January 30, 2017


Starring Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh, Patrick Heusinger, Holt McCallany, Robert Knepper, Jessica Stroup. Directed by Edward Zwick. (2016, 118 min).

I never cared for most of Tom Cruise's early career (no, not even Top Gun), unable to escape the notion that his roles were customized to fit the image he had of himself. Even in the more "prestigious" movies where he attempts to be taken seriously as an actor, his meticulously self-cultivated movie-star persona makes that impossible. He's simply too Tom Cruisey to be accepted as anything else.

He must have come to the same conclusion years ago and finally dropped all pretenses of being anything other than TOM CRUISE, which nobody does better. I've grown to appreciate that and have really enjoyed most of his 21st Century films, which could just-as-accurately be titled like Friends episodes: The One Where Tom Cruise Battles Aliens, The One Where Tom Cruise Runs from Aliens, The One Where Tom Cruise Dangles from an Airplane, The One Where Tom Cruise Hunts Hitler, etc. Without really stretching himself, Cruise has evolved a superlative action star. Not only that, these movies are remarkably consistent  because we never question his utter dedication (something we could never say about Bruce Willis). Even in such marginal movies as Knight and Day & Oblivion, we're certain Cruise is giving it everything he's got.

To Tom's horror, the in-flight movie is Cocktail.
Though not exactly a blockbuster, 2012's Jack Reacher (a.k.a. The One Where Tom Cruise Takes the Bus to Save the Day) was quintessential Cruise, albeit a bit more down-to-Earth than the Mission: Impossible series. No classic, but a solid action-thriller that allowed Tom to further perfect his head-exploding stare while kicking everyone's ass, offer groan-worthy threats to hapless thugs and outwit everyone in the room. The film itself was just standard stuff, but his utter earnestness was entertaining enough (and often quite funny) to make it a home video hit.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back isn't as fresh or fun as the original. Sure it's great to see Cruise jump off the bus and commence cracking skulls, but the plot is a bit more convoluted and predictable. This time, he comes to the aid of Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), who's been framed for the murders of two subordinates in Afghanistan. After Reacher is framed for her lawyer's brutal murder, the two become fugitives, hunted by police, the Army and a mysterious assassin (Patrick Heusinger) hired to kill them before they uncover the truth behind the Afghanistan murders. Complicating matters is Samantha (Danica Yarosh), a 15-year-old who may or may-not be Reacher's daughter.

Since the beginning of his career, Tom has run 1,254,555 miles.
The plot is fairly standard stuff, devolving into the usual shady drug and weapons deals before all is said and done. As Reacher, Cruise is his usual intense self, and when left alone to dispatch thugs and almost single-handedly uncover clues, this sequel is a lot of fun. However, he is saddled with an obnoxious teenage kid who mostly exists as a plot device, doing stupid things which repeatedly puts them in danger. Samantha's frequent switches from smart & resourceful to dumb-as-dirt (depending on what the scene requires) sometimes threatens to torpedo the whole movie. Major Turner, on the other hand, is a tough, terrific character who nearly matches Reacher's stoic badassery.

But it's still Reacher's movie, which of course mean it's Tom Cruise's movie (he's fast becoming his own little genre). I confess I've not read any of the Lee Child novels on which these films are based, but while Tom Cruise didn't create the character, he's made it his own. As such, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back more-or-less delivers as promised and, like the first, probably plays better at home than it did in theaters.

"Reacher Returns" (Cruise, director Edward Zwick, producer Don Granger & author Lee Child talk about the sequel);
"An Unexpected Family" (this features focuses on some of the new supporting characters);
"Relentless: On Location in Louisiana"
"Take Your Revenge First: Lethal Combat"
"No Quarter Given: Rooftop Battle"
"Reacher in Focus: With Tom Cruise and Photographer David James"
SHORT STORY: "Everyone Talks" by Lee Child (illustrated paperback)

January 28, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: QUEEN OF KATWE

Starring Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong'o, Martin Kabanza, Taryn Kyaze, Ronald Ssemaganda. Directed by Mira Nair. (2016, 124 min).

The Disney name is so synonymous with animation that we tend to forget they've also have quite the knack for inspirational sports movies. Sure, most are so formulaic that you're familiar with the plot without even seeing them, but who doesn't love an earnest, old-fashioned sports flick where the underdog triumphs against all odds?

Disney may not have written the playbook, but they know it cover-to-cover and follow it rigidly. And why not, since they arguably do this stuff better than anybody? I'd actually be disappointed if Queen of Katwe wasn't more-or-less the same movie as Invincible, McFarland USA or The Greatest Game Ever Played. For the same reason I still listen to Slayer, in the right hands, this stuff never gets old.

As such, Queen of Katwe - based on a true story, of course - doesn't disappoint. Young Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) comes from a family whose life in Katwe, an impoverished region of Uganda, is a daily struggle to survive. Her mother, Nakku (Lupita Nyong'o) is widowed and depends on her children to help sell corn in town. Then after discovering a group of kids who meet everyday to play chess under the tutelage of coach Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), she turns out to be something of a prodigy.

"No, Phiona...that's not a 'horsey'."
Katende sacrifices his own personal goals to encourage Phiona and these kids to excel at the game, which may be their only opportunity to earn an education and escape slum life. Phiona, in particular, has a phenomenal gift for strategy, winning tournament after tournament, becoming a local hero and earning the respect of the international chess community.

Depending on how you perceive chess, Queen of Katwe may not be a sports movie per se, but it's identically structured. Besides, like most of Disney's similar films, Queen of Katwe is less about the actual game than it is learning enough about oneself to overcome personal and external roadblocks. This is also Katende's story as much as Phiona's, forsaking a lucrative engineering career for the sake of giving hope to kids who aren't even his.

Movies like this depend largely on its characters and performances for the formula to work. Newcomer Nalwanga shines as Phiona, displaying a low-key charm that renders her instantly likable, even during moments of arrogance and overconfidence which alienate her family and threaten to take her down a peg or two. But these moments of conflict are few and far between, as are those which disrupt Katende's homelife. For the most part, Queen of Katwe is content to briefly touch upon such complications before rushing off the the next feel-good moment, which is why we watch these things in the first place. You'll see the final scene coming from a mile away (maybe two or three), but it's still no less heartwarming.

At a little over two hours, Queen of Katwe probably runs a little longer than necessary, especially for a film that strictly adheres to a playbook we're already familiar with. But its many uplifting moments and emotional payoffs make it easy to endure a few of the slower stretches. This relatively obscure true story lends itself perfectly to the Disney treatment, making the film an agreeable, audience pleaser.

"Queen of Katwe: Their Story" (3 part making-of documentary);
"A Fork, A Spoon & a Knight" (short film about coach Robert Katende's life and upbringing);
"In the Sudio with Alicia Keys"
AUDIO COMMENTARY (by director Mira Nair)
MUSIC VIDEOS: "Back to Life," by Alicia Keys; "#1 Spice," by Young Cardamom & HAB

Rest in Peace, John Hurt

John Hurt (1940-2017)

January 26, 2017


Starring Jim Osterberg (Iggy Pop), Ron Asheton, Scott Asheton, James Williamson, Steve Mackay, Mike Watt, Kathy Ashton, Danny Fields. Directed by Jim Jarmusch. (2016, 108 min).

I was never a big fan of The Stooges' music, though Gimme Danger gave me a new found respect for them.

This documentary features interviews with all the surviving members of The Stooges (though a few more have died since then), who discuss in detail the struggles to get the band off the ground through their drug-addled demise, right up to a surprise reunion decades later. Most of the film focuses on their glory years, roughly 1969 to 1973. The Stooges never achieved much popular or financial success during that their time, but posthumously had as big of an influence on punk rock as The Ramones.

Of course, The Stooges are best-known for blessing us with the one and only Iggy Pop, whose own career would greatly eclipse the rest of the band (and whose music I actual do like). He's the primary focus of this film as he reflects on his life and career, coming across as more charming, intelligent and down-to-Earth than his hellraising image suggests.

"I used to rub what all over myself?"
Interspersed among the interviews is vintage concert footage (including Pop's infamous peanut butter gag) and photos from the era. We learn a lot about The Stooges' struggles to get noticed, as well as behind the scenes anecdotes regarding their now-classic albums. Considering Iggy and the band's somewhat notorious reputation, this is a surprisingly straightforward career retrospective, mostly relegated to the music itself and The Stooges' influence. Those expecting lurid tales of debauchery should look elsewhere.

Gimme Danger is an interesting document of one influential band's rise, fall and resurgence (culminating with its induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame). The film isn't likely to make anyone a convert, but it's hard not to respect The Stooges' legacy and what they managed to accomplish during such a brief period.


January 24, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: INFERNO (2016)

Starring Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Omar Sy, Ben Foster, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Irrfan Khan, Ana Ularu. Directed by Ron Howard. (2016, 121 min).

We have to address an elephant in the room. Two elephants actually, and as pachyderms go, both are big ones, which Inferno does a lamentable job distracting us from.

One elephant is the film's basic premise, which we're informed of almost immediately. Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) is a brilliant geneticist and billionaire who ominously informs us that the rate at which our population continues to grow will inevitably result in our extinction unless something is done right now. Whether or not his sobering timeline is scientifically accurate isn't really an issue; we'll accept it for the sake of the story.

Zobrist's solution is to release a virus - dubbed "Inferno" - which will kill half the world's population. Yes, it's an awful idea to contemplate, yet Zobrist is not depicted as malevolent megalomaniac or evangelical nutjob. He has almost no personality at all, serving mostly as an expository talking head (meaning Foster's talent is wasted). In fact, there's such a twisted logic to his plan that a dark part of the viewer might question if Robert Langdon really should come to the rescue.

The other elephant is the fact that Zobrist hides the virus somewhere in Europe, then purposefully leaves a Dante-related trail of clues to its location before jumping to his death. Enter Langdon, suffering from amnesia due to head trauma, and young doctor Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) to try and find it before it's too late. Others, such as members of the World Health Organization and a mysterious security firm led by the ruthless Harry Sims (Irrfan Khan), give chase, either to kill Langdon, locate the virus, or both.

This begs a nagging question: why does Zobrist bother leaving any clues in the first place? Even taking into account the revelation that shows us the individual for whom they're actually intended, this doesn't make a whole lot of sense. If Zobrist is that smart and truly wants to save the whole world by sacrificing half of it, why provide the elaborate puzzle at all? Why not just release the damn thing and call it a day?

"Look...someone drew boobies."
Yeah, I know...there would be no movie otherwise. There would be no Speed, either, if Jack Traven had the foresight to simply shoot out the bus's tires before it reached 50. However, that movie was so much ridiculous fun that at-least we could shoo-away the elephant until after the credits rolled. But Inferno, the third film based on Dan Brown's mega-popular novel series, is no Speed. While the film isn't without its merits, those two tenacious elephants refuse to leave the room, casting a glum shadow over everything. Whether Langdon saves the day or not, by the film's own logic, either outcome is ultimately going to be an tragic one.

But never mind. Inferno is just a movie, even if it is phenomenally self-contradicting. We're not suppose to scrutinize this stuff too heavily, anyway, and if the plot were more carefully conceived, we probably wouldn't (at least 'till later). Still, if you can't get enough of Langdon's exploits and have a big enough can of pachyderm repellent handy, Inferno works in fits and starts. Hanks is solid, as usual, though Khan steals the movie as an unflappable, cold-blooded mercenary. The numerous plot twists and red herrings range from clever to ridiculous. Director Ron Howard is once-again slumming here, though he does keep things moving at a fairly brisk pace, always jetting-off to another exotic location just when our interest threatens to wane.

Inferno isn't as much frenetic fun as Angels & Demons, which threatened to venture into Die Hard territory. But even with the absurd premise and sloppy story, it's a damn sight better than the original snoozefest,The Da Vinci Code.

"Ron Howard: A Director's Journal";
"A Look at Langdon", "The Billionaire Villain: Bertrand Zobrist", "This is Sienna Brooks" (character profiles);
"Visions of Hell" (behind the scenes of Langdon's nightmarish visions);
"Inferno Around the World" (location shooting)

January 23, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: DEATH RACE 2050

Starring Manu Bennett, Malcolm McDowell, Marci Miller, Burt Grinstead, Folake Olowofoyeku, Anessa Ramsey, Yancy Butler. Directed by G.J. Echternkamp. (2017, 92 min).

Thank God Roger Corman is still around to give us a real Death Race reboot.

1975's Death Race 2000 was never about special effects, spectacular stunts and kinetic action. It was about cartoon characters, garish costumes, boobs, over-the-top performances, tongue-in-cheek humor, self-awareness, social satire and gobs of audacity. That it ended up being arguably more entertaining than the dead-serious film Corman intended to rip off (Rollerball) was probably a happy accident.

The great thing about Death Race 2050 is that it has the same attitude and aesthetic that made the original such a hoot, meaning most of the fun will likely be lost on those who missed out on the glory days of 70's exploitation. Though touted as a sequel, it's actually a remake, perhaps the first one meant to appeal to the exact same audience. So to ridicule its bargain basement special effects, silly looking cars and clumsy action is to miss the point entirely.

For the uninitiated, the Death Race is an annual coast-to-coast road race where five flamboyant drivers (and their navigators) can earn extra points by running down pedestrians. Leather-masked Frankenstein (Manu Bennett) is the reigning champion, whose new navigator is secretly part of a resistance movement to undermine the race by killing all the drivers. Overseeing the event is the narcissistic Chairman of the United Corporations of America (Malcolm McDowell), a thinly-veiled parody of...well, you know who.

The cast appears well-aware of what kind of movie this is and give suitably amusing performances. As Frankenstein, Bennett cleverly sends-up the badass, tough-as-nails antihero, while Burt Grimstead hilariously steals every scene he's in as Perfectus, Frank's overly-athletic rival who privately questions his own masculinity. Even McDowell's latter-career brand of overacting fits right in. But best of all, Death Race 2050 is funny as hell and much smarter than its grindhouse pedigree suggests, with loads of timely (and none-too-subtle) social satire.

Manu Bennett counts the number of zeroes in his paycheck.
And I gotta say, as someone who fondly remembers seeing the original film in theaters, I'm overjoyed that Death Race 2050 looks like it sprang from the same decade, including its 70's-era depiction of the future and budget-shaving tactics like reducing the frame-rate to make the vehicles appear faster. It's all great throwback fun and, in a way, as much of an homage to a bygone era as Quentin Tarantino's entire filmography.

I know it's still January and I might have some faulty wiring, but so far, Death Race 2050 is the most entertaining 90 minutes I've spent in the Dave Cave this year. It's like revisiting my childhood, when I spent many weekend afternoons at my local theater taking-in sleazy B-movie double features, a lot of them from Roger Corman. To coin a cliche, they don't make 'em like this anymore, and if you don't remember when they did, you'll probably hate it. But that's okay...they didn't make it for you anyway.

"The Making of Roger Corman's Death Race 2050"
"Cars! Cars! Cars!" (title tells all - how the cars were built...with Styrofoam!)
"Cast Car Tours" (each cast member shows off the cars they drive in the film)
"The Look of 2050" (mostly about the costume design)

Movie News: New Trailer for COLLIDE - In Theaters 2/24

From Open Road films, experience the action-packed trailer for COLLIDE, the story of a young American couple who are plunged into an adrenaline-pumping game of cat and mouse across Europe when they find themselves caught between two ruthless, feuding criminals. Starring Nicholas Hoult (Mad Max, X-Men: Days of Future Past), Academy Award® nominee Felicity Jones (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, The Theory of Everything), and Academy Award® Winners Anthony Hopkins and Ben Kingsley, COLLIDE hits theaters FEBRUARY 24, 2017!

After a heist goes terribly wrong, Casey Stein (Nicholas Hoult) finds himself on the run from a ruthless gang headed by mob boss Hagen (Anthony Hopkins). Now Casey has precious cargo that belongs to Hagen, who will stop at nothing to retrieve it. Left with no choice, Casey calls his former employer and drug smuggler Geran (Ben Kingsley) to protect his long-time girlfriend Juliette before Hagen gets his hands on her. Casey sets out on an adrenaline-fueled car chase on the German highways to save the love of his life before it’s too late.


Kino Lorber Releases Four All-New Restorations of the Classic Buster Keaton Comedies The General, Three Ages ,Steamboat Bill, Jr. and College

New 2K Restorations from Lobster Films to become available in 2-disc double-feature sets 
on Blu-ray and DVD in February 2017
Kino Lorber proudly announces the releases of four Buster Keaton comedy classics, THE GENERAL, THREE AGES, STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. and COLLEGE, each mastered from new 2K restorations by Lobster Films. The films will be released as 2-disc, double-feature sets (THE GENERAL/THREE AGES and STEAMBOAT BILL, JR./COLLEGE), each packed with an array of special features such as audio commentary, introductions to the films, and special short subjects.

Blu-Ray News: Vestron's WISHMASTER Collection Arrives on Blu-ray 3/28

The Vestron cult classic horror title releases continue with The Wishmaster Collection, coming to Blu-ray on March 28th with all new special features!

Your wish has come true with the Vestron Video Collector’s Series upcoming release of the Wishmaster Collection, a must-have for cult classic collectors, available for the first time on limited-edition Blu-ray™ on March 28 from Lionsgate. In the Wishmaster series, an evil djinn grants three wishes to the person who releases him, fulfilling a prophecy that will unleash his fellow djinn upon the earth. With brand-new illustration from renowned artist Thomas Hodge, the three-disc Wishmaster Collection limited-edition Blu-ray™ includes all four films, restored and remastered, plus never-before-seen special features, and will be available for the suggested retail price of $49.99.


Magically powerful and supernaturally evil, the ancient entity known as the Djinn can grant your wildest dreams — and unleash your darkest nightmares. Follow the Wishmaster’s bloodcurdling quest to devour souls and plunge the world into eternal damnation in this fright-filled collection of all four horror-fantasy favorites.

January 21, 2017


Starring Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Allison Janney, Edgar Ramirez, Lisa Kudrow, Laura Prepon. Directed by Tate Taylor. (2016, 112 min).

Man, talk about your unreliable narrators...

Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) is a lonely woman who commutes by-train every day, passing her former home occupied by her ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux), his new wife, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and their infant daughter. But lately, she's been more fixated on the house a few doors down, where a young man & wife (whom she doesn't even know) appear to have the perfect, happy life she longs for.

Meanwhile, we learn the woman, Megan (Haley Bennett), who just quit her job as Tom & Anna's nanny, is not happy. When Rachel sees Megan in the arms of another man on the patio as the train passes, she is devastated. When Megan disappears a few days later, Rachel feels compelled find out what happened to her. However, since Rachel has a history of harassing Tom & Anna, she's also a potential suspect.

Rachel's also a raging alcoholic and prone to blackouts, so not only does she often question herself, so does the audience. We are never certain we can trust her account of events, past or present, especially after she wakes up from her most recent blackout covered in blood. And as the plot's layers are peeled away little by little, we learn not to trust any of the main characters. It's a solid - if somewhat familiar - premise for an entertaining mystery-thriller.

"Yeah, that was the last train, but this isn't Clarksville."
The Girl on the Train is, of course, based on the hugely popular debut novel by Paula Hawkins. While I haven't read it, apparently everyone else has, so maybe one of them could tell you how faithful it's been adapted. A lot of critics were decidedly unimpressed, but I found the film quite compelling, boosted in large part by Blunt's remarkable performance in the title role. Rachel is a sad, pathetic character whose misery is mostly her own doing - or so we're led to believe - yet Blunt has us empathizing with her anyway.

If someone like Hitchcock were around today to dig his devious claws into this material, we'd probably be looking at a modern classic. While director Tate Taylor is no Hitchcock (or even Brian DePalma in his prime), The Girl on the Train is a pretty solid thriller. As mysteries go, it probably plays its hand a bit too soon, but there are enough interesting plot twists along the way to keep things interesting, especially since we never entirely trust what we're seeing.

FEATURETTES: "The Woman Behind the Girl" (about adapting the novel, featuring the author); "On Board the Train" (making-of).

January 19, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: xXx: 15th Anniversary Edition

Starring Vin Diesel, Asia Argento, Samuel L. Jackson, Marton Csokas, Michael Roof, Richy Muller. Directed by Rob Cohen. (2002, 124 min).

Revisiting XXX for the first time since it was released a decade-and-a-half ago, I was reminded of its agenda within the first ten minutes. Thrill-seeking superstud Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) steals a grumpy senator's Corvette in the name of disaffected teens everywhere. Because the senator wants to take away their rap music and video games, Cage drives the man's car off a bridge, riding it like a surfboard before parachuting out of harm's way. He and his crew capture the whole stunt on video to share with the world.

That's XXX's modern spin on the traditional James Bond opening action sequence, which is only fitting when you consider the film's target audience. And I speak from a bit of experience. As a teacher, I remember countless middle school boys returning from summer vacation in 2002 and touting XXX as the greatest movie ever (at least until the next Fast and the Furious flick came along to snatch more of their allowance). For these kids, James Bond was their dad's super spy, not nearly as cool & extreme as tattooed renegade Xander Cage. At the very least, one has to admit Diesel and director Rob Cohen knew their audience.

For nearly everyone else, XXX was a shamelessly pandering attempt to capitalize on Diesel's post-Furious stardom while throwing in everything pubescent boys love...fast cars, fast bikes, fast women, explosions, gravity (and logic) defying stunts, ear-splitting metal soundtrack and an authority-flaunting antihero.

"You had me at 'Hello'."
But at its heart, XXX is essentially a good old-fashioned James Bond adventure, albeit with a simpler plot so as not to interfere with the toys. Instead of a suave, sophisticated Brit, we have a streetwise smart-ass who resembles someone who might service your car. As for Diesel...well, he demonstrates his usual range, meaning the difference between Xander Cage, Riddick and Dominic Toretto is negligible.

As such, XXX does its job fairly admirably. I can't speak for how well it has aged over the years because my initial assessment of the film remains unchanged: Mildly enjoyable, ultimately forgettable. For an “expert” opinion, why not ask a former middle-schooler who was blown away back in 2002 and is now pushing 30?

In another effort to restart XXX as a franchise, we're now getting a belated sequel, XXX: Return of Xander Cage (though I feel Diesel may be over-estimating the demand for one). So naturally, this 15th Anniversary Blu-Ray arrives in time to remind us where it all began (cue the trumpets). Those who grew up on this movie may enjoy revisiting their adolescence. Dedicated fans will appreciate the abundance of supplemental material originally included on the DVD, but inexplicably absent from the 2006 Blu-Ray release. However, the only brand new extra is a short promotional featurette that mostly serves to promote the upcoming sequel

NEW: “Origins of a Renegade” - Despite the title, there's nothing really revelatory here, though Diesel appears happy to be back;
AUDIO COMMENTARY (with director Rob Cohen);
XXX: A Filmmakers Diary” (pre-production);
XXX: A Filmmakers Diary” (post-production);
Diesel Powered”;
Visual Effects How To's”;
Starz! On the Set of Making XXX”;
Agent Shavers' Gadgets Presentation”;
Designing the World of XXX”;
Building Speed: The Vehicles of XXX”
STORYBOARD COMPARISONS (Of two of the major action set-pieces);
ANIMATED END CREDIT SEQUENCE (without the credits...plays like a music video)

Rest in Peace, Miguel Ferrer

Miguel Ferrer (1955-2017)

Movie News: LOGAN - Final Trailer Released

The final trailer for LOGAN is here. In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X in a hideout on the Mexican border. But Logan's attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are up-ended when a young mutant arrives, being pursued by dark forces. Check out the brand new trailer below.

January 17, 2017

Blu-Ray News: Frankenstein Explains the Rules of ROGER CORMAN'S DEATH RACE 2050

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines! Frankenstein (Manu Bennett) is here to remind you of the "Rules of the Death Race" before you shift into Roger Corman's Death Race 2050, now available on Blu-ray™, DVD, and Digital HD from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

January 16, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: THE MONSTER

Starring Zoe Kazan, Ella Ballentine, Scott Speedman, Aaron Douglas. Directed by Bryan Bertino. (2016, 91 min).

The Monster is one of those films where admiring its craftsmanship and performances isn't quite the same as actually enjoying it. I felt the same about writer/director Bryan Bertino's first film, The Strangers, though I suspect I'm in the minority on that.

Kathy (Zoe Kazan) is an alcoholic, abusive single mom who's taking her neglected young daughter, Lizzy (Ella Ballentine), to live with her father. It's a long drive, during which time we learn Lizzy is far more mature and responsible than Kathy. As night falls on a rainy, desolate stretch of road, they crash and Kathy is injured. The two are forced to wait for help to arrive. Shortly after a tow truck driver shows up, the title creature emerges from the surrounding woods and slaughters him. Not only are Kathy and Lizzy stranded, they are now trapped in the car with that thing lurking about.

The film is similar in structure to The Strangers; deliberately-paced in order to establish its characters before plunging them into terror, and emphasizing suspense & atmosphere over cheap shocks and gratuitous gore. The beast itself is impressive - imposing, slimy and consisting mostly of teeth - a prime example that CGI is still no substitute to good old fashion practical effects. As for the performances...they are exemplary, especially young Ballentine in what's obviously the most crucial role (how often have we seen other horror films sunk by an amateur child performance?).

Guess who's now regretting that stop at Taco Bell.
However, The Monster is already a depressing experience before the title creature even shows up. While I'm perfectly fine with horror being dark and bleak, we're subjected to more flashbacks than necessary showing Lizzy's dysfunctional home life. Her mother is an irredeemable drunk who verbally and physically abuses her. Lizzy's father (Scott Speedman, in a single scene) isn't much better, drunkenly berating her for hiding his car keys. Having been raised by monsters, she's already the most unhappy child character I've seen in a long time.

That overall tone of hopelessness runs throughout the film, sucking much of the enjoyment out of watching. I'm not opposed to Bertino infusing realism into his stories through his characters, but here he feels the incessant need repeatedly hammer home the horror of Lizzy's life long after we've gotten the message. Even The Mist, despite its emotionally devastating moments, still managed to be fun. Still, The Monster is well directed and intelligently written, with convincing visual effects and a few nifty death scenes. Fans of Bertino's down-to-Earth – and downbeat – sensibilities will probably love it.

EYES IN THE DARKNESS” (making-of featurette)

Blu-Ray News: New Titles from ARROW VIDEO

MVD Entertainment Group furthers the distribution of Arrow Video in the US with three new titles to kick off 2017.
January's a great month for fans of Japanese crime cinema as Takashi Miike's Black Society Trilogy arrives on both Blu-ray and DVD. These stylish and gripping crime films put Miike on the cinematic map and proved he was more than just a specialist in blood and guts. See the films that made Takashi Miike's name as a master of Japanese crime cinema with this exciting set from Arrow Video. Including Shinjuku Triad Society, Rainy Dog and Ley Lines, in beautiful high definition transfers, the set also contains a host of special features including a brand new interview with the director himself.

Fresh from recent festival and filmmaker acclaim, We Are the Flesh debuts in the US on DVD and Blu-ray. We Are the Flesh is a Mexican arthouse head-trip which takes you on a nightmarish journey into a post-apocalyptic hell. Outrageous and explicit, it sees a brother and sister taken in by a strange hermit who uses them as he acts out his own depraved fantasies. The longer they stay, the more they find themselves slipping into the darkness, despite their better judgement.

This bizarre slice of Mexican arthouse is one of the most unsettling film experiences you will ever have and an all-out psychedelic head-trip. It details the adventures of a brother and sister who take refuge with a strange hermit in a post-apocalyptic city. As he acts out his dark, depraved fantasies, they find themselves drifting further into the realms of the forbidden.

Last but not least, The United States gave motorcycle-mad cinemagoers Easy Rider, The Wild One and The Wild Angels. The United Kingdom gave them Psychomania, the tale of zombie bikers run amok is southern England, coming to Dual Format DVD + Blu-ray on February  21. The Living Dead are a delinquent biker gang, fond of causing havoc on British roadways and making out in graveyards. Gang leader Tom (Nicky Henson) also has a Satanist for a mother, and when he discovers the secret of immortality, the name of his motley crew takes on a more literal meaning. Psychomania is a wonderfully offbeat gem, outlandish and eccentric in equal measure.