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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
*** (out of 4)
Reporter April O'Neil (Megan Fox) is trying to break a major story when she runs into four walking, talking turtles who just happen to be trained as ninjas and fight crime. There's really not too much "plot" going on in this movie but that doesn't hurt thing too badly since we're given an entertaining "good guys vs. bad guys" story that manages to keep us glued to the screen. I'm going to admit that the first ten or fifteen-minutes are pretty bad because it's pretty much character development for O'Neil and sadly Fox just doesn't have the talent to pull any of it off. In fact, she's pretty much wooden throughout the picture and is clearly the least interesting thing. Thankfully the turtles, Splinter and Shredder eventually take over the screen and Fox's character is pushed to the background. This new version of the turtles aren't going to offend fans of the original as the filmmakers here at least tried to do their own thing but at the same time keep the same DNA of the 80's turtles. I would say that all four were fairly well-written, although there's no question that Michelangelo takes most of the spotlight. He's also given the most one-liners, which don't always work but the jokes are in good nature. The vocal work for all the main characters are extremely good. With that said, the real stand out is William Fichtner who plays the type of character you'd expect him to. The CGI isn't too bad for the most part, although there's an action sequence down the side of the mountain, which just doesn't take off as well as it should have. The ending packs a nice little punch but I must say that this Terminator-style Shredder just didn't work. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES is given a face lift for a new generation of fans and thankfully it's entertaining without changing too much of what made the originals so entertaining.
The Purge: Anarchy (2014)
** (out of 4)
A mysterious man (Frank Grillo) comes to the aid of a husband-wife and mother-daughter who find themselves in the streets with the annual purge begins. The man agrees to take the four to safety but there's something that has him out for his own gain. THE PURGE: ANARCHY is certainly better than the first film but when all is said and done, that really doesn't mean too much. As with the first film, this sequel has some interesting ideas but sadly the screenplay by writer-director James DeMonaco just has too many unanswered questions and in fact I'd say the entire film is rather sloppy. It seems there's never any clear idea of what anyone is trying to do. At times we're just treated to graphic violence. At other times there's a political commentary going on and I think this is where the film just gets a bit too laughable. In fact, the rich vs. poor angle just doesn't work at all and in fact it had me rolling my eyes several times. Another problem is that we really don't care about any of the five characters so there's never any tension to whether they live or die. If you can't connect with the characters then there's really no point to anything we're watching. This film pretty much turns out to be a knock off of a DEATH WISH type of film but I'll at least give it some credit for trying something a tad bit different than the original movie. The producers simply could have given us a remake of the first but instead they did do something different. The performances are decent for the most part but Grillo's "silent" performance can't match someone like Bronson. Still, THE PURGE: ANARCHY certainly isn't the worst movie out there but perhaps the third time will be the charm.
Life Itself (2014)
**** (out of 4)
I first discovered Siskel and Ebert by accidentally waking up early one morning and turning the television on to see two guys getting into a heated debate over a movie called DEAD AGAIN. It's funny but it's a moment in my life that I'll never forget because it opened my eyes to other movie lovers and the show would also introduce me to all sorts of movies that weren't playing at my small town theater. LIFE ITSELF, based on the book of the same name, covers the life and career of film critic Roger Ebert who is of course best known for his television show with Gene Siskel. The book was a wonderful read and especially for fans of Ebert but director Steve James does an extremely good job at bringing it to the screen even if we really don't see anything here that we didn't read in the book.
With that said, there's no question that the film is highly entertaining and especially when it deals with the rather love-hate relationship between Ebert and Siskel. There's no doubt that these moments are the highlight of the film as we get to see some classic clips of the two on their show but also some memorable outtakes as well as their appearances on talk shows, including an intense one on Carson where Ebert rips Chevy Chase who is sitting right there. The film also covers Ebert's personal life where we get interviews with the likes of his wife as well as Siskel's widow. Filmmakers Werner Herzog and Martin Scorsese are also on hand and discuss their relationship with Ebert. Of course, the hardest part to watch about this film are the scenes involving Ebert in the hospital where we see how much pain he was in towards the end of his life. These scenes really are hard to watch but at the same time it leaves you in amazement that he was able to continue writing on his blog at such a high level.
LIFE ITSELF has some flaws including the structure of the story but I doubt any fans of the critic are going to be disappointed. I think the 115-minute running time was fine for a general release but it seems like there's probably a lot more that could have been included.
Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey (2012)
*** 1/2 (out of 4)
Yes, there was a band called Journey before Steve Perry and there was one after. However, what came after Perry left the band didn't really have people lining up to buy massive amounts of tickets but that all changed when the band found Arnel Pineda on YouTube of all places. DON'T STOP BELIEVIN': EVERYMAN'S JOURNEY is an extremely entertaining documentary and I'd be willing to bet that even those who hate the band will find some entertainment to be had here. I will freely admit that I skipped seeing Journey several times because they didn't have Perry but after watching this documentary I went to see the band and they certainly lived up to the hype created in this film. It's pretty remarkable and nearly unbelievable to see how this band changed forms over the decades and especially the great fortune they found when Pineda popped up on YouTube. Hearing the original band members talk about where the band was headed is interesting and what's most interesting is that they all freely and willingly give credit to the "new edition" for bringing in more fans. As for Pineda, it's rather remarkable to see him go from dirty clubs to selling out stadiums in the matter of months and his "journey" to being a rock star is something that's just so hard to believe that if you saw it in a regular movie you'd demand your money back. The film goes into some good detail about the entire history of the band but the most fascinating moments show what happens before concerts where we get to see the band traveling on the tour bus, messing around backstage and of course getting ready for shows.
*** (out of 4)
I'm pretty sure the title gives away the plot. Either way, this here is another production from Burning Angel and it features James Deen playing Dr. Frankenstein and Joanna Angel is his wife who wants a little more sexual excitement and gets it from a monster (Ramon Nomar) built by her husband. FUCKENSTEIN is pretty much what you'd expect from the Burning Angel group and while this here isn't nearly as good as EVIL HEAD, it's still a winner. I'm actually going to give the team a lot of credit because they filmed this in B&W, which is certainly not very common with porn movies. I'm not an expert on the genre but I'm going to guess this rarely happens and it probably hasn't happened very much in the history of the genre. The film has a pretty good sense of humor as you'd expect and there's actually some nice jokes along the way including one at the end, which I won't spoil. The film probably could have gone on a tad bit longer, after all this thing is just 58-minutes, which is 90-minutes shorter than EVIL HEAD. That film contained all sorts of great gags and I will admit that I'm a little shocked that there weren't more winks or nods to the genre. Still, Deen and Angel are both in fine form here and the sex scenes are good for what they are.
** 1/2 (out of 4)
The first in the series has an A-bomb releasing the giant turtle Gamera who goes on a massive rampage heading right towards Tokyo. GAMERA isn't exactly a good movie due to many reasons but at the same time as long as you don't take it too serious then you should have a decent time with it. However, if you're totally turned off by these Japanese monster movies and find things like GODZILLA poorly done, then you'll probably have an even worse reaction to this rip-off. For the most part everything you'd expect to be bad pretty much is. This includes the acting, the horrid dialogue and in fact the entire story is rather one-note an uninteresting. I'd say that there's really very little that happens here and the only saving grace are the monster sequences. As you'd expect, these special effects really aren't all that special as we get miniatures as well as a rubber suit going around ripping apart cardboard sets. I've always seen a lot of reviews that attack these things but if you don't take them too serious then you'll see they are rather harmless and slightly entertaining. The actual look of Gamera is somewhat bland because he really is just a large turtle without many alterations. Of course the added bonus here is that he's able to fly, which leads to some pretty funny scenes. I especially like how early on people are mistaking him for a UFO. Again, if you're looking for some sort of serious cinema then it's best to stay away. However, if you've got some child-like quality in you that allows you to have fun, then this here really isn't all that bad.
Prime Cut (1972)
*** (out of 4)
Fun crime picture has a Chicago enforcer (Lee Marvin) heading to Kansas City where an evil cattle baron (Gene Hackman) owes the big boys some money but he doesn't plan on cutting them in on his business. PRIME CUT is a film that not too many people know, which is pretty surprising when you consider how popular these type of crime films are. Not to mention the film is probably the only one in history to feature three Oscar winners as well as a man who appeared in PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. Overall director Michael Ritchie does a very good job at keeping the picture running very smoothly and while the picture certainly has some flaws, it's still a highly entertaining and at times sleazy picture. One of the highlights come early on when Marvin and his men show up at a "cattle" auction only to discover that Hackman has a major business of selling off women. The women, all in cages like cattle, serve up quite the image. The film also manages to have some great violence, although none of it really goes over-the-top or gets too graphic. There's a terrific sequence during a fair as well as another in a sunflower field. I'm not going to ruin either sequences but they contain some nice suspense. Of course, one of the greatest aspects is the terrific cast. While each cast member has been better in other movies, there's no doubt that it's still very fun to see them all together. Marvin and Hackman really appear to be having fun in their roles and we also get Angel Tompkins in a brief role as the woman who was with both of them. Sissy Spacek appears in a pretty thankless role but it's still fun seeing her. Gregory Walcott, a veteran of Edward D. Wood, Jr., appears as one of the major bad guys. As I said, there are certainly some flaws including the entire relationship between Marvin and Spacek but fans of 70's crime pictures will still want to check this out.
The Beyond (1981)
** 1/2 (out of 4)
Gory, over-the-top madness from director Lucio Fulci about a woman (Catriona MacColl) who inherits a hotel in Louisiana not realizing that it actually contains one of the seven gateways to Hell. THE BEYOND is considered by many to be one of the director's best films but if you're looking for some sort of story then it's best to just walk away before the credits role. The story here is a complete mess and rarely does it make much sense but this is probably due to the fact that Fulci originally wanted to make a haunted house picture but the producers wanted zombies and gore so these effects were added into the picture. If you're a fan of Fulci then it's doubtful you're coming here looking for a story anyways so with that in mind it's easy to see why this film remains so popular because it really does contain some outrageous and downright crazy murder sequences. Needless to say, there are all sorts of eyeballs getting ripped out, which of course was a trademark for the director. One of the most memorable sequences involves a bunch of acid somehow falling from a jar and landing on a woman's face, which is slowly melts. Another memorable sequence involves a man falling from a ladder only to be hurt but things turn even worse when a bunch of spiders show up to eat his face off. Yes, you read that correctly. If you think that's it then you've got another thing coming as there's really one gory murder after another with countless throats being ripped and various body parts being torn. MacColl and David Warbeck are both fun to watch here so that's another plus. Fulci certainly has an eye for detail and he has no problem handling the gore and keeping the film moving at a nice pace. THE BEYOND certainly has a lot of flaws but at the same time it's gore factor put it on a level all its own.
Rene Bond: Sex Kitten (2004)
*** (out of 4)
If you're a fan of actress Rene Bond then you're certainly going to want to watch this release from Alpha Blue Archives, which features the cult favorite in countless hardcore scenes. This thing clocks in right at two-hours and pretty much has all its attention on Bond, before and after her breast implants. Her fans are probably going to already own several of her films but those just getting introduced to her will probably really enjoy this just so they can see what all the fuss is about. As you fans know, Bond was an extremely cute woman but she also had a certain charm here and this is on full display during several sequences where she simply talks to the screen while performing oral sex on several guys. Throughout the running time we see clips from not only her films but also some untitled shorts as well as countless loops. The one negative thing I'm going to say about this release is that some of the music used during the silent footage is downright awful and I'm sure many people are going to be watching this with the mute button on. The songs themselves aren't bad but they just don't fit what's going on on the screen. Still, fans of Bond will want to check this out.
Birth of the Living Dead (2013)
*** 1/2 (out of 4)
Did we really need yet another documentary about NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD? Probably not but this one here is so entertaining and gives us some fresh looks on the subject that fans of the George Romero classic will certainly want to check it out. Director Rob Kuhns interviews Romero who touches on familiar subjects like his early career, how the story came up and the impact the film had once it was released. Where the documentary sets itself apart is that it focuses in on some of the more political moments in the film including what was going on in the world at the time. Vietnam and the Civil Rights are certainly discussed here. You might be saying that we've heard these stories before and that's true but this documentary manages to throw out some good information and even better is that we get some professional critics who discuss the impact of the film and their memories of seeing it as children. Elvis Mitchell has some great stories about the first time he watched the film and there's some great stuff dealing with how the distributor pretty much threw this film into kid matinées. There's even a great sequence where people discuss how everything zombie wise pretty much goes back to this film and Romero. Even more interesting is the talk of the lead black actor and the type of movies Sidney Poitier was doing at this thing. I really wish Romero would have commented on this part of the subject but he doesn't. With that said, this is certainly a highly entertaining documentary, although it does run a bit short at just 75-minutes.
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