August 14, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: BLUEBEARD

Starring Cho Jin-woong, Shin Goo, Kim Dae-myung, Song Young-chang, Lee Chung-ah, Yoon Se-ah. Directed by Lee Soo-yeon. (2017, 117 min).

Did I miss something while watching Bluebeard?

I could see what they were trying to do by giving us a main character we don't entirely trust, making us question whether or not what he's experiencing is real or imagined. Cho Jin-woong plays Byun, a troubled doctor who's estranged from his ex-wife and living alone in a cluttered, tiny apartment. Once the owner of a clinic which went bankrupt, he now performs colonoscopies in a crime-ridden part of town to make ends meet. There's also a serial killer on the loose, and one of the dismembered victims has recently been discovered in a nearby river.

As a favor to his landlord, Jung Sung-geun (Kim Dae-myung), Byun examines his father (Shin Goo). But while sedated, the old man describes gruesome details of one of the murders. Though he befriends Jung, Byun begins to suspect the Sung-geun family (who also own a butcher shop in the same building) are the serial killers everyone is looking for, especially after he spots what looks like a human head in their meat locker. That same head pops up in his own freezer, then disappears the next day. Later, his ex-wife disappears right after a recent visit, prompting Byun to find evidence to expose the Sung-geuns.

"You must owe a hell of a lot in library fines."
Bluebeard does so many things right that it's a shame the film undoes itself during the final act. Director Lee Soo-yeon does an exemplary job creating a moody, surreal tone, with some creepy, hallucinatory sequences and effectively deliberate pacing. As Byun, Cho Jin-woong hits all the right notes as a tormented doctor whose life has recently taken some dark turns, and we're intrigued to learn exactly what led him to his sorry state. But unlike similar films which depend on deceiving the viewer to set up a big twist, we almost immediately begin to suspect something's not quite right with Byun.

Bluebeard's "failure" to pull the wool over our eyes isn't the problem, though. After all, I know how every sports movie ever made ends, but still enjoy them. Without providing spoilers, the biggest issue is the final act, where previous events are laborously revisited from a different perspective. But then the subsequent resolution undermines its own story by throwing us another curveball which, based on what we've already been presented with, rings false. Unless I completely overlooked some vital piece of information - a subtle hint, a throwaway line, my willingness to suspend disbelief - I don't see how the denouement is even possible.

Still, I find myself thinking a lot about the plausibility of that ending, and maybe that was the film's purpose all along. Maybe it intended to confound its own logic   just to get a rise out of the viewer. Whatever the case, Bluebeard's dark tone and solid performances may not be enough for us to forgive the narrative shortcomings, but at least the journey is kind of interesting. 


Blu-Ray News: KRAKATOA, EAST OF JAVA Coming to Blu-Ray for the First Time on 9/12

Blu-ray and DVD Street Date: September 12, 2017

Director: Bernard L. Kowalski
Starring: Maximilian Schell, Diane Baker, Brian Keith, Sal Mineo, Rossano Brazzi, J.D. Cannon, John Leyton, Marc Lawrence

Adventure / 131 min / G / Color

The Epic Adventure that Shook the Earth to its Core! In Singapore harbor, 1883, Captain Chris Hanson (Maximilian Schell, Judgment at Nuremberg) of the Batavia Queen embarks on a perilous search for sunken treasure off the island of Krakatoa. To find a fortune in rare pearls, he must brave a boiling sea, douse an uprising by a horde of convicts, and outwit a greedy crew desperate for more than their fair share... only to confront the most devastating and catastrophic volcanic explosion the modern world has ever felt creating giant tidal waves that engulf the island and endanger all aboard the Batavia Queen. TV veteran Bernard L. Kowalski (Stiletto) directed this widescreen spectacle that featured a splendid cast that included Diane Baker (The Silence of the Lambs), Brian Keith (The McKenzie Break), Sal Mineo (Rebel Without a Cause), Rossano Brazzi (South Pacific), John Leyton (The Great Escape), J.D. Cannon (Cotton Comes to Harlem) and Marc Lawrence (Custer of the West) with a rousing score by Frank De Vol (The Dirty Dozen).

Rest in Peace, Joseph Bologna

August 12, 2017


Starring Eugenio Derbez, Salma Hayek, Raphael Alejandro, Rob Lowe, Kristen Bell, Raquel Welch, Rob Riggle, Rob Huebel, Renee Taylor, Linda Lavin, Mckenna Grace. Directed by Ken Marino. (2017, 155 min).

If nothing else, this film's pre-title prologue made me laugh loud enough to startle my cat.

In a year rife with raunchy, unfunny comedies that have mostly bombed at the box office, the rest of How to be a Latin Lover is a breath of fresh air. Even with a PG-13 rating, I was expecting something filled with self-humiliating characters, bedroom humor and snickering innuendo. While the film does indeed have some of that, it's often genuinely funny without ever becoming mean-spirited or descending into pure sleaze. And - surprise, surprise - it even manages to be sentimental and sweet at times.

"Hey, has Friskies?"
Eugenio Derbez is Maximo, a man with no work ethic who marries an older rich woman for her money. 25 years later, she dumps him for a younger man, leaving him homeless and broke. He moves in with his sister, Sara (Salma Hayek), a budding architect, and her nerdy, awkward son, Hugo (Raphael Alejandro). Predictably, his self-absorption, laziness and inappropriate behavior around Hugo makes him a bane to Sara. Hugo, who's own father died a few years before, is quite taken with his uncle, who initially wants nothing to do with the boy.

Meanwhile, rather than look for a legitimate job, Maximo sets out to snag another wealthy older woman to take care of him, which he think he finds in Celeste (Rachel Welch, still looking mighty fine for 76). Coincidently, she's the grandmother of the girl Hugo has a secret crush on. Maximo decides to give his nephew lessons in winning-over the ladies (the only sleazy way he knows how) in order to get closer to Celeste. Unfortunately, Maximo is no longer the virile young stud he used to be and generally ends up making things worse for everybody, including himself, not helped by the so-called advice of friend and fellow man-toy Rick (Rob Lowe).

"What do you mean you don't like tea parties?"
The premise alone naturally lends itself to ample opportunities for cartoonish antics and low-brow comedy, which the film more-than-willingly provides. It isn't always laugh-out-loud funny, but much of it is chuckleworthy and resists the overwhelming temptation to degenerate into a leering sex farce. In fact, except for some suggestive dialogue here and there, you might even feel comfortable watching this with your older kids, who'd probably enjoy the scenes involving Hugo and Maximo. Speaking of which, these two provide the emotional crux of a film I never expected to have one. Despite their age difference, they treat and talk to each other as equals since Hugo is wise beyond his years and Maximo never really grew up in the first place.

From a narrative standpoint, there aren't too many surprises, but the characters are fun due to lively performances by an impressive cast. Despite his shallow, obnoxious character, Derbez renders Maximo likable, while Alejandro is charming as the socially-awkward Hugo. The rest of the cast are all given their moments to shine, as well. Lowe plays yet-another oily sleaze as only he can, while Linda Lavin is unnervingly hilarious as his sugar mama. Kristen Bell's cat-lady character is arguably the least essential to the story, though the increasingly brutal scratch wounds on her face & body is the best running gag in the movie. Even Welch, never exactly renowned for her comedic skills, has a few amusing moments.

How to Be a Latin Lover isn't gonna change the world and perhaps runs a tad longer than it needs to, but it never quite wears out its welcome. It's an engaging, affably entertaining film that manages to juggle slapstick & situational comedy pretty well, while remaining surprisingly sweet-natured.

FEATURETTES: "Show Me Your Sexy!" (making-of); "A Little Help from My Friends" (mostly about director Ken Marino assembling the cast)
AUDIO COMMENTARY - by director Marino, producer Ben Odell & editor John Daigle

August 11, 2017

Blu-Ray News: "Get The Yondu Look" Tribute Event - GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOl. 2


On Tuesday, August 22, from 9:00am-12:00pm, fans around Los Angeles will be able to come pay tribute to the beloved Ravager, Yondu, with a morning of prizes and activities at Shorty’s Barber Shop in West Hollywood! Michael Rooker (‘Yondu’ in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) will be on location to commemorate his character and interact with fans!

Activities Include:
  • The first 50 fans will receive a $50 gift certificate to Shorty’s Barber Shop to come back and Get the Yondu Look
  • Additional giveaways will include Blu-ray Combo Packs and Digital Copies of Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, posters signed by Michael Rooker and other Guardians themed items
  • Themed photo opportunity
  • Get the Yondu Look by getting your hair styled into a faux hawk and hair sprayed red

For those of you hardcore enough to go FULL YONDU*, there will be room for ten lucky Ravagers to get a full hair dye and shave. Those that pledge their loyalty to the captain will not only meet Rooker himself, but will head out with various Guardians loot!

But wait! There’s more, y’all! Two lucky fans will also walk out of Shorty’s with an awesome custom-made Yondu umbrella to keep that new ‘do safe from the LA sun!

* If you volunteer to be one of the 10 fans to get the Full Yondu you will need to be over 18 years of age, be available to get your hair dyed on Monday, August 21st, and shaved or styled from 9:00AM-12:00PM on Tuesday, August 22nd.

To schedule for the Full Yondu, please e-mail your name and mobile number to

All colors and cuts will take place at:
Shorty’s Barber Shop
755 N Fairfax Ave
West Hollywood, CA

Now Available Digitally and Blu-ray on Aug. 22

August 8, 2017


Starring Natasha Bassett, Peter Benson, Clayton Chitty, Nathan Keyes, Nicole Oliver, Jillian Walchuck, Matthew Harrison. Directed by Anne-Marie Hess. (2017, 88 min).

My oldest daughter has always loved all things Britney Spears - even during years when it wasn't fashionable - and even she had to rage-quit this movie after about 30 minutes.

As hard as it might be for some of us to wrap our heads around, this prolific pop tart has been pumping out softcore silliness for nearly twenty years. That's roughly 15 years after I assumed she'd end up desperately clinging to fame on a season of Dancing with the Stars. At the very least, Britney Spears deserves some kudos for longevity.

As a decades-long source of tabloid fodder, who sells sex and songs with equal abandon, Spears' career is certainly a worthy subject for a music bio, no matter how superficial. But Britney Ever After barely even tries. It's a biography only in the sense that its subject exists. Abe Lincoln did, too, but we're pretty certain he never hunted vampires.

You know you're in trouble when a movie about a musician doesn't include any of their actual music. None of Spears' own songs are featured. And though she's been renowned for years as the reigning diva at MTV's Video Music Awards, Britney's antics are depicted on the chuckleworthy "Music Awards". Lifetime - longtime purveyors of fan-baiting claptrap - obviously had no legal permission to feature either.

"Uh...could you stop sniffing yourself?"
But that's just nitpicking. While admittedly not a fan of Britney or her questionable musical abilities, I don't believe she's an idiot. Here, she's initially portrayed as the type of dumb, backwoods hick you'd expect to see popping out of the cornfield in an old Hee-Haw episode. Then before you can say "Oops, I Did it Again,", she's a spoiled, oversexed, man-hungry valley girl who settles a marital spat with Justin Timberlake by challenging him to a dance-off.

Britney Ever After cheaply & inaccurately re-enacts the more tabloid-worthy parts of her career, then speculates the rest (Really? A sex tape?). The narrative jumps from point A to B with little or no transition, essentially rendering the whole thing a series of unrelated film clips. The actors only superficially resemble their real life counterparts and perform like high-schoolers imagining what pop stardom is like.

I can't imagine Britney Ever After appealing to her die hard fans, who'd likely be insulted by this lazy & shallow attempt to capitalize on their adulation. Since nobody else is going to care, this cynically-produced ratings grabber is nothing more than a cable TV version of click-bait.


Rest in Peace, Haruo Nakajima

August 6, 2017


Starring Lily James, Jai Courtney, Christopher Plummer, Janet McTeer, Eddie Marsan, Ben Daniels, Mark Dexter. Directed by David Leveaux. (2016, 107 min).

The Nazis have recently invaded Holland, where Germany's former leader, Kaiser Wilhelm (Christopher Plummer) is living in exile. While he has no political power during the Nazi campaign, they are concerned with reports that a Dutch spy is lurking around to kill him. So Captain Brandt (Jai Courtney) is charged with protecting Kaiser and his wife.

On the day of his arrival at their mansion, he meets house-servant Mieke (Lily James). In a couple of rather graphically gratuitous moments, they have explicit sex before even learning each other's names. Just when you think The Exception is going to be one of those movies, along comes the plot, which plays its hand earlier than one might expect...

Kaiser never loses at Risk ('cause he cheats).
Brandt is the 'exception' of the title, an SS officer who is appalled at what the Nazis are doing, and tormented by nightmares of the horrors he's witnessed. In a revelation that'll surprise no one, Mieke turns out to be the spy the Nazis are looking for, in addition to being Jewish. Kaiser himself, while still loyal to his country, does not approve of the Nazis' methods. Though a tad eccentric, he's kindly, sympathetic toward the Dutch and ultimately horrified upon learning some of Heinrich Himmler's atrocities.

"Come on, lady, it was one hotel towel. What's the big deal?"
The film takes time establishing its players, but despite their initial full-frontal encounters, the 'romance' between Brandt & Mieke doesn't resonate all that much. Still, Courtney and James are appealing enough to make us care about them. Plummer, on the other hand, effortlessly steals every scene he's in. Though his role is far from a cameo, it's too bad Kaiser isn't the central character. Elsewhere, the film is relatively slow-going until the final act, which provides a fair amount of suspense and comes to a satisfying conclusion.

Those looking for the usual action and romance often found in a WWII drama may be disappointed. The Exception doesn't have much of either, despite a few fleeting efforts to establish its two leads through decidedly non-erotic sex. However, the story itself is just interesting enough to keep us watching, as is Plummer's wonderful performance.

FEATURETTE: "Behind the Scenes of The Exception"
AUDIO COMMENTARY - By director David Leveaux

Blu-Ray Review: KUNG FU YOGA

Starring Jackie Chan, Aarif Rahman, Zhang Yixing, Miya Muqi, Sonu Sood, Disha Patani, Zhang Guoli, Amyra Dastur. Directed by Stanley Tong. (2017, 107 min).

Near the beginning of Kung Fu Yoga, there's a brief scene where a few of our protagonists engage in some tendon-snapping stretches. Since yoga figures absolutely nowhere in the actual plot and is never mentioned again, I'm assuming it was included so they could give the film a funny title.

It's just as good a title as anything else, since this reteaming of Jackie Chan and director Stanley Tong (Supercop, Rumble in the Bronx) is a kitchen-sink collection of action/comedy set pieces assembled into an Indiana Jones plot filtered through Chuck Jones. The film gives us ancient maps, lost treasure, hidden tombs, angry snakes and booby-trapped lairs as Chan leads an eclectic batch of archeologists, treasure hunters and yoga experts to battle an Indian megalomaniac, cannon fodder henchmen, killer hyenas and a grumpy lion riding shotgun in an SUV. We're whisked to one exotic location after another, from the glacial caverns of Tibet to the immaculate palaces of Dubai. And everything culminates in an epic Bollywood dance number.

At no point does the film approach anything resembling plausibility, nor does it really try. For example, the extended car chase through the streets of Dubai is played almost entirely for laughs, such as when our villain escapes his suddenly airborne vehicle by stepping out at just the right time, then walks away without a scratch. Speaking of which, the ample amount of CGI is so terrible that one begins to suspect it is intentional. In fact, during the opening prologue, my wife was sure it would be revealed to be a character playing a video game.

Still, Kung Fu Yoga is often quite funny. While the humor is mostly of the slapstick variety, some of the dialogue is priceless, as when one character, held hostage, begins to cry, "I'm gonna die! I mean, I know everybody dies, but I'm gonna die right now!" Jackie Chan is affable and charming as usual. While not as limber as he used to be, he's still a terrific physical performer. Chan also seems more than happy to share the spotlight with the rest of the cast, all of whom have their amusing moments (even the bad guys come across as sort-of congenial).

Kung Fu Yoga is one of those movies where, if you aren't already onboard the crazy train, you'll find it insufferable. Nearly a live-action cartoon, the film never takes itself too seriously and nor should the viewer. This one is for those looking for nothing more than colorful, silly, inoffensive entertainment.

FEATURETTES: "Best of Both Worlds"; "The Dynamic Duo"; "The Making Of Kung Fu Yoga"; "Jackie Chan Featurette"; "Bollywood Dance Featurette"
BLOOPER REEL (needlessly punctuated by "funny" onscreen text)

August 4, 2017

A CHRISTMAS STORY: Alternate Ending

"I sure hope Ralphie doesn't shoot his eye out."


"Not my eye, Ma. Not my eye."