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    Stagecoach: The Texas Jack Story (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on December 23rd, 2016

    There’s a man comin’, and he aims to bury you.”

    That sort of threat — especially when it’s made within the trigger-happy Western genre — usually refers to a wronged hero looking to rain vengeance upon some dastardly villain who wronged him in an extremely personal way. The only most interesting thing about Stagecoach: The Texas Jack Story is that our presumed hero is the one being hunted…and the “bad guy” has a legitimate gripe.
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    Traded (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on August 11th, 2016

    “The story of the American Frontier is a tale of conquest, but also one of survival, persistence, and the grit of the people.”

    And the story of the American Western is a tale of quick draw competitions, fights aboard speeding trains, and other assorted horseplay. Each of those elements can be found in Traded, which inelegantly grafts the plot of Taken onto an Old West setting. The problem is that nothing here is executed particularly well.
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    Weaponized (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on March 4th, 2016

    Weaponized can’t seem to make up its mind about what kind of action flick it wants to be. It appears to be the story of a grief-stricken military contractor who obsessively pursues a dangerous experimental program, but instead the film focuses on a brawny, brooding homicide detective. On top of that, the Blu-ray’s cover art prominently features an imposing robot that doesn’t even factor into the plot until about 10 minutes before the credits roll. Most importantly, the movie totally ignores the schlockiness of its botched, cliche-ridden plot and plays everything distressingly straight, which makes Weaponized a pretty joyless trip to the near future.
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    Extraordinary Tales (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Brent Lorentson on February 4th, 2016

    Edgar Allen Poe is on a short list of writers that has long been deceased that just about everyone has heard of.  At some point in school we all had are chance to read about the taunting of The Raven or a number of Poe’s other famous works. With Extraordinary Tales we get an animated treat in the form of 5 animated tales written by the master of the macabre.  This is more than just a simple animated retelling of the stories as each tale is given its own unique narration and animated style. Is it worth the time to sit back and watch these classic tales or did they belong on the shelf to collect dust?  Come along with me and I’ll tell you about my journey if you dare.
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    Kill Game

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on January 8th, 2016

    I just have this sick feeling that something awful is going to happen.”

    I pride myself on being able to keep a reasonably open mind when I pick up a new title to review. But sometimes I can’t help but judge a crappy movie book by its cover. That was actually the case with Kill Game, featuring an androgynous Michael Myers-lookalike brandishing a bloody knife on its cover. I was fully prepared to roll my eyes through this movie, which also nods to Saw, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and The Big Chill (a little). Much to my surprise, I found myself kinda-sorta getting into this twisty, nasty, low-budget slasher.
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    War Pigs (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on December 10th, 2015

    In a war, there’s really only two things that are gonna ruin your day…officers and orders.”

    The concept of duty — particularly giving and following orders that will almost certainly result in death — is at the forefront of War Pigs, a straight-to-DVD actioner that doesn’t actually have that much action in it. For a movie with the likes of Dolph Lundgren and Chuck Lidell gracing its Blu-ray cover, scaling back on the butt-kicking seems like a death sentence. However, I was surprised to find the action sequences were actually the weak link in this limited but reasonably entertaining World War II yarn.
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    “31 Nights of Terror” Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on October 17th, 2015

    Oh Hell No! is the cheeky subtitle for the latest entry in SyFy’s made-for-TV Twitter Sharknado franchise. Coincidentally, “Oh hell no!” was also the response the creators of the first film got from everyone they approached about starring in it a few years ago. Flash forward to 2015, and things have changed dramatically. Now Sharknado auteur Anthony C. Ferrante needs a stick to beat away the washed-up actors, reality stars, and politicians(?!) angling to serve as chum for some comically unconvincing sharks.
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    Shark Week: Dominating the Deep

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on August 19th, 2015

    Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week extravaganza is billed as “cable’s longest-running programming event.” The summertime ritual premiered in 1988, and its longevity is a testament to viewers’ enduring fascination with the majestic, sharp-toothed creatures. Of course, the flip side of that longevity is that coming up with new material each year is increasingly difficult. As a result, this new Dominating the Deep DVD set features some legitimately thrilling moments alongside a few too many episodes that rely on flimsy science, and myth-making sensationalism to entertain audiences.
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    I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on August 11th, 2015

    “Everybody in the world knows who Big Bird is.”

    This documentary exists because many fewer people know Caroll Spinney, the man who has inhabited the iconic Sesame Street character for 46 years and counting. (Spinney is also the man behind my personal favorite Sesame Street character, Oscar the Grouch, but working that into the movie’s title would’ve made it truly unwieldy.) The film takes us behind the feathers and works best as a loving tribute to a man who has entertained millions of children across the globe.
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    Diamond Heist

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on March 27th, 2015

    There’s a mile-long list of Hollywood movies that have been re-titled in foreign countries to hilarious effect. I’ve personally had much less experience with foreign productions being re-branded for American audiences, but Diamond Heist seems like one of the more egregious examples you’re likely to find. The DVD cover has professional tough guys/straight-to-DVD MVPs Michael Madsen and Vinnie Jones brandishing weapons while accompanied by a vague explosion and the wonderfully generic tagline, “Payday is only a bullet away.” In other words, there’s nothing here that suggests this Hungarian import is actually an action/comedy about male strippers.
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    Open Windows (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on February 3rd, 2015

    “You like that stuff, but it’s kind of a tease.”

    Give Elijah credit for taking some interesting chances with his acting choices since his long and successful run with the Lord Of The Rings trilogy and his subsequent cameos in the Hobbit films as well. No one can accuse the actor of resting on his laurels. His roles have been outside the mainstream.
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    The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on January 26th, 2015

    Hello, please allow me to observe you working.”

    A sign bearing those words hangs inside Studio Ghibli, the Japanese animation factory responsible for films like Grave of the Fireflies and My Neighbor Totoro. It’s one of many polite directives that adorn the airy workspace, but it also describes the mission of The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness. The movie gives fans an unprecedented look inside the world (and walls) of Studio Ghibli, and watching the creative process is alternately fascinating, frustrating, and exciting. However, the documentary also surprisingly turns out to be an elegy for a dying art form.
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    The Identical (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on January 19th, 2015

    What if Elvis Presley had an identical twin brother no one ever knew about? (It would certainly help explain all those Elvis sightings years after the King’s death.) That’s the kooky conceit at the center of The Identical. Unfortunately, rather than embracing the absurdity of its premise, the movie is an amateurish, uninspiring combination of “by-the-numbers musical biopic” and “painfully-earnest family drama.”
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    Nocturna (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Brent Lorentson on November 24th, 2014

    As adults we somewhat have a better understanding of how our dreams work and understand that those fears of the dark when we were children were somewhat silly in retrospect.  But when we were kids, the nighttime was a mysterious time that held so many possibilities, where the magic in the world around us was something that was very real for us all.  In the new Spanish language animated feature Nocturna, the first-time filmmakers (Adria Garcia & Victor Madonado) seem to have tapped into that childlike wonder and have crafted a film that I simply adore.
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    The Dog (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on November 18th, 2014

    “If anybody gets up, they’re dead. Anybody moves, they’re dead. Anybody makes a sound before I leave this movie, …”

    You get the idea. These are the words of one John Wojtowicz, better known as The Dog. On August 22, 1972 he attempted to rob a Chase Manhattan bank in order to finance his male lover’s sex change operation so that he could become a woman. The heist was about as amateur as the come and went horribly wrong from the start. In a matter of minutes the bank was surrounded by a swarm of police units and a growing mob of bystanders.
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    Patema Inverted (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Brent Lorentson on November 17th, 2014

    I’m not the biggest fan of Japanese animation. I don’t think it’s awful or anything, but animation is one of those things where I’m just picky about what I like.  Though I can say I am a big fan of Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke) and most of his work.  I think this is worth mentioning, because though I may not be as well-versed in this genre, I’d like to feel I still go into it with an open mind, and I’m always excited to find a title that excites me that I never saw coming.  And that it precisely what Patema Inverted did.
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    Welcome to the Space Show (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on November 12th, 2014

    Welcome to the Space Show looks like what would happen if you combined Steven Spielberg’s E.T. — or the openly-Spielbergian Super 8 and Earth to Echo — with the boundless imagination and quirky charms of anime. The result here is intermittently dazzling, but this particular kid-friendly alien adventure is ultimately less than the sum of its parts.
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    “31 Nights of Terror” A Letter to Momo (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on October 29th, 2014

    As the spookiest holiday of the year draws closer, we’re all probably a little more sensitive to anything that goes bump in the night. Almost every creature associated with Halloween is meant to terrify us, but what if some of those horrific-looking monsters were actually tasked with watching over us? In the Japanese animated drama A Letter to Momo, a young girl encounters a trio of mischievous spirits that only she can see and hear. The monster shenanigans, however, were merely one aspect in what turned out to be one of the more affecting family films I’ve seen this year.
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    The Last Supper (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on October 21st, 2014

    “Kings are made, not born.”

    It’s a provocative thesis for any story, especially since the same debate about kings has played out over centuries’ worth of world history. Unfortunately, filmmaker Lu Chuan largely decided to take a “tell, don’t show” approach with The Last Supper, which depicts the last gasp of China’s Qin dynasty and the rise of the Han dynasty and its commoner-turned-emperor.
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    “31 Nights of Terror” Sharknado 2: The Second One (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on October 9th, 2014

    “You know what you just did, don’t you? You jumped the shark.”

    People have been mocking SyFy original films since the days when the network spelled its own name properly. But staying home on a Saturday night to “MST3K” your way through flicks with D-list actors and Z-grade visual effects has been replaced by Twitter, which practically blew up when the impossibly campy Sharknado premiered last year. SyFy recognized that social media has made it possible for anyone with Internet access to trade yuks and one-liners on a global scale; more importantly, it has allowed the network to be in on the joke in an unprecedented way.
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    Night Moves

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on September 5th, 2014

    There are movies that can be described as slow burns, and then there’s Night Moves. Director Kelly Reichardt frames much of her 112-minute thriller in a way that invites you to pay an inordinate amount of attention to the lush greenery, winding trails, and tranquil water the film’s three protagonists go to dangerous lengths to preserve. The extended, quiet sequences and exceedingly simple plot also encourage viewers to fill in spaces in the story that seem to have been intentionally left blank. This deliberate approach will undoubtedly infuriate and bore some people, but I personally found it absorbing enough to recommend as an unconventionally tense drama.
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    Heavenly Sword (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on September 4th, 2014

    The list of bad videogame movie adaptations is as ridiculously long as the titular weapon in this animated offering. In fact, the film that has best captured the spirit of gaming wasn’t even based on an actual videogame. The bottom line is it’s hard to translate the highly-interactive thrills of videogames into a satisfying, relatively passive moviegoing experience. So maybe the answer lies in targeting inherently cinematic games like Heavenly Sword.
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    Afternoon Delight (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on February 3rd, 2014

    How did the stripper get in the maid’s room?”

    That question sounds like the set up for some juvenile, profane joke, but it also tidily encapsulates the plot of Afternoon Delight. The film is about the plight of an affluent, quietly desperate housewife who takes it upon herself to “rescue” a young, down-on-her-luck stripper. What the quote doesn’t quite capture is how this funny and frank outing from first-time feature filmmaker Jill Soloway is really about the universal quest for intimacy.
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