Sullivan’s Travels Blu-ray Review

     Actors: Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake
  • Director: Preston Sturges
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Black & White, Full Screen, NTSC, Special Edition, Subtitled
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Criterion Collection (Direct)
  • Release Date: April 14, 2015
  • Run Time: 90 minutes


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            True film buffs have ongoing debates about certain cinematic icons to rival rock-and-roll fan’s preferences between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Charlie Chaplin admirers are contrasted by those who would hail Buster Keaton as the true king of silent slapstick, fans of The Three Stooges are often in competition with The Marx Brothers, and there is an ongoing rivalry between the sentimental films of Frank Capra and the more cynical and satirical work of Preston Sturges. The one film which seems to be in contradiction of this distinction between the two filmmakers seems to be Sullivan’s Travels, though it is still difficult to decipher how much of this was sincerity and how much was a subtle back-handed attack from Sturges against Capra’s iconic and popular style. Whatever the intentions may have been, Sullivan’s Travels remains my favorite Sturges film for the similarities it shares with that rival filmmaker’s movies.

     

    The Man with the Iron Fist 2 Blu-ray Review

    Actor: Dustin Nguyen, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Eugenia Yuan, Carl Ng, Pim Bubear
  • Director: Reine Roel
  • Writers: RZA, John Jarrell
  • Producers: Marc Abraham, Eric Newman, Ogden Gavanski
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Color, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (DTS 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (DTS 5.1)
  • Subtitles: French, Spanish, English
  • Dubbed: French, Spanish
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Universal Studios
  • Release Date: April 14, 2015
  • Digital Copy Expiration Date: May 2, 2016


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            The fact that I can’t tell if the poorly constructed sequences, cheesy dialogue and shoddy special effects are meant to be intentionally bad as a way of imitating and parodying the genre or are simply signs of awful filmmaking means that The Man with the Iron Fists 2 was a failure, regardless. The failure is a result of a lack of commitment to either make a movie intentionally campy, like Robert Rodriguez’s Machete franchise, or a more sincere effort like the latest adaptation of 47 Ronin. This typical straight-to-video cash grab from Universal studios is not brave enough to take any real risks, and the result is a predictably bland follow-up film.

     

    That Man from Rio/Up to His Ears Blu-ray Review

         Actors: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Servais
  • Director: Philippe de Broca
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, NTSC, Surround Sound, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Cohen Media Group
  • DVD Release Date: April 14, 2015


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            Most American audiences are unfamiliar with the work of Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, though you would be hard-pressed to find many who are unfamiliar with the Star Wars franchise. George Lucas borrowed much from Kurosawa in the creation of Star Wars, specifically The Hidden Fortress (1958). Similarly, I would assume that even fewer Americans are familiar with French filmmaker Philippe De Broca, despite the recognized and apparent influence That Man from Rio had on Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. I could use this as a platform to complain about American inability to appreciate foreign film and the influence it has on Hollywood, but the truth is that That Man from Rio was also borrowing from something; the popular Tintin books from Belgian cartoonist, Hergé. I suppose everyone borrows from everyone, and audiences everywhere reap the rewards.

     

    The North Hollywood CineFest 2015: April 10-16



     

            The North Hollywood CineFest premiere night this past Friday opened with the first of several short film collections at the local Llaemle NoHo 7, followed by a quick Q&A with attending filmmakers. Among these was Debbie DeLisi, co-director of The Re-Gift, who ended the session with a call to arms, of sorts. “We all gotta help each other, right?!” DeLisi asked of the over-sold theater of captivated audience members, and was answered by an enthusiastic round of applause and cheers. There were clearly more than a few aspiring artists amidst the crowd, and DeLisi’s passionate final words struck a sincere cord for many in attendance.

     

    Vengeance of an Assassin Blu-ray Review

         Actors: Dan Chupong, Nattawut Boonrabsap, Ping Lumprapleng
  • Director: Panna Rittikrai
  • Format: Blu-ray, Widescreen
  • Language: Thai
  • Subtitles: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Well Go USA
  • Release Date: April 14, 2015
  • Run Time: 93 minutes


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            Watching Vengeance of an Assassin is kind of like watching a live stunt show; you know that there is nothing real or even slightly believable, but it is more about the spectacle behind the execution of the stunts that is meant to impress. Much of the action in Vengeance of an Assassin goes far beyond believability, which makes even more obvious the trickery used to accomplish the stunts. In the film’s worst sequence, a frail and petite looking woman with arms the size of broomsticks throws our muscular male hero around as if he were a lightweight doll. As a film, Vengeance of an Assassin is ruined by the absurdity of sequences such as this; as a stunt show, it is almost improved.

     

    Echoes Blu-ray Review

         Actors: Steve Hanks, Kate French, Steven Brand
  • Director: Nils Timm
  • Format: Blu-ray, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: ANCHOR BAY
  • Release Date: April 14, 2015
  • Run Time: 88 minutes


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            Filmmakers these days have a need to creatively adapt their screenplay ideas in a way that requires less money to film, and a solitary remote location is one way of accomplishing this. It should then come as little surprise that so many first-time filmmakers choose the horror genre, as writer/director Nils Timm has done for his feature-film debut. Though this doesn’t feel like a feature as much as a feature-length demo reel. Derivative to the point of dullness, Echoes simply feels like a calling card for investors to see that Timm can complete a feature film. At the same time, he simultaneously proved an inability to entertain or engage the audience amidst all of the technical proficiency.

     

    Motivational Growth DVD Review

         Actors: Jeffery Combs
  • Director: Don Thacker
  • Format: Blu-ray, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Parade Deck Films
  • DVD Release Date: April 21, 2015
  • Run Time: 104 minutes



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            The term ‘cult film’ was coined for movies such as Motivational Growth, which defies classification or even explanation. It is original, bizarre, and occasionally overcomes the shortcomings of the amateur actors with a distinct visual style and directorial flare. Having watched the entire thing, I’m still not certain I have a grasp on everything that the filmmaker was trying to do, but even the failures of the film had enough creativity to keep me engaged enough to follow it to the end. Aspects of the storyline lull into predictable themes, but a series of disjointed sequences destroy this consistency in a way that makes the film weaker while simultaneously retaining viewers with its spontaneity.

     

    Home Sweet Hell Blu-ray Review

    Actors: Patrick Wilson, Kevin McKidd, James Belushi, Katherine Heigl, Jordana Brewster
  • Director: Anthony Burns
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English, Arabic, Bulgarian, Croatian, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Icelandic, Indonesian, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Swedish, Turkish, French
  • Dubbed: Spanish, French, Japanese, Hungarian, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Thai
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Rated: R
  • Studio: SONY PICTURES
  • Release Date: April 7, 2015
  • Run Time: 98 minutes




  •         One of the saving graces for Home Sweet Hell may be the similarities the narrative shares with a far worse dark comedy recently released, Let’s Kill Ward’s Wife. If anything, Home Sweet Hell is middle-of-the road, passably entertaining without ever accomplishing anything slightly original or memorable. Dark comedies are meant to shock, but this one feels so derivative that the violence ends up merely feeling predictable.

     

    Outcast Blu-ray Review

         Actors: Nicolas Cage, Hayden Christensen
  • Directors: Nick Powell
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, NTSC, Surround Sound, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Phase 4 Films
  • Release Date: March 31, 2015
  • Run Time: 98 minutes


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            Nicolas Cage has always lived on the border between passable performer and over-acting hack, often making it impossible to believe that he is the same person that starred in Leaving Las Vegas. Many of these performances were just lackluster enough to be unintentionally entertaining, and his ridiculous spending habits that led to massive debt have resulted in an increasingly atrocious series of choices these last few years. Unfortunately, Outcast is just bad enough to be forgettable without reaching the level of awfulness to make it laughably atrocious, and the biggest mistake may be the entire middle section of the film which is missing Cage chewing scenery with a bad British accent. More awful may not have saved the film, but it would have made it a more memorable trainwreck to sit through, and more of Cage would have guaranteed that.

    Muck Blu-ray Review

        Actors: Kane Hodder, Lachlan Buchanan, Bryce Draper, Jaclyn Swedberg, Lauren Francesca
  • Director: Steve Wolsh
  • Format: Blu-ray, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: ANCHOR BAY
  • Release Date: March 17, 2015
  • Run Time: 98 minutes


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            Every time I think I have seen the worst film I will ever see, some ambitious untalented hack proves me wrong. Leave it to the horror genre to attract the very worst in filmmaking, both in lack of creativity and talent. Some filmmakers treat the genre as a playground for their disturbing delusions and the never-ending exploitation of talentless actresses willing to shed clothing for their fifteen minutes of fame. Steve Wolsh is the worst of these offenders I have seen in years, offering up the second film in a horror trilogy as his directorial debut.  

     

    Harlock: Space Pirate DVD Review

        Actors: David Matranga, Emily Neves, Rob Mungle
  • Director: Shinji Aramaki
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Animated, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, Dubbed, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English, Japanese
  • Dubbed: English
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Ketchup
  • DVD Release Date: March 31, 2015
  • Run Time: 111 minutes




  •         Based on a manga comic book series created by Leiji Matusmoto, Harlock was previously adapted to animation in hand-drawn fashion with a 1978 television series. Though much remains the same in the narrative of this 2013 film, an impressive $30 million budget offers the manga cutting edge computer generated graphics in its adaptation. This may not save the film from its flaws, but the spectacle provides an adequate distraction from a narrative that may feel derivative after decades of similar storylines.

     

    Gates of Heaven/Vernon, Florida Blu-ray Review

         Actors: Lucille Billingsley, Zella Graham, Cal Harberts, Albert Bitterling, Roscoe Collins
  • Director: Errol Morris
  • Format: Blu-ray, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • Release Date: March 24, 2015



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            When Errol Morris was just starting out as a filmmaker, still working his way through film school, he made an infamous bet with German director Werner Herzog over a feature length documentary. Morris became the winner of this bet with the completion of his debut, Gates of Heaven, which resulted in a short film in which Herzog eats his own shoe. This wink-and-a-nod to the famous Charlie Chaplin sequence from The Gold Rush is now a magnificent piece of film history itself, which has only gained significance as Morris continued to make films that solidify his place as one of documentary film’s most prolific directors. The film itself may seem somewhat stylistically dated now, but the human elements of the story remain as relevant today as they were in 1978.

     

    Penguins of Madagascar Blu-ray Review

         Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Animated, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Dubbed, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English (DTS 5.1), French (DTS 5.1), Spanish (DTS 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
  • Dubbed: French, Spanish
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: PG
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox
  • Release Date: March 17, 2015
  • Run Time: 86 minutes

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            This off-shoot film from the Madagascar franchise may not bridge the gap between child and adult audience members in the same way its parent films have, but it does boast enough colorful animation and fast-paced plotting to keep the whole family engaged in pleasant enough distraction. The intelligence and wit from the other films will certainly be missed by the adults, though the increase in silliness may make Penguins of Madagascar more popular among the youngest viewers. Unfortunately, I feel myself at a bit of a disadvantage in reviewing this Dreamworks animated film, having long since left this demographic.

     

    Annie Blu-ray Review

        Actors: Quvenzhané Wallis, Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, Rose Byrne
  • Director: Will Gluck
  • Format: Blu-ray, Ultraviolet, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Dubbed: Spanish, French
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: PG
  • Studio: SONY PICTURES
  • Release Date: March 17, 2015
  • Run Time: 118 minutes


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             Although I am forever grateful that it was not Will Smith’s unholy offspring cast in the iconic title role, I don’t think that Quvenzhané Wallis has the abilities needed to carry it off convincingly. For one thing, the musical numbers mostly feel at the quality level of an amateur production, and the chemistry in the film feels contrived from sequence to sequence, saved only by the support of veteran actors Jamie Foxx and Rose Byrne. But for every musical number that Foxx is able to add some charm to and all of the likeable comedic charms of Byrne are not enough to make up for five minutes of Cameron Diaz’s atrocious performance, both in comedic and musical abilities.

     

    Ride the Pink Horse Blu-ray Review

         Actors: Robert Montgomery, Thomas Gomez, Wanda Hendrix
  • Director: Robert Montgomery
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Criterion Collection (Direct)
  • Release Date: March 17, 2015
  • Run Time: 101 minutes





  •         Based on the 1946 novel by Dorothy B. Hughes, Robert Montgomery’s film adaptation the following year, Ride the Pink Horse, made minor changes to the narrative to highlight the primary themes found in the B-film crime movies we now categorize as film noir. And so, the novel’s draft-dodging criminal turns into a hardened World War II veteran, unable to find his place in a country he once called home. This minor adjustment turned the narrative from a typical crime film to an embodiment of the post-war paranoia shared by many soldiers returning to the States. Critics and audiences alike have praised Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper in its portrayal of the struggles of coming home from war. This struggle was also behind the success of an entire group of films in the 1940s and 50s, however indirectly it was addressed.

     

    White Haired Witch Blu-ray Review

         Actors: Huang Xiaoming, Vincent Chiu, Fan Bingbing
  • Director: Jacob Cheung Chi-Leung
  • Format: Blu-ray, Subtitled
  • Language: Cantonese
  • Subtitles: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Well Go USA
  • Release Date: March 10, 2015
  • Run Time: 104 minutes


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            The popularity of Chinese epics is such that they have begun to pillage the narratives already adapted to film, utilizing the classic historic narratives with the same fervor and predictability as Hollywood comic book adaptations. The genre provides opportunities to bring to life stories which are already known (guaranteeing a loyal audience base), while also catering to the cinematic stylistic trends of the times. Sometimes the style takes precedence, while others focus on the strength of the narrative and beloved historical figures. White Haired Witch attempts both simultaneously, though is only half as successful as a result.

     

    The Liberator Blu-ray Review

         Actors: Danny Huston, Edgar Ramirez, Maria Valverde
  • Director: Alberto Arvelo
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Dolby, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: Spanish
  • Dubbed: Spanish
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Cohen Media Group
  • Release Date: March 10, 2015
  • Run Time: 119 minutes

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             For a historical epic and biopic, The Liberator feels disappointingly unimpressive. Even those unfamiliar with South American history are likely to find few surprises within this narrative, though that often does not detract from the film’s impact. Those looking for a bit more depth in their revolution narratives may be better off looking to Steven Soderbergh’s Che, the Danish Flame & Citron from Ole Christian Madsen, or even the battle for Algerian independence within Rachid Bouchareb’s Outside the Law. For those specifically interested in the life of Simón Bolívar, The Liberator offers a fairly polished and straightforward representation of this journey, even if it feels like a watered down version of what could have been a better film.

     

    Late Phases: Night of the Lone Wolf Blu-ray Review

         Actors: Nick Damici, Ethan Embry
  • Director: Adrián García Bogliano
  • Format: Blu-ray, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Dark Sky Films
  • Release Date: March 10, 2015
  • Run Time: 96 minutes



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            Werewolf films seem to have gotten even more unbelievable over the years, mostly with the fallacy of bad CGI to blame. Say what you will about the slow-moving practical effects or the cheesy make-up from the classic werewolf films of the past, but they still manage to feel more realistic than most cartoonish computer images. Late Phases: Night of the Lone Wolf takes the path of practical effects and make-up, but it is in the simplicity of filmmaking where the film truly succeeds. The plot is straightforward and simple, with horror action that is so well structured and prepared that less ends up equaling more; if only the same lessons of minimalism had been applied to the film’s title.

     

    The Red Tent DVD Review

    Actors: Minnie Driver, Morena Baccarin, Rebecca Ferguson, Debra Winger, Iain Glen
  • Director: Roger Young
  • Format: Multiple Formats, AC-3, Dolby, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: March 10, 2015
  • Run Time: 90 minutes


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            Many have recognized the sudden increase in biblical adaptations onscreen, from last year’s release of Noah and Exodus to the upcoming 2015 releases, Mary, Last Days in the Desert, and David and Goliath. Then there are the half-dozen projects in development, likely waiting to see how lucrative this genre revival will be. There is also a similar movement in television, especially among miniseries. Mark Burnett will take another stab at it, with “The Bible” follow up, “A.D.” and many have praised “The Red Tent,” despite being based on a bestselling novel that took liberties with one of the lesser discussed female characters from the Old Testament.

     

    To Write Love on Her Arms DVD Review

         Actors: Kat Dennings, Chad Michael Murray, Rupert Friend, Corbin Bleu
  • Director: Nathan Frankowski
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: Chinese, Korean
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Studio: SONY PICTURES
  • DVD Release Date: March 3, 2015
  • Run Time: 118 minutes


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            I’m not sure what the reason was for the delay of this film being released after its initial 2012 festival run, but the delay resulted in the film becoming one of the casualties of the Sony Pictures Studio hack. I would like to say that this is the reason for the underwhelming reception of To Write Love on Her Arms, but the sad reality is that this is exactly the type of film that will always get dumped into home entertainment formats. I would have thought 2012 would have been a great time to release a film starring the rising star, Kat Dennings, following her 2011 successes with her new sitcom, “Two Broke Girls,” and the supporting role in Thor. Unfortunately, small personalized dramas don’t have the same mass appeal as sex-obsessed sitcoms and comic book blockbusters, but I would be willing to bet that To Write Love on Her Arms has more potential for connecting with its audience, however specific it may be.