this film, which is unconventional in every sense of the word, but I bet you'll still be compelled enough to see it through to the end because, if nothing else, The Lobster is unlike anything you've seen before. How often can you honestly say that about a film?

"The Fabric of Attraction: Concocting 'The Lobster'" (pretty interesting making-of doc featuring the cast & director)

July 24, 2016

VOLCANO (1997) and the Great Lava Game

Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Anne Heche, Gaby Hoffman, Don Cheadle, Jacqueline Kim, Keith David, John Corbett, John Carroll Lynch. Directed by Mick Jackson. (1997, 104 min).

Essay by D.M. ANDERSON
When you’re a kid, everything is out to get you...and you specifically. Spiders, bees, the neighbor’s German Shepherd and the tentacled thing lurking under the bed are simply waiting for the perfect moment to strike. And that’s just in your own backyard. Consider the horrors that await when you stray too far from the relative safety of home, such as quicksand, man-eating sea critters, tornadoes and that hellish green glow between the steps of an escalator, all of which threaten to suck children away to an agonizing death.

Then, of course, there’s lava.

For me, lava was especially horrifying, right up there with spiders. I was totally freaked out by that bubbling goo. The thought of a liquid hot enough to melt anything it touches was simply too fucking awful to wrap my undeveloped brain around. Surely, death by lava was the worst death of all. I wasn’t alone in that sentiment, either. As kids, we’ve all engaged in some variation of the Lava Game (which actually has its own Wikipedia page), jumping from one piece of furniture to the next to avoid hitting the floor. Such a game wouldn’t exist if, on a primal level, lava didn’t scare the shit out of us.

I suppose most of my irrational childhood fears germinated from movies and TV, where untimely demise always carries more dramatic heft than passing peacefully in your sleep at the age of 90. At the same time, I’ve always held a morbid fascination for the things I feared, especially since Hollywood tends to play fast & loose with scientific accuracy in order to up the terror factor. Most spider bites are not only survivable, but seldom much worse than bee strings. Spiders don’t particularly enjoy our company, either, preferring to avoid us if at-all possible. Even tarantulas, the most horrifying eight-legged beasties of all, spend most of their lives sleeping.

But in movies, with the possible exception of Charlotte’s Web, not only are all spiders deadly, they’re aggressive, vicious, hunt in packs and have a distinct taste for human blood. When you’re a kid, no rational argument to the contrary can convince you otherwise. Still, I’ve always loved movies about arrant arachnids because they terrify me. Even the worst ones (such as 1976’s The Giant Spider Invasion) can stir-up that visceral dread I crave from a horror film.

Lava was equally scary, though I found some comfort in the fact that the closest active volcano to my house was 3,000 miles away (at least until Mt. St. Helens woke up). Since lava wasn’t likely to belch from the sink or scurry up my bedroom wall, all I had to do to avoid being melted alive was never visit Hawaii (which I’ve managed so far, to my wife’s chagrin).

Childhood nightmare fuel...courtesy of Mother Nature. Thanks a lot.

Of course, we all grow older and wiser. Childhood fears take a backseat to more tangible ones, like tax season, your daughter’s first date and that weird noise the car suddenly makes when you start it up in the morning. I’m now the go-to spider slayer when my kids are screaming in their bedrooms, and I’m pretty certain a week in Hawaii can someday be scratched off my wife’s bucket list without killing me (unless the plane goes down or I’m attacked just offshore by a great white...or both).

Still, you’re looking at the one guy who felt a twinge of sympathy pain when the T-1000 met its molten demise in Terminator 2. Even though it’s completely alien to my life experiences (so far), lava has always been scary-ass shit. So of course I went to see 1997’s Volcano the day it opened.

No way was I gonna pass this up. I was raised on disaster movies. They were (and still are) my favorite genre and I gobbled up every celluloid catastrophe Hollywood spewed forth in the 70s, even the bad ones, of which there were plenty. My favorite has always been The Towering Inferno. Even today, it's generally considered the Gone with the Wind of its ilk and the gold standard by which all others are measured. Sure, the film looks a little quaint today, with its corny dialogue, questionable performances, silly subplots and the plethora of sideburns & bell-bottom formalwear. But as an 11 year old in 1974, I was terrified at the thought of plummeting 138 stories while on fire. Not only are you being charbroiled the whole way down, you end up splattering the pavement below like a water balloon...two terrible ways to die rolled up into one, just like being attacked by a great white after your plane goes down (maybe my wife and I won’t visit Hawaii after all).

To my utter joy, disaster movies made a brief comeback in the 90s with such catastrophic creations as Twister, Deep Impact, Independence Day, Dante’s Peak, Daylight and Armageddon. Just like I did as a kid, I saw them all, the good with the bad. Then there was Volcano, arguably one of the dumber ones, but by far the most ominous...for me anyway.

What made Volcano especially enticing was that every trailer and poster promised the same thing...enough lava to make volcanophobes shit their pants. Sure, the similarly-themed Dante’s Peak, released that same year, is considered a smarter, more accurate depiction of a volcanic eruption (most simply explode like Mt. St. Helens). However, I don’t go to disaster movies for their realism, just like I would never pay for a spider film to watch a tarantula sleep. I want the volcano of my nightmares, with lava gushing from its flaming maw to engulf terrified townspeople too stupid to simply run the other way, which Volcano delivers in spades.

Tommy Lee Jones plays Mike Roark, head of the Office of Emergency Management, who’s forced to deal with an earthquake that triggers a massive volcanic eruption in downtown Los Angeles. Dr. Amy Barnes (Anne Heche) is also on-hand to provide exposition and explain to Roark what magma is. Speaking of which, we hear a lot of voiceovers of newscasters hilariously describing the ongoing crisis as though they just learned the definitions of ‘volcano’ and ‘lava.’

Volcano takes the Independence Day approach of depicting the destruction of iconic landmarks, while threatening millions of folks unaccustomed to starting their day dodging lava bombs. We’ve seen tiny villages and towns ravaged by eruptions in countless films before, but Volcano is the first one I’m aware of which takes place in one of the world’s biggest cities. Maybe that’s because anybody with rudimentary geological knowledge knows a volcano popping up in L.A. is scientifically impossible, and probably why the Internet Movie Database partially classifies the film as sci-fi.

To call Volcano far-fetched is like declaring the Battle of Normandy an unpleasant weekend. Even the most intellectually challenged of us probably realize you can’t stem the unrelenting flow of millions of tons of molten rock with firefighting equipment and a few well-placed concrete dividers (I can’t even keep water from seeping into my attic, so how’s that gonna work?). Nor would lava have the courtesy of sticking to the main roads. That scene, however, is still more convincing than an initial half-assed attempt at creating romantic chemistry between Roark and Barnes, a subplot wisely dropped and forgotten about.

"No, really...I won an Oscar once."

Still, in classic disaster movie tradition, Volcano boasts a couple other silly subplots, and they are doozies. First, we have Roark’s flippant, eye-rolling teenage daughter, Kelly (Gaby Hoffman), who’s surly and rude during the first act, becomes a helpless, quivering idiot when disaster strikes, only to inexplicably turn heroic during the climax (though still dumb enough to require rescue by Dad). Sure, the annoying-child-whose-death-you’re-silently-praying-for has been a disaster film staple for decades, but to make that character both snotty and dumb is particularly impressive.

Then there’s the phenomenally stupid white cop whose barely-contained racism has him more concerned with keeping a young black man in custody (guilty of voicing an opinion) than the relentless tide of lava rolling up Wilshire Blvd. Later, this cop finally releases his prisoner, who in-turn starts assisting the police in building a barricade to stop the lava. Afterwards, they give each other a final gaze of new-found mutual respect. This laughably out-of-place message of racial tolerance -  We can all get along if we try!  - is presented with the subtlety of a jackhammer.

But I was able to forgive Volcano’s many shortcomings because lava freaks me out and, more significantly, the film presents the stuff just as I always feared when I was little...a hellish, ravenous monster that almost seems alive. When a lava bomb plops right in front of Kelly and spits a wad of flaming goo on her leg, it’s like the damn thing wanted to see her dead as much as the audience does. I was also on the edge of my seat when Roark & Kelly are trapped atop his SUV, forced to play the Lava Game for real. That goes double for the scene where Roark and Barnes are dangling from a fire truck ladder directly over a molten river, hanging on for dear life until they’re hoisted out of the way. It was suspenseful enough for me to overlook the fact that the heat alone probably would have killed them.

Confirming my worst volcanic fears, though, was the fate of transit official Stan Olber (John Carroll Lynch). The scene takes place in a subway tunnel, where he’s rescuing passengers from a stalled train before the lava reaches it. He gets them all off to safety, save for the engineer, who has passed out from the heat. Meanwhile, the lava has reached the train, which begins to melt. Olber hoists the man on his back and makes the slow, grueling march through fire and dripping steel toward the exit, murmuring The Lord’s Prayer in terror, his shoes slowly melting with each step. By the time he reaches the door, lava has surrounded the train, solid ground at least six feet away. Olber has no choice but to try and jump the distance to safety. What happens next completely unnerved me...

Hollywood nightmare fuel...courtesy of Mick Jackson (you asshole).

Olber does not win the Lava Game. He lands in it feet-first, instantly catching fire as he screams in sheer agony. Worse yet, even though the lava is barely six inches deep, he appears to be sinking...because he’s melting alive. With the last of his strength, Olber manages to throw the engineer clear, all while magma literally eats its way up his disintegrating torso. After what feels like an eternity, his bloodcurdling screams grow silent, though we’re still subjected to his death-frozen expression of bug-eyed shock before he completely sinks into oblivion.

In reality, Olber would likely have died from heat exposure before he even reached the end of the train. Even if he had made it, planting both feet firmly in a lava bed would surely kill him faster than a moth in a bug zapper. But reality provided no comfort as I sat in the theater, cringing, squirming and squeezing my wife’s hand hard enough to break a few blood vessels. That single, horrifying scene encapsulates every nightmare I ever had about volcanoes and lava, which came roaring back from the deep recesses of my childhood memories. Even as I write of this scene, my butt puckers a little.

If I had seen Volcano as a kid, my head would have exploded.

I don’t care how far-fetched it is...that scene in Volcano still ranks high on my list of the most vividly disturbing movie moments. At the same time, it’s my favorite part of the entire film, perhaps because it briefly-but-effectively reverted me back to my childhood self, the kid whose wild imagination had him convinced the world - and everything in it - was out to get him.

July 22, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: GUN THE MAN DOWN

Starring James Arness, Angie Dickinson, Robert Wilke, Emile Meyer, Don Megowan, Michael Emmet, Harry Carey Jr. Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen. (1956, 76 min).

Along with the well-established classics, Hollywood cranked out a slew of budget-conscious, quickly-shot westerns to capitalize on the genre's enduring popularity. Most were minor diversions, now largely forgotten, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some really good ones.

Gun the Man Down is one of those, and particularly noteworthy for several reasons. First, it features James Arness just before Gunsmoke made him a household name. Second, this is the first western directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, who’d go on to helm dozens of Gunsmoke episodes and several feature films starring John Wayne (who co-produced this). Third, it features Angie Dickinson, soon to become a Hollywood sex symbol, in her first prominent role.

The story is a fairly intriguing tale of revenge. Arness plays Rem, an outlaw who’s left behind by his two partners after being shot during a bank robbery. To make matters worse, they take off with his girlfriend, Janice (Dickinson), during their escape. Rem goes to jail for year and, upon release, wants some payback, but he has more in-mind than simply shooting them (though it’s not always quite clear what that is).

"I ain't buyin' your whole Pokemon Go accident story."

Not the most ambitious thing ever made, Gun the Man Down is quite good for what it is...a short, well-paced western with noirish plot elements that place it a notch or two above the usual low budget oaters of the era. No one before or behind the camera stretches themselves too much, but since when did that matter?

On a side note, after seeing this film, one might notice that the title doesn’t actually make much sense, but that’s just nitpicking. This is a fun little film.


July 21, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: HOODLUM

Starring Laurence Fishburne, Tim Roth, Chi McBride, Vanessa L. Williams, Andy Garcia, Clarence Williams III, Cicely Tyson, Richard Bradford, William Atherton, Loretta Devine, Queen Latifah, Ed O'Ross. Directed by Bill Duke. (1997, 130 min).

The problem with gangster films is that The Godfather set the bar almost impossibly high 44 years ago and remains the standard by which all the rest are compared. Only Scorsese's Goodfellas is truly worthy of mention in the same breath. 1997's Hoodlum doesn't even come close, though we shouldn't hold that against it, since the film is not without its virtues.

Hoodlum aims for a similar epic look and tone with its fictional depiction of a territorial war between two real-life mobsters, Harlem kingpin Bumpy Johnson (Laurence Fishburne) and Jewish mob boss Dwight Schultz (Tim Roth), while Lucky Luciano (Andy Garcia, no stranger to the genre) patiently waits in the wings to see how everything pans out before making his own moves. This is mostly Johnson' story, though, and he's depicted as sort of a Robin Hood of organized crime. Freshly released from prison and angered by Schultz' strong-armed methods of taking over the Harlem territory, where the numbers game is most people's only source of income, Johnson realizes that violent retribution is the only way to fight back, much to the dismay of Madam Queen (Cicely Tyson), who's quickly losing control of her empire.

"Didn't I say no sprinkles?"

A lot of this is interesting, though the film is narratively inconsistent. The conflict between Schultz and Johnson is pretty thrilling, as are the numerous bursts of violent action when these two are fighting for control. However, the relationship between Johnson and his wife, Francine (Vanessa Johnson), tends to slow things to a crawl, mainly because it doesn't appear that much effort was made to make Francine any more than window dressing. Later, when she makes a final decision regarding their marriage, it doesn't dramatically work because we've been given almost no prior hint that things were turning sour.

The performances from this impressive cast range from outstanding to ridiculously over-the-top. Fishburne is suitably stoic and empathetic as Johnson, giving one of the better performances of his career. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Tim Roth's scenery-chewing turns Schultz into a cartoon character, though he's clearly having a good time.

Though certainly ambitious, with authentic production design and period detail, Hoodlum is no classic and won’t make anyone forget the epics it's obviously inspired by. Still, it’s a fairly entertaining gangster flick that, while a bit overlong, never quite wears out its welcome. For fans of the genre, it is certainly worthy an evening of your time.


Rest in Peace, Bill Cardille

Bill 'Chilly Billy' Cardille (1928-2016)

July 20, 2016


Various Artists. (2016, 46 min).

I’ve never been much of a Woody Allen fan, but one area where he’s impeccable is selecting the perfect music to enhance his films, especially those where he's afforded the opportunity to incorporate his affection for classic American jazz. The soundtrack album for his most recent, Cafe Society, is no exception.

Jazz great Vince Giordano leads his band, The Nighthawks, through nine of the fifteen tracks, playing newly-recorded standards from the 1930s. This isn’t Giordano’s first Woody Allen rodeo either, previously working with other artists both on and off screen. Rounding out the disc are classic numbers by various artists such as Benny Goodman, Ben Selvin and Count Basie. While these vintage recordings don’t sound quite as crisp and clean as the Giordano tracks, they still fit in quite nicely.

If you’re fan of this sort of music, Cafe Society is a terrific collection of songs from an era when jazz was at its most popular. How effectively the music works within the context of the movie isn’t really important. This is a simply lively and fun disc.


Rest in Peace, Garry Marshall

Garry Marshall (1934-2016)

July 19, 2016


Starring Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovsky, Haley Bennett, Tim Roth, Andrei Dementiev, Dasha Charusha. Directed by Ilya Naishuller. (2016, 97 min).

Thank God I didn’t see Hardcore Henry in theaters.

That statement is not necessarily based on the quality of the film, but the way it was shot. I’m pretty sure I would have puked within the first thirty minutes. Even watching it on video, there were a few moments when vertigo threatened to rear its ugly head.

Remember the original Robocop and the scenes where Alex Murphy is resurrected as a crimefighting cyborg, all of which are depicted from his point of view? Hardcore Henry gives us an entire film told from the title character’s perspective, which plays like a first-person shooter video game. Barely taking time to introduce the main characters, the movie hits the ground running and proceeds to pummel the viewer with non-stop, hyperkinetic and extremely violent action scenes.

As for the story...it barely exists. He learn Henry has been revived as a lean, mean killing machine with cybernetic implants and prosthetic appendages. He’s pursued by a nefarious megalomaniac, Akan, who possesses telekinetic powers (which are never explained) and plans to build his own army of cyber-soldiers. Assisting Henry is Jimmy (Sharlto Copley), who frequently pops up at opportune moments despite repeatedly being killed (how that’s even possible is explained, rather ingeniously). Henry himself has almost no memory aside from a fleeting recollection of his father (Tim Roth), which is all we learn as well. Still, the film is not without a few clever, humorous moments, and Copley is highly amusing as Jimmy in various guises. At the very least, despite the emphasis on carnage, you can’t accuse the man of phoning-it-in.

"Stop! In the name of love!"

Here, plot and characters take a backseat (perhaps even trunk space) to the gimmick of experiencing all of this through Henry’s eyes, even when they occasionally pop out of his head. The film is ultra-violent and the camera almost never stops moving, to the point where the viewer is almost physically exhausted by the time the end credits roll. For some, the novelty will wear off quickly, rendering Hardcore Henry more of an endurance test. But if you’re totally onboard with the premise (or enjoy watching other people play video games), there’s some shameless enjoyment to be had.

“Fan Chat” (Director Ilya Maishuller and star Sharlto Copley answer questions about the making of the film, which includes some behind-the-scenes footage)
Audio Commentary
Deleted Scenes
Digital Copy

July 18, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: THE BOSS

Starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, Ella Anderson, Tyler Labine, Kathy Bates. Directed by Ben Falcone. (2016, 99 min/ 105 min).

Her films may not exactly challenge the intellect, but I find Melissa McCarthy very funny. She displays an exuberance & fearlessness that never feels forced and her comic timing is impeccable. Unfortunately, those gifts are mostly wasted in The Boss, a surprising disappointment considering she created the title character herself.

That character is Michelle Darnell, an ambitious, narcissistic corporate monster who goes to prison for insider trading. Broke and homeless when finally released, she insinuates herself on her former assistant, Claire (Kristen Bell), who's living in a small apartment with her daughter, Rachel. Of course, Darnell remains an egocentric pain in the ass as she finds a way to reclaim the empire she lost by using her unscrupulous business tactics to turn Kristen’s homemade brownies into a brand name sold by Rachel’s scout group. Her corporate rival/former lover, Renault (Peter Dinklage), still seething from being screwed-over by Darnell, does what he can to keep that from happening.

"You know...you were funnier in Spy."

On paper, the premise has the potential to be an amusing film, especially since it’s co-written by McCarthy (along with her husband, director Ben Falcone), based on a character she created during her time in the sketch comedy group, The Groundlings. But as Saturday Night Live has proven time and again, what’s funny in small doses doesn’t always translate too well into a feature-length film. McCarthy’s obvious dedication to the role is admirable, but Darnell is a phenomenally obnoxious person to spend 99 minutes with, despite efforts late in the film to humanize her by shoehorning sentimental moments of epiphany into the story. It doesn’t jibe with over-the-top scenes of Darnell leading a violent street war against a rival scout group, or the - WTF - Samurai sword fight in the climax.

In the past, McCarthy has demonstrated a gift for rendering potential caricatures into reasonably well-rounded characters while still generating a lot of laughs (as in The Heat and Spy). That’s not the case here. The Boss is, ironically, a crushing disappointment considering the entire film is based on a character she herself created.

Featurettes: "Everybody Loves Kristen Bell"; "Peter Dinklage Gets to the Point"; "Origin Story" (McCarthy's Darnell character, as original created onstage when she was part of the Groundlings improv group)
"Michelle Darnell - Original Sketch" (one of McCarthy’s improv sketches in its entirety, and much funnier than the movie itself)
Alternate Ending
Deleted/Alternate/Extended Scenes
Gag Reel
Unrated & R-rated Versions
Digital & DVD Copy


July 15, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: MILES AHEAD

Starring Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregor, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Michael Stuhlbarg, Keith Stanfield, Austin Lyon. Directed by Don Cheadle. (2015, 100 min).

Though I know who Miles Davis is, prior to watching Miles Ahead, I couldn't have told you anything about him or a single piece of music he created. Afterwards, I still can't, other than he snorted a lot of coke and was married once. Then again, this isn't a biopic in the purest sense.

Instead, writer/director/star Don Cheadle takes creative liberties to plop the jazz legend into an actual plot to account for a period in the 70s when Davis had exiled himself from performing and the public eye. Here, along with Rolling Stone reporter Dave Braden (a fictional character played by Ewan McGregor), he's trying to recover a master tape of new music, stolen by the very record company he owes it to. Why Davis remains so protective of the tape isn't made quite clear throughout most of the film, but we get the impression that years of unpredictable behavior, drug abuse and health problems may be contributing factors.

Interspersed throughout the story are flashbacks of Davis' earlier years, mostly focusing on his tumultuous marriage to dancer Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi, in a thankless role), though we do get a few glimpses of his creativity in the studio. These scenes are the only ones that appear to be truly biographical, and ironically, they are the least interesting. From a narrative standpoint, they tend to suck the viewer out of the present-day story, which may be fabricated, but is far more compelling. By this time, Davis is a gun-wielding, drug-addled trainwreck, though his love for music (and Frances, now long gone) is always obvious.

"Royale with cheese? What the hell are you talking about?"

As Davis, Cheadle delivers the best performance of his career, perhaps even Oscar worthy, since he completely disappears into the character. Davis doesn't come across as particularly likable, but unlike the recent Hank Williams biopic, the meandering I Saw the Light, we sort-of empathize with him at times. The supporting cast is solid, but without question, Cheadle is the whole show here, which goes a long way in glossing over the film's narrative issues.

Of course, Davis' music is here in abundance. For fans of this stuff, it's one hell of a soundtrack. As for the film itself, don't look for anything resembling your traditional Hollywood biopic. Miles Ahead tells an interesting story, but for better or worse, it's the fictional elements that truly carry the film, to the point where the facts are an almost unwelcome intrusion.

Featurette: "The Truth: Becoming Miles Davis" (includes Cheadle, McGregor and Davis' son & nephew)
Sundance Film Festival Q&A
Audio Commentary
Digital Copy

July 14, 2016


It has been thirty years since the release of the beloved film Back to the Future, featuring the most iconic car in movie history, the DeLorean Time Machine.  While the film’s legacy has thrived over the years - the car itself wasn’t so lucky.  After decades of harsh weather, souvenir hunters and wild animals, the Time Machine seemed destined for the junkyard.  

OUTATIME: Saving the DeLorean Time Machine chronicles the efforts of Bob Gale, Universal Studios, and the film’s dedicated fan community as they work together to save this cinema icon.  Together, they embark on the greatest movie prop restoration of all…time! OUTATIME will be available on Digital HD, DVD and VOD on July 19, 2016 courtesy of Virgil Films.   

To do the restoration right, Bob Gale made a historic choice. Instead of hiring a car company or prop house to restore the car, Mr. Gale brought in a group of Back to the Future super fans to tackle the restoration. By doing so, the Time Machine became the biggest fan-led prop restoration in movie studio history.  Joe Walser (Head of the Restoration) and his team of Time Machine experts had one singular goal – restore the car with 100% accuracy. Every bolt. Every detail. Exactly like it was in the movie. That kicked off an intense, year-long restoration. Grueling work and long hours pushed team members to their breaking point. Even so, their dedication never faltered. As Walser often said, “our pain is temporary, but the car will be perfect forever.”

Working closely with the Time Machine Restoration Team, filmmaker Steve Concotelli was granted exclusive behind-the-scenes access for the entire restoration process. Concotelli interviewed dozens of people involved with the project and the Back to the Future franchise - including Bob Gale, John Murdy, Michael Scheffe, Michael Lantieri, Claudia Wells, members of the Restoration Team, and more.  The result is a fascinating look at the restoration of a movie icon. 

July 13, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: ELVIS & NIXON

Starring Kevin Spacey, Michael Shannon, Alex Pettyfer, Colin Hanks, Evan Peters, Tate Donovan, Johnny Knoxville. Directed by Liza Johnson. (2016, 86 min).

Elvis & Nixon is an account of the 1970 meeting between The King and the president, culminating in the famous photo they took together. At the time, Elvis was enjoying a career resurgence and Nixon’s presidency was still untarnished.

Elvis (Michael Shannon), disillusioned by both his public persona and the belief that today’s youth have lost their way due to the influence of drugs, arrives unannounced at the White House to request a meeting with President Nixon (Kevin Spacey). Nixon initially refuses (it would interrupt his scheduled naptime!), but is persuaded by aides that such a meeting will boost his public image with young people. Elvis has a more ambitious agenda: he wants to be deputized as an undercover agent for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.

Elvis & Nixon is seldom laugh-out-loud funny, but it is pretty affable, amusing and, at 86 minutes, doesn’t beat its premise to death. The film also resists the temptation to turn its two main characters into buffoons for the sake of cheap laughs. In fact, both come across as fairly likable and charming (even Nixon, in curmudgeonly way). Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey wisely avoid simple impersonations (any physical resemblance to these cultural icons is superficial at best), instead giving their characters personalities rather than personas.

"Be honest, Mr. Presley...is 'Suspicious Minds' about me?"

It would nice to think this is how it all went down. For all we know, maybe it did. At any rate, Elvis & Nixon is an entertaining depiction of one of the more infamous culture clashes of the 1970s. Those who were around at the time might even detect a slight bittersweet tone underlying the proceedings, since the careers of both men would take downward spirals shortly after.

“Crazy but True” (making-of featurette)
Audio Commentary (by director Liza Johnson & executive producer Jerry Schilling)


July 12, 2016


MIDNIGHT RUN Collector’s Edition
One of the great unsung action-comedies of the 80s. Features several interviews with various cast members, including Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin, as well as a vintage 'making-of' featurette.
Available 8/23. Click HERE to pre-order and get it TWO WEEKS EARLY.

THE THING Collector's Edition
John Carpenter's greatest film. This disc is absolutely loaded with all new extra features in addtion to vintage extras previously included on other releases.
Available 9/20. Pre-order HERE and get it TWO WEEKS EARLY with a FREE POSTER.

THE EXORCIST III Collector's Edition
An underappreciated gem that's just as good - but different from - the original. This disc is supposed to include director William Peter Blatty's original vision of the film, long thought to be lost. It's about damn time!
Available 10/25. Pre-order HERE and get it TWO WEEKS EARLY with a FREE POSTER.

July 11, 2016


Starring Blake Jenner, Zoey Deutch, Ryan Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin, Glen Powell, Wyatt Russell, Will Brittain, Forrest Vickery, Temple Baker, J Quinton Johnson, Tanner Kalina, Juston Street. Directed by Richard Linklater. (2016, 117 min).

I still remember the 70s and 80s like they were yesterday, so I'm trying to come to grips that films like Everybody Wants Some!! are period pieces, which is probably how my parents felt when American Graffiti was first released. But like American Graffiti, this could have been released during the time it takes place and still be a winner because there's a lot more going on than simple nostalgia.

For me, Richard Linklater's best films the ones where he's trying to capture a fleeting moment in the lives of his characters rather than finding a conventional story to drop them in. Even better are those that perfectly reflect a particular time and place in the not-too-distant past, where we get the impression he's drawing from personal experience. With all due respect to Boyhood and his Before trilogy, that's what makes Dazed and Confused one of his greatest.

Everybody Wants Some!! has been called a spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused, not just because of the era in which it takes place, but its knowing depiction of that transitional age we all go through as young adults. If Dazed depicts the last hurrah of childhood, then this film presents those first baby steps into a much larger world. Told mostly through the eyes of Jake (Blake Jenner), a freshman who earns a scholarship to play baseball at a Texas university, the film gives us the ball team's last weekend before classes start. The ballplayers all occupy a house near the campus, a collection of rookies, goofballs, stoners and more-experienced upperclassmen.

On the surface, the film seems to be one long continuous party, but what we're really watching is the beginning of a new chapter for some characters and the end for others. And like Dazed and Confused, there aren’t any dramatic highs and lows, with most actual conflict being mild and episodic in nature. Still, we’re reminded of experience of being thrust into a new world different from what we‘re used to, and in one amusing & poignant moment, what it’s like to be banished once we've worn out our welcome there.

"I'm pretty sure I saw someone pee in one of those bottles."

What truly makes the film work, besides its impeccable aesthetic attention to period detail, are the characters. We may not always personally relate to them, but we all know people like this. I especially enjoyed Wyatt Russell (Kurt’s son) as Willoughby, who gives the best monologue of any philosophical stoner I’ve ever heard. The only character that rings false is Finnegan (Glen Powell). As a cocky collegiate transfer student, his exaggerated antics feel overly cartoonish compared to everyone around him.

Aside from that, Everybody Wants Some!! is another spot-on slice-of-life from a bygone era, though still relevant to what nearly every young suburbanite experiences in their lives. Like its kindred spirit, Dazed and Confused, the film never descends into heavy-handed melodrama, nor does it rely on cheap laughs and gags to get a rise out of us. For the most part, we watch this film with an occasional chuckle and knowing grin because we’ve all been there. And yeah, it features a killer soundtrack.

"More Stuff That's Not in the Movie" (montage of alternate scenes & dialogue, deleted scenes and bloopers)
Featurettes: "Rickipedia" (the cast discusses writer/director Richard Linklater); "History 101: Stylin' the '80s" (hair and costume design); "Skills Videos"; "Baseball Players Can Dance"
DVD & Digital Copies