Operation Avalanche DVD Review

  • Actors: Owen Williams, Matt Johnson, Josh Boles, Jared Raab, Andrew Appelle
  • Disc Format: Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    R
  • Studio: Lionsgate
  • DVD Release Date: January 3, 2017
  • Run Time: 94 minutes




        Found footage narratives have become increasingly prevalent in film, not only because of the ease with which these often unpolished films can be made, but also due to the increasing prevalence of recording devices in our everyday existence. Now that digital cameras cheap and easily accessible, to the point that nearly every cell phone now comes equipped with one, these narratives are increasingly easy to believe. On the other hand, this is what makes a period found-footage film like Operation Avalanche more difficult to swallow.

Phantasm: Ravager Blu-ray Review

  • Actors: Angus Scrimm, A. Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister
  • Director: Don Coscarelli
  • Disc Format: Dolby, NTSC, THX, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Not Rated
  • Studio: Well Go USA
  • Release Date: December 6, 2016
  • Run Time: 88 minutes




        It has been 18 years since the last installment in the Phantasm franchise, and nearly 40 since the original film, but Phantasm: Ravager is clearly a film for the fan-base already familiar with the narrative. Even with working knowledge of the franchise, Phantasm: Ravager has the potential to confuse and disorient, which was the hallmark of the original. Even the low-budget filmmaking of this final installment is on target with the efforts needed to make the first film, though digital effects are a sad replacement for the creative practical tricks used in 1979.

American Honey Blu-ray Review

  • Actors: Shia LeBeouf, Sasha Lane
  • Format: NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region A/1
  • Rated:
    R
  • Studio: Lionsgate
  • Release Date: December 27, 2016
  • Run Time: 162 minutes




        I’m struggling with an analysis of American Honey, because the very things that make individual moments endlessly captivating throughout the lengthy 162 run-time are also the largest weakness of the overall film. Nearly everything about the American road trip made by a British filmmaker is fittingly contradictory, including the fact that the main function of the film is to expose an unseen side of middle-America, despite being made by an outsider. This also gives this film a sense of contrived realism, a depiction of America imagined by someone with limited experience and a propensity for focusing on the bleak and the transient.

Underworld 4K Ultra HD Review

  • Actors: Michael Sheen, Bill Nighy, Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Shane Brolly
  • Director: Len Wiseman
  • Producers: Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi, Richard Wright
  • Disc Format: Dubbed, Subtitled, 4K
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: French, Italian, English
  • Dubbed: French, Italian
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: Not Rated
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • Release Date: December 27, 2016
  • Digital Copy Expiration Date: December 31, 2019




        Underworld a classic tale of forbidden love borrowing heavily from Romeo and Juliet, adapted to the age-old folklore about vampire and werewolf. The mythology of these films has vampires and werewolves coming from the same human family originally, before being bitten by a bat and wolf. The history beyond this is a mystery even to the creatures, who only know that they have a deep blood feud against each other. They fight within the city and beneath it, hidden to the humans. Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is a hunter of the Lycans, killing werewolves skillfully under the belief that they killed her family. When she notices them following a human named Michael (Scott Speedman), Selene discovers a secret about the man that could either bond the two feuding creatures or cause a brutal war.

Department Q Trilogy DVD Review

  • Actors: Nikolaj Lie Kaas,
    Fares Fares
  • Directors:  Mikkel Nørgaard, Hans Petter Moland
  • Disc Format: Color, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: Danish
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish
  • Region: Region 1
  • Number of discs:3
  • Rated:
    Unrated
  • Studio: MPI HOME VIDEO
  • DVD Release Date: December 20, 2016




        Are you a fan of the HBO series “True Detective,” the serial killer films of David Fincher (Seven, Zodiac, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), or the Swedish trilogy that the latter was based on? Stop whatever you are currently binging and seek out the Department Q films, immediately. It shouldn’t be that difficult, as each of the individual films have been available on Netflix for some time, and now the entire trilogy is available in a single affordable package.

Disorder DVD Review

  • Actors: Matthias Schoenaerts, Diane Kruger
  • Director: Alice Winocour
  • Disc Format: Color, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: French
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish
  • Region: Region 1
  • Rated:
    Unrated
  • Studio: MPI HOME VIDEO
  • Release Date: December 13, 2016
  • Run Time: 98 minutes




        It could be seen as a flaw that Disorder bounces back and forth between a realism and typical action spectacle, but the innovation of the film is its ability to inspire doubt about which will dominate the narrative from one moment to the next. The protagonist is clearly suffering from PTSD, though it is a mistake to immediately dismiss all of his paranoia as completely unfounded. At the same time, despite the existence of very real dangers, this does not make the reaction to them normal by any means. Director Alice Winocour is very clearly addressing the idea that traumatic experiences have a dramatic effect on how the world is viewed, though it is unclear what message she is attempting to make about this phenomenon once the action takes over the narrative.

Sudden Fear Blu-ray Review

  • Actors: Joan Crawford, Jack Palance, Gloria Grahame, Bruce Bennett
  • Director: David Miller
  • Disc Format: Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: Portuguese, English
  • Region: Region A/1
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • Release Date: December 13, 2016
  • Run Time: 110 minutes




        Film noir narratives rarely relied on sympathetic female protagonists, typically resigning them to either an innocent supporting character or a devious femme fatale. While there is a femme fatale in the 1952 noir, Sudden Fear, the main character is unusual enough just being a woman, but also has the added distinction of ending in a place of moral superiority. Star Joan Crawford had previously bent this male-driven movement of post-war cinema by blending the woman’s picture (now referred to as melodrama) and the film noir with the 1945 classic, Mildred Pierce.

Stagecoach: The Texas Jack Story Blu-ray Review

  • Actors: Trace Adkins, Judd Nelson, Kim Coates
  • Director: Terry Miles
  • Disc Format: Anamorphic, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Rated:
    Unrated 
  • Studio: Cinedigm
  • Release Date: December 13, 2016
  • Run Time: 90 minutes





        I’ve seen worse films than Stagecoach: The Texas Jack Story, but that’s not saying much. Even the aspects of this film that aren’t terrible are still no better than a generic TV movie. And that is insulting to some TV movies, especially the western ones like “Lonesome Dove.” It is also fitting that I mention that highly acclaimed TV miniseries, because the Stagecoach director’s last western was Lonesome Dove Church, which I can only assume was attempting to cash in on the success of the previous success. Stagecoach makes similar references to better westerns of the past with its derivative title, distinguished only by the sub-title.

Southside with You Blu-ray Review

  • Actors: Tika Sumpter, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Parker Sawyers
  • Director: Richard Tanne
  • Disc Format: NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region A/1
  • Rated:
    PG-13
  • Studio: Lionsgate
  • Release Date: December 13, 2016
  • Run Time: 84 minutes




        In many ways, Southside with You is the opposite of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, despite sharing many similarities in narrative structure. And the differences have very little to do with race, nor is this the first of these single-date films to address the issues of black Americans. The first film of Moonlight director Barry Jenkins was Medicine for Melancholy, which follows a pair navigating San Francisco together the day after having a one-night-stand. But whereas Before Sunrise and Medicine for Melancholy are films about two characters crossing paths as they head in different directions, Southside with You follows two characters that often resist a future together despite our knowledge of their inevitable union.

Harley and the Davidsons Blu-ray Review

  • Actors: Michiel Huisman, Bug Hall, Robert Aramayo, Annie Read, Essa O'Shea
  • Directors: Ciarán Donnelly, Stephen Kay
  • Disc Format: Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region A/1
  • Number of discs: 4
  • Studio: Lionsgate
  • Release Date: December 13, 2016
  • Run Time: 246 minutes




        Discovery Channel’s “Harley and the Davidsons” seems setup to be another one of those hybrid documentaries, which use recreation footage on top of narration to provide accurate history of events. And the filmed sequences certainly do resemble recreation footage, but the documentary elements are completely absent, leaving the audience with all of the stiff acting and contrived dialogue, but none of the historical background. Fans of Harley Davidson motorcycles may enjoy the material, simply because they enjoy the subject matter, but there is far too little of interest for the average viewer.

Morgan Blu-ray Review

  • Actors: Kate Mara, Toby Jones, Michael Yare
  • Format: Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby Surround)
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
  • Dubbed: French, Spanish
  • Region: Region A/1
  • Rated:
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox
  • Release Date: December 13, 2016
  • Run Time: 92 minutes




        If you remove the ideas of misogyny from the narrative of Ex Machina and replace it with hard-hitting action sequences, you would have Morgan. Little about the screenplay is original, but something about allowing two women to head up a majority of battles (both verbal and hand-to-hand) still feels innovative. Even if the screenplay itself is not nearly as intelligent as the initial setup seems to imply, and despite being able to predict the final twist less than halfway through the movie, I remained engaged with the performers and the world that they created until the last frame.

End of a Gun Blu-ray Review

  • Actors: Steven Seagal, Florin Piersic Jr., Jacob Grodnik, Jonathan Rosenthal, Radu Andrei Micu
  • Director: Keoni Waxman
  • Disc Format: NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region A/1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    R
  • Studio: Lionsgate
  • Release Date: December 13, 2016
  • Run Time: 93 minutes




        Do I really need to review End of a Gun? Can’t I just say that it is a Steven Seagal movie and leave it at that? Isn’t it enough to tell you that the film was shot on a shoestring budget in Romania, standing in for a narrative that takes place in Paris? Do audiences really need any information beyond the fact that this is directed by Keoni Waxman, whose last eight movies have all starred a barely conscious Seagal? Someone must wake him up at the end of these productions to remind him to cash his checks.

The Unspoken DVD Review

  • Actors: Jodelle Ferland, Neal McDonough, Sunny Suljic
  • Director: Sheldon Wilson
  • Format: NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Not Rated
  • Studio: ANCHOR BAY
  • DVD Release Date: December 6, 2016
  • Run Time: 96 minutes




        It always makes me laugh when a film tries to promote itself by what other films the executive producer has worked on, as if the man overseeing the money has an artistic control over the end product. This is what The Unspoken has done with its marketing, as well as changing the film’s original title (from The Haunting of Briar House), plastering the names of films like Insidious and Paranormal Activity over the cover of the DVD because of their vaguest connection with this one. There may be some similar scares within this flavor of haunted house tale, but the script is an absolute disaster which cannot be recovered from.

Jennifer Lopez: Dance Again DVD Review

  • Director?: Ted Kennedy
  • Format: Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish
  • Region: Region 1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: ANCHOR BAY
  • DVD Release Date: December 6, 2016
  • Run Time: 86 minutes




        For about the first 15 minutes of Jennifer Lopez: Dance Again, I was convinced that this was going to be one of those documentaries that made me a fan out of the subject through thoughtful consideration and compelling footage. I even found myself getting choked up over the inspirational build-up to the first performance of her first world tour, but quickly after that it became obvious that this is a glorified piece of marketing, a vanity piece made for fans of Lopez alone. I went from loving to hating this film in record time.

Decommissioned DVD Review

  • Actors: Michael Pare, James Remar, Johnny Messner, Vinnie Jones
  • Disc Format: Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1
  • Rated:
    R
  • Studio: Lionsgate
  • DVD Release Date: December 6, 2016
  • Run Time: 80 minutes


        There is a rich tradition for drama and comedy in the world of low budget independent filmmaking; all you really need is a script, some actors, and a camera. Films have been shot entirely on cell phones with this simple formula. Even genre films have their place among independents, with many horror films made with a little innovation and creativity. But action films are another beast entirely, and it takes a sturdy set of stones to tackle the expected spectacle of the genre. Timothy Woodward Jr. has established himself as one of the few filmmakers bold enough to embrace this challenge, filming the ambitious narrative of Decommissioned for a cool million, with mixed results.

Why Emmy Rossum’s Refusal of Equal Pay is Dangerous





   I’m going to say some unpopular things about the gender pay gap. Typically, this is a straightforward issue. Dealing with wage inequality in the average workplace, women with the same job and experience as men should get paid the same. It is fairly simple concept (and one that I wholeheartedly support, to be clear), but this same idea is much more complex in Hollywood, where fame is a commodity.


Don’t Think Twice Blu-ray Review

  • Actors: Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Mike Birbiglia, Kate Micucci, Chris Gethard
  • Director: Mike Birbiglia
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1)
  • Subtitles: French, Spanish, English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Rated:
    R
  • Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
  • Release Date: December 6, 2016
  • Digital Copy Expiration Date: May 2, 2018




        While it may do little to sway disbelievers into becoming fans of improv shows, a medium that has long been viewed as the only step below stand-up comedy in the list of shows that friends of entertainers dread attending out of mere obligation and support, Don’t Think Twice is so profoundly insightful in its discussion of larger issues that it ultimately doesn’t matter what the art form is. This may sound somewhat crass considering the weeks that the cast spent rehearsing and performing real improv shows, which were filmed for inclusion in the final edit, but it is the way that success effects their group dynamic which is well-thought out and insightful. The improv, despite being edited down to presumably show the funniest of the real material, lacks the kind of laughs to counter the spot-on criticism of planned sketch comedy on shows like Saturday Night Live.

Phantasm: Remastered Blu-ray Review

  • Actors: Angus Scrimm, A. Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister
  • Director: Don Coscarelli
  • Disc Format: Color, Dolby, NTSC, THX, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Rated:
    R
  • Studio: Well Go USA
  • Release Date: December 6, 2016
  • Run Time: 89 minutes



       
        Easily one of the strangest horror movies ever made, Phantasm has a little bit of everything crammed into one movie. The 1979 cult classic is a rare sci-fi horror film made on a low budget. There are moments of gore (primarily involving the sphere weapon), a dark sense of humor, erratic and purposefully disorienting editing, and even a bit of unexpected realism (a victim urinating during his death scene is still shocking today). This movie is far from a masterpiece, but there are undeniable moments of genius in here, and this remastered version presents them in startling clarity.

Henry: 30th Anniversary Blu-ray Review

  • Actors: Michael Rooker, Tom Towles
  • Director: John McNaughton
  • Format: Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region A/1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Unrated
  • Studio: MPI HOME VIDEO
  • Release Date: December 6, 2016
  • Run Time: 82 minutes




        The character of Henry is based loosely on the real-life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, including many of the facts about the killer’s life in the movie. There are some changes, but the relationship that the serial killer has with an ex-con friend was borrowed from reality. The murders in the film, however, were taken from the countless lies that Lucas told once in prison. He confessed to crimes that he hadn’t committed once he had already been sentenced. The element of truth is part of what makes Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer so disturbing, much like In Cold Blood. The fabricated murders simply add to the myth of the man.

Jason Bourne 4K Ultra HD Review

  • Actors: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles
  • Director: Paul Greengrass
  • Format: 4K
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo), English (DTS:X Master Audio), French (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo), French (DTS:X Master Audio), Spanish (DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1), Spanish (DTS:X Master Audio)
  • Subtitles: French, Spanish, English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated:
    PG-13
  • Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
  • Release Date: December 6, 2016
  • Digital Copy Expiration Date: May 2, 2018



        After to an unsuccessful attempt at making a Jason Bourne film without Matt Damon or its title character, the franchise has returned to business as usual, even if it just feels like a collection of deleted scenes from the original trilogy. Director Paul Greengrass also returns to the franchise in order to provide the same nausea-inducing shaky camera work that he used in the first two sequels, along with a barely significant storyline making transparent modern-day commentary on issues of online privacy. None of this really matters, however, because the film is more interested in endless chase scenes than it is the narrative.

        We join Jason Bourne (Damon) punishing himself for past indiscretions by enduring endless bouts of underground boxing in Greece. When former CIA employee Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) hacks into the government mainframe, she discovers a secret folder about Bourne’s background with the company, as well as evidence that a similar program has been started back up. Taking this information to Bourne, Nicky unintentionally brings the attention of the intelligence community back on the former operative who has taken extreme measures to remain hidden.

        In charge of this investigation in Langley is the head of the Cyber Ops Division, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander with an often uncomfortably forced American accent). Although Lee appears to be an advocate for reasoning with Bourne, the director of the CIA (Tommy Lee Jones) secretly undermines her by siccing another one of his trained assassins (Vincent Cassel) on the operation, with the sole purpose of eliminating Bourne altogether. The primary reason for getting rid of him is to avoid allowing the former operative to discover a conspiracy by the government to use a social media platform (clearly modeled after Facebook) in order to spy on the American public.
       
        While the integration of online privacy issues into the world of Jason Bourne updates the film’s relevance, it often feels forced in a movie that is otherwise occupied with more secrets in the title character’s background. At this point, one can only hope that all of the secrets in Bourne’s past have been revealed. But even with these two competing storylines, Jason Bourne ultimately feels light on reasons for existing. There is little else for Bourne to do but follow and be followed, with the screenplay giving the main character less than 50 lines in the entire two-hour run-time.

Even the action scenes begin to feel redundant. There are only so many times we can see Jason Bourne being followed with jerky camera movement and tense musical scores before it becomes clear that style is over-riding substance. It would be far more endurable if the style were not so unpleasant, including camera work which makes discerning the action more difficult than rewarding. Even an impressively spectacle-driven climactic car chase on the Las Vegas strip isn’t enough to save the film from feeling like a watered down repeat.

        The 4K Ultra HD release for Jason Bourne has its strengths, but it also makes the film’s weaknesses somewhat more apparent. The visuals are just not than impressive, though I admit to having little objectivity when it comes to the unnecessary shaky camera work and heavy use of a zoom lens within Greengrass films. And there just isn't enough color in the photography to warrant the upgrade, save the final showdown in Vegas.  What does feel greatly enhanced is the immersive audio, as this often has more impact that the disorienting visuals. Even if I often had trouble telling what was happening, at least it sounded cool.

        This release also comes with a Digital HD copy, as well as a Blu-ray disc, which includes the film’s special features. There is a three-part feature about the fight training, choreography, and its relevance to the narrative. There are also several featurettes on the film’s chase scenes, including the one taking place in Athens and the one shot on the Las Vegas strip. The last extra is a generic featurette which discusses the elements of the film, focusing primarily on the return of Damon and Greengrass.

Entertainment Value: 7/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 7/10
Historical Significance:  5/10
Special Features: 6.5/10


Dead Rising: Endgame Blu-ray Review

  • Actors: Keegan Tracy, Jessica Harmon, Marie Avgeropoulos, Billy Zane, Jesse Metcalfe
  • Director: Pat Williams
  • Producers: Tim Carter
  • Format: AC-3, Dolby, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: French, English
  • Region: Region A/1
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Rated: Not Rated
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • Release Date: December 6, 2016
  • Run Time: 96 minutes




        With the flood of bad to mediocre zombie films released regularly, the first Dead Rising film adaptation stood apart thanks to a bit of creative filmmaking and a few relevant allegories for modern society. Planned merely months after the release of the first film, Dead Rising: Endgame continues a pattern of fairly transparent political commentary, especially for those living in terror of a xenophobic Trump administration. The irony is that Dead Rising and its sequel were both made in Canada.

The Hollars Blu-ray Review

  • Actors: Anna Kendrick, John Krasinski, Richard Jenkins, Margo Martindale, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
  • Director: John Krasinski
  • Producers: John Krasinski, Tom Rice, Ben Nearn, Allyson Seegers
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: Mandarin Chinese, English, Japanese
  • Dubbed: Japanese
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Rated:
    PG-13
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • Release Date: December 6, 2016
  • Digital Copy Expiration Date: December 31, 2019
  • Run Time: 88 minutes




        Considering how innovative actor John Krasinski’s directorial debut was, I was surprised to find his second attempt somewhat derivative. With Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, he had the near-impossible task of adapting a collection of short stories by David Foster Wallace into a coherent narrative, and he succeeded with artistry and skill, which is why The Hollars feels so blandly uninspired. Instead of trying to do something new, Krasinski has chosen to work in a narrative that has all but become the official genre of independent filmmaking: the dysfunctional family dramedy.