October 31, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: THE SEA WOLF (1941)

Starring Edward G. Robinson, Ida Lupino, John Garfield, Alexander Knox, Gene Lockhart, Barry Fitzgerald. Directed by Michael Curtiz. (1941, 100 min).

Of course, Edward G. Robinson is a national treasure. The bulk of his legendary career was well before my time, though, and the first thing I remember seeing him in was Soylent Green, his final film. It was an amazing performance that rendered me to tears, made even more poignant when I later learned he was dying of cancer at the time. Talk about dedication to your craft.

Ever since, I've retroactively enjoyed many films in his lengthy filmography (and still only scratched the surface). Robinson's tough guys were always a little more badass, his villains a little nastier, his weasels a little slimier, his heroes a little more dignified. One could argue he was the Robert DeNiro of his time.

One of his best early roles was tyrannical sea captain Wolf Larsen in The Sea Wolf, arguably his most vicious character who never carried a tommy gun. Larsen commands a crew of outlaws and derelicts aboard the Ghost, a scavenger vessel that sails the Pacific looting seal hunting boats. Most of the crew are forced into service, but George Leach (John Garfield) signs on voluntarily to escape police custody in San Francisco (the only town where the Ghost ever makes port). Later, two shipwreck survivors, fugitive Ruth Webster (Ida Lupino) & writer Humphrey van Wyden (Alexander Knox) are rescued but forbidden to leave the ship.

Mr. Robinson was never much of a joke teller.
Humphrey is shocked at Wolf's level of cruelty and sadism, while Wolf himself is both angered and intrigued by this writer, who seems to know the captain better than he knows himself. Still, Humphrey manages to build a precarious trust with him, particularly with regard to Wolf's migraines, which are slowly rendering him blind. Meanwhile, Leach, tired of Wolf's brutality, leads some of the crew in a planned mutiny.

It's a dark, character-driven tale of megalomania, anchored immeasurably Robinson's powerful performance. The scenes between he and Knox fraught with tension and are, by far, the crux of the entire story. Less effective - and mostly unnecessary - is the budding love between George and Ruth. Garfield is suitably stoic and Lupino is easy on the eyes, but their scenes simply don't have the same urgency.

That's a small quip, though, for the rest of The Sea Wolf is crackling with dramatic intensity. This is an overlooked, underappreciated gem that's a must-own for classic adventure lovers.


October 30, 2017

Blu-Ray News: LEATHERFACE on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital 12/19

The origins of the infamous Texas Chain Saw Massacre are finally revealed when Leatherface arrives on Blu-ray™ (plus Digital), DVD and Digital December 19 from Lionsgate. The film is currently available On Demand. Starring Stephen Dorff as a vengeful Texas sheriff and Lili Taylor as the Sawyer family matriarch, the legendary monster gets his mask after three asylum inmates escape and leave a blood-soaked trail. From French filmmakers Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo (Inside), the Leatherface Blu-ray and DVD are loaded with never-before-seen special features, including deleted scenes, an alternate beginning and alternate ending.

In Texas, years before the events of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre, in the early days of the infamous Sawyer family, the youngest child is sentenced to a mental hospital after a suspicious incident leaves the sheriff’s daughter dead.  Ten years later, he kidnaps a young nurse and escapes with three other inmates.  Pursued by authorities, including the deranged sheriff out to avenge his daughter’s death, the Sawyer teen goes on a violent road trip from hell, molding him into the monster now known as Leatherface.

October 29, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: SUPERMAN (1978): 2-FILM COLLECTION

Starring Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford, Margot Kidder, Trevor Howard, Valerie Perrine, Terence Stamp, Maria Schell, Susannah York. Directed by Richard Donner. (1978, 151/188 min).

1978's Superman remains one of the greatest superhero films of all time. While the special effects look a bit archaic today (though groundbreaking back then), aside from Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy, it's still far superior to anything currently hailing from the DC Universe. But that's not the reason to pick up this disc.

It's actually a minor miracle the film turned out as good as it did, much less become an iconic classic. Superman was not a happy production. It was in development hell for years, ran way over budget, underwent scores of script changes and was fraught with frequent clashes behind the scenes, most notably between director Richard Donner and the producers, Alexander & Ilya Salkind. Movies like this are usually doomed before they even make it to theaters. And apparently, Donner wasn't crazy about the final cut. However, he got his chance to recut a Special Edition two decades later, which runs eight minutes longer. This version, along with some great bonus features (outlined below), has been available on home video for years, so unless you haven't seen it, the film's inclusion here isn't really enough reason either.

Method acting is difficult when your co-star fills his pants.
What makes this set indispensable is the other disc, which features the 3-hour version that was originally assembled for its television premiere and hasn't been seen since.

Back in the day, blockbuster movies were occasionally expanded in order to be broadcast as four-hour, two-part events. Though a few studios went as far as to shoot new footage so the film could fill the required slot, most had previously deleted scenes reinserted to pad out the running time. The Salkinds themselves supervised Superman's TV cut, restoring a whopping 45 minutes of footage.

Everyone loves Underoos.
This set provides a unique opportunity to compare the two attempts to expand on the original. In doing so, one thing becomes immediately clear: There's a damn good reason Richard Donner is a director & storyteller and the Salkinds decidedly aren't. Their three-hour cut is a fascinating curio, but none of the reinserted footage enhances the film in any way whatsoever. In fact, the entire pacing is adversely affected; it's close to the half-way mark before the Superman himself even shows up in Metropolis (and you thought Batman vs. Superman was pokey). The changes Donner makes to the Special Edition are more subtle...and more effective. Superfans will spot them immediately, but for the most part, the scenes he chooses to restore fit more comfortably within the narrative.

If forced to choose, I think the original 143 minute cut remains the best version of the film. Too bad it isn't included on a third disc, which would make this the ultimate boxed set dedicated to a single film. Still, the extended cut alone is worth the investment. Though only hardcore genre fans likely to watch it more than once, the opportunity to draw comparisons is a great way to waste a weekend.

EXTRA KIBBLES (Special Edition Disc Only)
FEATURETTES: "Taking Flight: The Development of Superman"; "Making Superman: Filming the Legend"; "The Magic Behind the Cape"
AUDIO COMMENTARY - by Richard Donner & Creative Consultant Tom Mankiewicz

Blu-Ray Review: S.O.S. TIDAL WAVE

Starring Ralph Byrd, George Barbier, Kay Sutton, Frank Jenks, Marc Lawrence, Dorothy Lee, Oscar O'Shea. Directed by John H. Auer. (1939, 62 min).

This obscure little low budget oddity has probably been forgotten by just about everybody, but in one aspect, may be more timely now than ever.

It's a strange film, to say the least. Despite the title and promotional artwork, S.O.S. Tidal Wave is not a disaster movie. The film is mostly about Jeff Shannon (Ralph Byrd), a popular TV newsman whose journalistic integrity is tested when he tries to remain neutral during a mayoral election. One of the candidates, Clifford Farrow, is a criminal with a campaign manager who's a high ranking mobster (Marc Lawrence). Uncle Dan Carter (George Barbier) is a political commentator who presents his editorials with a ventriloquist dummy (!) and tries to expose Farrow with evidence of his shady past. After he's murdered - Jeff finally takes sides and uses the evidence prevent the mob from winning the election. All the while, Shannon's sidekick, Peaches (Frank Jenks), hangs around to provide comic relief, perpetually mugging for the camera like an overgrown Bowery Boy.

How to traumatize dozens of children at once.
Here's where the tidal wave we're promised fits in: When election day arrives, the bad guys want to make sure their man wins, so they decide to scare the city into thinking a massive tidal wave is heading toward New York. If they're too busy fleeing the city to vote, Farrow is a shoo-in. To accomplish this, they air movie footage to convince the public that disaster is imminent. Sure enough, the entire city goes into panic mode. This happens during the last ten minutes, and all of the destruction footage is lifted from the 1933 apocalyptic film, Deluge. The rest of the film is a low-budget patchwork of half-baked ideas and insane plot developments with questionable performances by a no-name cast (the minute Jeff's "cute" little son opens his mouth, you'll be wishing the mob had put a contract out on him).

One might also be tempted to doubt the plausibility of an entire populace stupid and gullible enough to fall for this tidal wave hoax, or that an obvious career criminal could have a snowball's chance in hell of running for mayor, to say nothing of getting a majority of votes. And a few years ago, I would've concurred. But if the last few years have taught us nothing else, it's that there are still legions dim-witted dumbasses who blindly swallow whatever a public figure tells them, no matter how wrong-headed, refutable, offensive, ludicrous or insane. After all, we're living in an age when some still actually believe the Earth is flat.

Where's Charlton Heston when you need him?
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Viewed in that context, S.O.S. Tidal Wave becomes morbidly fascinating, as is its depiction of one-sided journalism and America's obsession with the media. The internet may not have been around back then, but television is strikingly prominent throughout the entire film, with crowds gathered around them, collectively transfixed. And remember, back in 1939, TV was still a relatively new medium, yet this film accurately predates its cultural proliferation, our growing dependence on it as our primary information source and, most ominously, how easily we can be manipulated by what we're watching.

Of course, it's doubtful anyone involved with the film had such ambitious intentions. S.O.S. Tidal Wave is a cheaply-produced potboiler, obviously made to turn a quick buck. Still, the basic story is engaging enough, and with a running time of just over an hour, the film doesn't overstay its welcome. Even though all the scenes of destruction are lifted from an earlier - and better - film, they are pretty impressive for their age and fun to watch. Speaking of age, this Blu-Ray from Olive Films sports a surprisingly decent picture.


October 24, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: SCARECROW (1973)

Starring Gene Hackman, Al Pacino, Ann Wedgeworth, Dorothy Tristan, Richard Lynch. Directed by Jerry Schatzberg. (1973, 112 min).

If someone like, say, John Cassavetes was at the helm, Scarecrows would have been another one of his quirky, low-key, self-indulgent films that repertory cinema crowds eat up and the rest of the world ignores. Still, it probably would have been considered a relative success.

Instead, it became something of an actors' showcase for stars Gene Hackman and Al Pacino, both fresh off the biggest films of their careers. But even in those days, star power wasn't always enough. While certainly earning critical approval, Scarecrow didn't click with audiences and bombed at the box office. It's a verrrrry leisurely paced road movie, a succession of deliberately meandering vignettes that impatient viewers might have a hard time sitting through.

"Brando did what with a stick of butter?"
Scarecrow has earned a cult following since then, mostly due to the performances. As two drifters trying to make their way across the country, Pacino & Hackman are practically the whole show here. Hackman shines as Max, a short-tempered ex-con with ambitious plans to open a car wash in Pittsburgh with the money he's saved. Pacino belies his reputation for dramatic intensity with a laid-back, charming turn as "Lion," a perpetually-optimistic seaman who agrees to partner with Max providing they stop in Detroit to visit the child he left behind five years before (and has never met). As actors, Scarecrow is arguably the closest either of them have ever come to completely disappearing into their roles.

Al learns there's no Santa.
They encounter old friends, meet new ones and even do a stint in jail, the latter of which tests their loyalty and friendship. We learn a lot about these two along the way, and despite their vagabond lifestyle and overall irresponsibility, we genuinely like them. But despite many moments of levity, an air of sadness hangs over the entire film. Bubbling just beneath the surface, there's a quiet desperation in nearly everything these characters say and do, leaving the viewer with the unshakable feeling that there's no pot of gold at the end of this rainbow.

Still, the journey is a mildly interesting one and despite its rambling narrative, the film's climax - such as it is - packs a haunting, emotional punch that you won't soon forget. It also helps if one is a huge fan of these two actors because their  performances are tremendous, but I can't imagine anyone else wanting to endure this more than once.

FEATURETTE: "On the Road with: Scarecrow"

Blu-Ray News: AMERICAN ASSASSIN on Digital 11/21 and on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD 12/5

The Explosive Action-Packed Thriller Starring Dylan O’Brien and Michael Keaton Arrives on Digital November 21 and 4K Ultra HD™, Blu-rayCombo Pack,
and DVD on December 5 from Lionsgate.
4K Ultra HD™ to include both Dolby Vision™ and Dolby Atmos®

Based on the best-selling book series by Vince Flynn, Dylan O’Brien (The Maze Runner franchise, “Teen Wolf”) and Academy Award nominee Michael Keaton (Best Actor, Birdman, 2014) lead a star-studded ensemble in American Assassin, arriving on Digital November 21 and on 4K Ultra HD™ (plus Blu-ray and Digital), Blu-ray™ Combo Pack (plus Digital) and DVD December 5 from Lionsgate. The “totally action-packed” (Topher Gauk-Roger, CNN) feature also stars Sanaa Lathan (Now You See Me 2, “The Cleveland Show”), Shiva Negar (“24 Hour Rental,” “Art of War”) Scott Adkins (Doctor Strange, The Expendables 2), and Taylor Kitsch (Lone Survivor, “Friday Night Lights”). Based on the fictional character Mitch Rapp (O’Brien), featured in 16 New York Times bestsellers with over 20 million copies sold to date, the explosive thriller introduces the popular series to the big screen as a young Rapp takes on his first assignment and begins his career as a CIA officer.


American Assassin follows the rise of Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien), a CIA black-ops recruit under the instruction of Cold War veteran Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). The pair is then enlisted by CIA Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) to investigate a wave of apparently random attacks on both military and civilian targets.  Together, the three discover a pattern in the violence, leading them to a joint mission with a lethal Turkish agent (Shiva Negar) to stop a mysterious operative (Taylor Kitsch) intent on settling a personal and professional vendetta that could have cataclysmic results.

October 22, 2017


Featuring Al Gore as Chief Brody & Donald Trump as Mayor Vaughn. Directed by Bonni Cohen & Jon Shenk. (2017, 97 min).

Through no fault of its own, a dark cloud hangs over An Inconvenient Sequel, a follow-up to the provocative and sobering documentary about Al Gore's commitment to combating climate change.

Ten years after An Inconvenient Truth, Gore is still traveling the world, spreading the word with his call-to-action presentation. The consequences are still dire; Gore presents some scary comparative statistics and includes many recent examples of climate change's impact on the world (including street flooding in Miami at the exact time he's speaking.

But despite the ominous implications, An Inconvenient Sequel goes for a more optimistic tone than its predecessor, offering examples of positive change being implemented by various countries, corporations and communities. This all leads up to the film's climax, the signing of the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement.

But what a difference a year makes. Donald Trump infamously pulled the United States out of the agreement before the film could even be released, rendering its conclusion unintentionally ironic (the filmmakers added this unfortunate coda late in the production, further immortalizing Trump as a supreme jackass). What should have been a victory lap ends in crushing defeat (I suppose Al now knows how the Atlanta Falcons felt). The viewer might even feel the whole film is hopelessly redundant because nobody seems to be listening...in this country, anyway.

"Could all of you please stop shouting 'Freebird'?"
If you're a climate change believer (which I am, by the way), you'll end up justifiably angry, though not particularly surprised by anything. If you aren't - and always perceived Gore as a Chicken Little - this film isn't likely to change your mind. Despite compelling information and some disturbing natural disaster footage, it mostly preaches to the converted, and aside from some angry soundbites from climate deniers, contradictory viewpoints are nearly absent. But that's okay...deniers always have Fox News.

Ten years on, An Inconvenient Sequel doesn't quite have the impact of the first film, not in an age when even cold hard facts are apparently arguable. The debate over climate change has been as normalized by the media as Trump's terrible tweets. An Inconvenient Sequel is interesting and Gore once-again comes across as earnest and dedicated, but while the film will reinforce what believers have been saying all along, it ultimately doesn't provide anything new for naysayers to chew on...or bitch about.

FEATURETTES: "Effecting Change: Speaking Truth to Power"; "Truth in Ten: The Facts About Climate Change"
LYRIC VIDEO: "Truth to Power" by OneRepublic

October 21, 2017


Featuring Peter Brosnan, Agnes de Mille. Directed by Peter Brosnan. (2016, 88 min).

For film fans, Cecil B. DeMille needs no introduction. The man was producing & directing grand scale epics when James Cameron's grandparents were still in diapers. He's probably most-renowned for 1956's The Ten Commandments, which was actually his second go-round of the story of Moses. The first time was in 1923, and when he was finished, DeMille apparently ordered his massive sets buried in the California desert where it was filmed. Over the years, that story became sort-of an urban legend.

Decades later, filmmaker Peter Brosnan learned of this and commenced searching for these lost treasures with the help of various archaeologists. Repeated funding problems and run-ins with local officials stretched his search and excavation efforts over 30 years. When he finally does begin to uncover traces of the "Egyptian" artifacts, it made me wish all directors buried their sets when done with them. Wouldn't it be amusing if, centuries from now, archaeologists found evidence that Hobbits once lived in the lush hills of New Zealand?

"Hey guys...is that a finger?"
The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille is an entertaining chronicle of Brosnan's strange journey. It's also a pretty fascinating documentary about DeMille's career and the making of the first Ten Commandments (which was a budget-busting, tumultuous shoot). In fact, until Brosnan begins his actual dig, the backstory is a lot more interesting than his search and funding efforts.

Frankly, I never knew about this slice of Hollywood history until now. The fact it isn't mere folklore makes The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille a a must-see for classic movie buffs. The film is currently available on iTunes. Check it out.


October 19, 2017


Starring Robert Horton, Luciana Paluzzi, Richard Jaeckel, Bud Widom, Ted Gunther, Robert Dunham. Directed Kinji Fukasaku. (1968, 90 min).

The Green Slime is finally on Blu-Ray! YAY!

Okay, so it ain't exactly 2001: A Space Odyssey (though it was released the same year), but its daffy charms remain irresistible after all these years. Maybe even more so for those who experienced it as kids. As for me, I first caught it at an old second-run theater within biking distance of my house, which showed kid-friendly matinées on summer afternoons. Even then, the special effects, title creatures and far-out theme song were supremely chuckle-worthy.

Today, only a hard-nosed cynic could view this film without a big, dumb grin on their face. What's ultimately the most fun about The Green Slime is that it isn't a "bad" movie in the traditional sense. Unlike microbudget monster movies like, say, Attack of the Giant Leeches, this is a film that's just bursting with confidence in its wacky story, colorful production design and silly visual effects. The latter is done almost entirely in-camera, from the sky-blue outer space background to the clearly miniature depiction of Gamma 3, the space station where the story takes place (hanging from wires, of course). Yet it's also easy to appreciate the obvious amount of care that went into creating these effects, which are as fun to look at as a lovingly-assembled dollhouse.

"Here's to swimmin' with bow-legged women."
As for the multi-tentacled monsters that grow from meteor slime and run rampant through the station...just...wow. Their appearance, movement and voices are almost adorable. Watching these critters shuffling along en masse, tentacles waving about and mewling like kittens as they chase the terrified cast throughout the station, is a real hoot.

"Hey! We're over here!"
The cast, to their credit, plays it totally straight, which had to be a difficult task. Robert Horton plays our stoic, granite-faced hero with as much sincerity as Charlton Heston (with less discernible talent, of course). Thunderball Bond girl Luciana Paluzzi provides eye candy as the station's resident doctor (professionally garbed in form-fitting bodysuits and mini-skirts). But Richard Jaeckel steals the show as the head-strong commander who mostly exists to be repeatedly proven wrong by Horton. Jaeckel always had a knack for playing uptight, humorless dorks, and this might be his ultimate performance in that capacity.

But even though we laugh, it's more out of affection than contempt. While endearingly phony in nearly every aspect, The Green Slime isn't ineptly made. Everyone from the director down to the costume designers and model makers have obviously given their all to the production. You gotta respect that. Besides, the movie's a lot of fast-paced fun that only a cranky curmudgeon wouldn't get a kick out of. 

On a related note, wouldn't The Green Slime and The Angry Red Planet make an awesome double feature on a stay-at-home Saturday?


October 18, 2017

DVD Review: STEP

Featuring Blessin Giraldo, Cori Grainger, Tayla Solomon, Gari McIntyre, Paula Dofat. Directed by Amanda Lipitz. (2017, 83 min).

Confessing a bit of ignorance, I wasn't even aware that "Step" was a thing, not in the organized sense, anyway. But this combination of drill-team cadence, body music and interpretive dance is practiced in many high schools, with teams regularly meeting to compete in regional competitions.

Step is a documentary that follows one particular team from a Baltimore charter school, focusing primarily on three seniors who've been on the team since the school opened. It's an impoverished neighborhood where families struggle to even keep the lights on and groceries in the house. The school's step team (founded by Blessin, one of the seniors we follow) is really the only temporary escape these girls have.

Hall monitors from Hell.
But this film is about more than just preparing for an upcoming competition. The all-girls school where they attend has a goal to help 100% of their graduates move on to college. This is no small feat, considering some of the obstacles these girls face both in and out of school. In fact, a majority of the film's emotionally affecting moments - and there's a lot of them - come from the financial & academic obstacles they're forced to overcome.

However, the climactic Step competition against numerous other schools (and have previously never come close to winning) does bring things to a rousing conclusion worthy of any fictional sports movie you'd care to name. The filmmakers' affection for its subjects is infectious - even when they're being typically-stubborn teenagers - and one can't help but root for them to emerge triumphant. Step might also inspire similarly-aged kids who believe their own problems are insurmountable.

FEATURETTES: "Step is Life"; "The Lethal Ladies of BLSYW"
AUDIO COMMENTRY - By director Amanda Lipitz

Blu-Ray News: DEATH RACE: BEYOND ANARCHY on Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand January 30

The stakes are higher than ever in the intense action-adventure Death Race: Beyond Anarchy, arriving Unrated and Unhinged on Blu-raycombo pack, DVD, Digital and On Demand January 30, 2018, from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, in association with Impact Pictures/Chestnut Productions. The wildly anticipated next installment of the popular Death Race franchise, this Universal 1440 Entertainment original production brings fans along for the deadliest competition on wheels, where brutal fights and explosive car races abound. An action-packed thrill ride, this all-new movie is the grittiest and bloodiest installment yet!

Franchise newcomers Zach McGowan (“Black Sails”) and Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon) join returning Death Race fan favorites Danny Trejo (Machete) and Fred Koehler (“American Horror Story”). Death Race: Beyond Anarchy also features talented actors Christine Marzano (Rules Don’t Apply), Terence Maynard (Edge of Tomorrow) and Velislav Pavlov (The Expendables 2).


Rest in Peace, Roy Dotrice

October 17, 2017


Starring Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, Natalie Wood, Porter Hall, William Frawley, Jerome Cowan, Gene Lockhart, Philip Tonge, Harry Antrim. Directed by George Seaton. (1947, 96 min).

Holiday movies don't get much better than this. In my humble estimation, it's really only been surpassed by A Christmas Story (and, okay, maybe Die Hard) as the greatest yuletide treasure ever made. Even seven decades later, the film still hasn't lost any of its charm.

Miracle on 34th Street is one of those rare classics where, if you actually manage to bump into anyone who hasn't seen it, you tend to do a double-take and go, "Huh? Really?" After all, it's damn near unavoidable on television during the holidays. One would have to make a conscious effort to avoid catching at-least part of it while channel surfing. So if it's all over TV in December, why buy the Blu-Ray?

"...and the body was never found!"
Uh...because it's Miracle on 34th Street. Because it's the original 1947 charmer in all its black & white glory, not an inferior remake or a blasphemous colorized version. Because it looks better on Blu-Ray. Because its inclusion on every movie collector's shelf is required by-law in most U.S. territories. 

But if you've already purchased the previous edition, you're covered, because this 70th Anniversary re-issue features the exact same picture, sound and bonus material. This one does include a digital copy, though.

I gotta say, though...it was weird watching this in October. Then again, Christmas decorations are already on store shelves, so maybe I'm lagging behind. 

"Hollywood Backstories: Miracle on 34th Street" ("HB" was an AMC series back when they were still focused mostly on movies);
"Fox Movietonews: Hollywood Spotlight";
"Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade: Floating in History"

October 15, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: GIRLS TRIP

Starring Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Tiffany Haddish, Larenz Tate, Mike Colter, Kate Walsh, Kofi Siriboe, Deborah Ayorinde. Directed by Malcolm D. Lee. (2017, 122 min).

Raunchy comedies about wild weekends are a dime a dozen. It's debatable who we can thank - or blame - for that, but it's arguable that The Hangover opened-up the floodgates for the most recent batch. Some are clever and amusing, while most shamelessly pander to the yahoos in the audience who think bodily functions and wall-to-wall expletives are inherently funny.

Girls Trip tries to have it both ways. What's remarkable is how often it actually succeeds.

The four stars make-up the Flossy Posse (which would've been a better title for the film), lifelong friends who've drifted apart over the years, but decide to have another wild fling during the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans. One of them, Ryan (Regina Hall), is a successful self-help author slated to be a keynote speaker at the event. She and her husband, Stewart (Mike Colter) are publicly the perfect couple, but in reality he's an unfaithful sleaze and their marriage is in shambles; they stay together for the sake of the brand name they've established together. This doesn't sit well with her friends, especially Sasha (Queen Latifah), who runs a gossip blog and is in possession of a compromising photo showing Stewart with another woman.

Dina would rather have gone to Disneyland.
That's really most of the actual plot. The rest of the movie consists of these girls tearing up the town, playing, drinking, fighting, meeting celebrities - there are a ton of cameos - and trying to get Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) laid. It's loud, brash, in-your-face and consistently raunchy, but because the film takes the time to establish its characters and their friendship, some of these precarious scenarios are pretty damn funny.

There are times when the film doesn't know when it quit, though. When Lisa gets stuck hovering over a crowded street while zip-lining and spectacularly loses control of her bladder, we laugh at its audacity. However, having Dina (Tiffany Haddish) follow-up and willingly do the same thing doesn't make it any funnier. In fact, most of Dina's over-the-top moments - and there's a lot of 'em - go on far longer than necessary.

Still, we genuinely like these ladies and enjoy their company enough to overlook the film's utter predictability and rather daunting running time (it moves along pretty briskly for a 122 minute movie). Girls Trip works as well as it does because of its capable cast, believable characters (even Dina) and some funny dialogue to go along with the raunchier bits. It's nasty as hell at times, but never resorts to being mean-spirited or cruel when mining for laughs (cheap as some of them are).

And if nothing else, you'll never look at a grapefruit the same way again.

FEATURETTES: "Planning the Trip"; "Outrageous Moments"; "The Essence of NOLA"
AUDIO COMMENTARY: By director Malcolm D. Lee
VIDEO: "Because of You" by Ne-Yo

October 14, 2017


Starring Lewis Black. Directed by Justin Kreutzman. (2017, 100 min).

I need to start by stating I've been a huge Lewis Black fan ever since I first saw him on The Daily Show years ago. He's also the only comedian I have ever felt compelled to pay good money to see live, a show which may have been funniest hour I ever endured. And if you still haven't seen his 2004 HBO special, Black on Broadway, drop everything and go get the DVD right now. Like all the great comedians, what made him funny wasn't necessarily his words, but his expressions and delivery...expletive-filled tirades that pointed out the utter stupidity of the world around us. He was always especially funny - and timely - when ranting about the current state of the country.

So it saddens me to say that a few of Black's recent specials have paled in comparison. Oh, the rage is still there in abundance, but he's often more angry than funny. His latest, Black to the Future, is another unfortunate let-down, full of bits that seem to go on forever and payoffs that don't seem worth his capillary-bursting efforts. Even topics where he normally excels - skewering politicians - feel more forced than they used to be, and can't always be saved by incredulous tirades or a Ben Carson impersonation. And one excruciating, laugh-free segment about the glories of breasts is downright embarrassing. C'mon, Lewis, save that stuff for the Bob Sagets of the world.

Lewis Black moonlights as a mime.
While there are still some laughs to be had, they're sparser than they generally are when Black is at the top of his game. It's especially disappointing when you consider this was filmed during the 2016 election year, but relatively little of his act is dedicated to the presidential race. Too bad, because verbally destroying every candidate should have been like shooting fish in a barrel, providing enough prime material for two or three shows for a man like Lewis Black.

Other fans may disagree, but I personally found Black to the Future a crushing disappointment, as was the additional program, The Rant is Due: Live from Napa, provided as a bonus feature. This one features Black taking audience questions to use as a springboard for more trademark rants. But improvisation doesn't appear to be one of Black's strengths.