Blu-ray Review - The Plague Dogs


Director Martin Rosen wanted to make animated films for a slightly older audience, eschewing the lure of creating cartoons for all ages, trying to craft something distinct for crowds craving a more sophisticated look at the storytelling art form. 1979's "Watership Down" turned out be a hit for Rosen, with his gamble to craft a more severe tone for his adaptation of Richard Adams's celebrated novel paying off, creating a legion of fans that remains to this day. Pressing his luck, Rosen returns to Adams for his follow-up, taking on the considerable challenge of bringing "The Plague Dogs," his 1977 book, to the screen, and doing so with even more attention to the reality of dramatic entanglements for the main characters. If "Watership Down" was mildly unsettling, "The Plague Dogs" is likely to put many viewers into the fetal position, though Rosen manages such bleakness with wonderful artistry and voice talent, giving this summation of animal cruelty and survival need texture and soul as it deals with unthinkable horrors facing its cast of stressed animals. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Youngblood


"Youngblood" was released in 1986, during a time when Rob Lowe was enjoying plenty of attention for his extreme good looks, pushed into the role of a teen dreamboat after his turn in "The Outsiders," while his appearance as the hot sax-wailing underachiever in "St. Elmo's Fire" transformed him into a star. It's hard not to see his role in "Youngblood" as an effort to butch up his screen appeal, participating in a junior league hockey drama that has the actor being authentic, romantic, and involved in several fights, even losing a tooth along the way. It's not Lowe's finest hour as an actor, but he does what he can with the feature, as writer/director Peter Markle is caught between his desire to showcase the rough ins and outs of the sport as it's played in the corners of Canada, and producers who want something along the lines of a chillier "Karate Kid," putting the star in an underdog position, requiring help from wizened elders. Markle has his creative successes here, but he's also pulled into the black hole of melodrama one too many times, diluting the real flavors of the material, which are always found on the ice, not in the heart. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - There's Nothing Out There


The primary takeaway from 1991's "There's Nothing Out There" is how it predates 1996's "Scream" when it comes to self-aware horror films, making it uncomfortably clear that the Wes Craven production pulled things from writer/director Rolfe Kanefsky's work to help build what would go on to inspire a genre reawakening, this time finding movies armed with newfound marketplace consciousness. Perhaps Craven did steal from Kanefsky (it certainly looks to be the case), but such industry theft isn't the point here. "There's Nothing Out There" came first and did the frantic "horror rules" business a bit better, offering structure and comedy to a creature feature that gleefully spanks cliches to create a madcap survival romp. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Plague of the Zombies


A longstanding home for horror entertainment, Hammer Films finds fertile creative ground with 1966's "The Plague of the Zombies," finding frights from the zombie genre. Tales of the undead are common today, but over 50 years ago, such an uprising was a unique treat, giving screenwriter Peter Bryan a shot to shake up the norm and present a movie that tries to play by Hammer rules, but shows more hustle when it comes to chills, also filling out this world with impressive technical achievements to support the black magic mayhem that slowly unfolds. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Curse of La Llorona


The “Conjuring” Universe has been going strong since 2013, with the original James Wan picture spawning a slew of sequels and spin-offs, with each production warmly received by audiences craving big scares from the supernatural unknown. The quality of a few of these titles is up for debate, but as proven with last fall’s “The Nun,” viewers aren’t exactly expecting much more out these endeavors than the basics in jump scare gymnastics. Understanding that, “The Curse of La Llorona” doesn’t really bother with a plot or a backstory, charging full steam ahead as a fright machine, working in as many shocks, jolts, and booms as possible while offering a tenuous connection to the world of “The Conjuring.” It doesn’t do much, and perhaps that’s all it needs to do, but “The Curse of Llorona” gets tiresome in a hurry, trying to skate by on the bare minimum of dramatic effort. Read the rest at

Film Review - Under the Silver Lake


In 2015, writer/director David Robert Mitchell made an impression with “It Follows.” A tale of horror and paranoia, the picture managed to slip out of release obscurity and make some money, acquiring a fervent fanbase along the way. For his follow-up, Mitchell wisely stays away from replicating his lone hit film, trying something different with “Under the Silver Lake,” which is something of a valentine and a warning concerning the secret avenues of Los Angeles. But how different is too different? It’s a question that often comes up during the viewing experience, with Mitchell trying too hard to be strange and cryptic with his latest endeavor (which was shot nearly three years ago). “Under the Silver Lake” welcomes interpretation and decoding, but it’s less invested in interesting storytelling, with Mitchell taking 140 minutes of screen time to fumble along with tedious humor, mysteries, and west coast quirk. Read the rest at

Film Review - Red Joan


“Red Joan” knows exactly how to play to its target audience. This is not a procedural spy thriller or a dissection of World War II political gamesmanship. There’s nothing particularly edgy about the production. Instead, screenwriter Lindsay Shapero takes a more soap opera-ish approach to the subject, turning this tale of secrets and lies into acts of heartbreaking exposure to all-consuming love. For some, such mushiness is going to be a turn-off, with director Trevor Nunn (who hasn’t helmed a big screen feature since 1986’s “Lady Jane”) creating a softer push of melodramatics to buffer a tale of treasonous behavior and patriotic confusion. For others, “Red Joan” will be cat nip, especially for older art-house crowds who enjoy their global conflict reduced to areas of romantic indecision, blended with some mild espionage action. Read the rest at

Film Review - Little Woods


There have been a lot of movie about American poverty and addiction in the heartland and there will be many more to come. Filmmakers are naturally drawn to the distress of an open world populated with people unable to keep their heads above water, and “Little Woods” is no different, with writer/director Nia DaCosta examining the atmosphere of a North Dakota boomtown and the residents who can no longer afford to live there, trying to scrape by as drugs offer numbness, and basic needs, such as healthcare, strip them of money and dignity. DaCosta doesn’t dwell on the hardscrabble life, providing attention to character with a slight thriller edge, keeping “Little Woods” gritty without the verte feel. It’s an accomplished picture, even when manipulations begin to take command of the screenplay in the third act, with DaCosta trying to keep her effort emotionally authentic but also tense enough to hook in an audience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Crypto


Screenwriters Carlyle Eubank and David Frigerio apparently loved Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” and wanted to update the 1987 picture for today’s audiences. “Crypto” doesn’t have the sinister feel of Stone’s endeavor, but it basically follows the same arc of moral and financial corruption, offering viewers a new playground of cryptocurrency and encrypted dealings featuring global criminal syndicates. The writing provides a deep dive into terminology and restless participants trying to make a fortune with digital loot, and “Crypto” isn’t half-bad when focus turns to online detective work. Even some mild family dramatics are understood, but the material faces an uphill battle when transitioning from a cyber-thriller to a violent one, forcing director John Stalberg Jr. into helming stress positions that shut down the movie entirely. Read the rest at

Film Review - Peterloo


Writer/director Mike Leigh is not one to get all riled up for his screen endeavors. He’s quick to anger, certainly, but his features mostly take a humanistic look at behavioral failures and interpersonal connections, while his last film, 2014’s “Mr. Turner,” was a bio-pic about a painter. Primarily drawn to domestic dramas, Leigh aims for a grander scope with “Peterloo,” which depicts an 1819 event where the ruling class, in an effort to stop a peaceful demonstration, ordered violence to silence the needy, resulting the wounding of hundreds and the deaths of many. “Peterloo” isn’t a precise picture, with Leigh once again indulging himself with an unnecessary run time (155 minutes), but there’s fury here, at least in spurts, with the normally placid helmer bulging a few veins as he mounts a historical drama featuring a multitude of characters and a political backstory that’s never completely committed to being educational. Read the rest at

Film Review - Stuck


Musicals are back in style thanks to the likes of “La La Land” and the inexplicable success of 2017’s “The Greatest Showman.” Audiences are in the mood for grand displays of singing and dancing, whisking them away to areas of fantasy and emotion that can only be reached through the majesty of Hollywood magic, boosted with some old-fashioned star power. “Stuck” doesn’t have much pixie dust, offering viewers a small-scale tale of personal connection among strangers trapped in a subway car. There’s not much room for movement or epic showcases of style, but writer/director Michael Berry (adapting a musical play by Riley Thomas) is determined to make something meaningful with the little material he has, aiming for heartfelt exchanges over splashy entertainment, laboring to make “Stuck” matter where it counts the most. Read the rest at

Film Review - Missing Link


Stop-motion animation studio Laika has focused intently on the creation of artful endeavors for a family audience. They’ve rarely compromised, which has limited their box office appeal, but it’s resulted in a string of gorgeously crafted, adventurous tales of fantasy and beyond, reaching a sort of creative pinnacle with 2016’s “Kubo and the Two Strings.” Their latest effort is “Missing Link,” which plays like a reaction to the tepid financial response to “Kubo,” with Laika slipping into Aardman Animations territory, dialing up comedic appeal and cartoon design to reach an audience that’s been hesitant to spend their matinee dollars on semi-challenging work. “Missing Link” is a charmer and features the company’s exquisite attention to frame detail, but it can’t shake the traditional coldness of Laika’s output, often caught straining to be whimsical in a largely laugh-free endeavor. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Saturday the 14th


When "Airplane!" was released during the summer of 1980, it became a massive hit (the fourth highest-grossing movie of the year), inspiring Hollywood to attempt to replicate the formula with other genres. The obvious choice for a prolonged pantsing was the horror genre, with another screaming success, "Friday the 13th," managing to shock the industry and become something of an event film for teenagers. Slasher entertainment was ripe for the mocking, and one of the first titles out of the gate was…not "Saturday the 14th." Despite its enticing, silly title, the endeavor offered a hard pass on all things Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, with writer/director Howard R. Cohen ("Space Raiders," "Time Trackers") electing to make an Abbott and Costello picture for the disco age, trying to revive dormant slapstick interests for a comedy adventure that utilizes horror, but doesn't quite satirize it. It's a very broad effort from Cohen, who seems convinced that all he needs to sell the wacky viewing experience is game actors and hoary jokes, leaving true sharpness of wit and timely targets to other productions. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Fiend


Writer/director Don Dohler has enjoyed cult appreciation for his limited filmography, praised for his fierce independent spirit, finding much of his work captured on his own property, utilizing whatever's nearby to create sci-fi/horror pictures for nearly three decades (he passed away in 2006). 1978's "The Alien Factor" gave Dohler a career, solidifying his love for creepy tales of extraterrestrial invasion, with the no-budget endeavor generating attention with B-movie addicts. Dohler follows up his scrappy debut with 1980's "Fiend," which, if possible, looks even less produced than his previous effort, literally making the feature in his own basement, trying to stretch a reported $6,000 budget into a suitable chiller. "Fiend" makes "The Alien Factor" looks like a David Lean production, providing only the barest of directorial finesse and production coin. Dohler attempts to shape another tense meeting between worlds with his screenplay, but he's mostly made a talky endeavor that's low on scary stuff and personality, spinning its wheels while stuck in the mud pit of lethargic storytelling. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Blind Date


1984's "Blind Date" (not to be confused with the 1987 Blake Edwards feature) attempts to pull off a giallo-style atmosphere in the tight confines of Greece, with writer/director Nick Mastorakis liberally lifting from the Italians while setting up a playground of big screen sex and murder is his own backyard. The change is location is interesting but a little awkward, as is much of "Blind Date," which tries to be a techno-thriller without aiming high enough when it comes to sci-fi devices, and the serial killer side of things isn't particularly planned out in full. Mastorakis has an idea for a suitable chiller and he's determined to see it through, masterminding a whodunit that has no defined protagonist, just a pool of morally bankrupt people chasing each other around Athens, with one pushing mental illness into acts of barbarity. It's an odd movie, and one that's intermittently entertaining for those who are willing submit to Mastorakis's dented imagination for cutting-edge terror. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - 10 to Midnight


It's very strange to watch 1983's "10 to Midnight" in 2019. At the time of production, the goal of the movie was to condemn a legal system that permits known criminals to plead insanity, giving them a chance to escape severe charges, even released from prison after a short time, reunited with the world they wanted to destroy. Such rage is evident in the screenplay by William Roberts, who sets up a fairly simple tale of a madman tracked by cop who understands the full range of the perpetrator's guilt, but can't connect the dots for a proper arrest. What pops out from the feature today is its depiction of toxic masculinity and "beta male" rage, with the serial killer showcased here not a monster of mental fracture, but a damaged individual who can't wrap his mind around a society of women who want nothing to do with him and his distorted ways. In many ways, "10 to Midnight" is a prescient endeavor that identifies such subculture development long before it was organized by social media and message boards. That's not to give the film tons of credit, but watching "10 to Midnight" today is a lot creepier than it was probably meant to be. The unstoppable cop routine remains compelling, with star Charles Bronson doing what he does best: scowling at bad guys. However, there's something more interesting brewing here beneath obvious sleaze and police procedure, with director J. Lee Thompson tapping into violent insecurity to mastermind a proper opponent for his hero, who, interestingly, isn't a very noble man himself. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hellboy


We’ve done this before. Twice, actually. In 2004, there was “Hellboy,” with director Guillermo del Toro trying to bring the comic book world of Mike Mignola to the big screen, casting Ron Perlman as the big red hero, struggling to bring idiosyncratic material through the Hollywood studio system. Box office wasn’t bananas, but it was enough to inspire 2008’s “Hellboy II: The Golden Army,” which provided a marked improvement for del Toro’s vision, finding balance between his fantasy itches and the demands of a PG-13 summer sequel. Again, box office wasn’t great, and finally, it wasn’t enough. Instead of betting on del Toro/Perlman for another round of monster fighting, producers are now restarting the franchise, issuing “Hellboy,” which gives David Harbour a chance to portray the titular character, with helmer duties going to Neil Marshall (“The Descent,” “Centurion”), who’s been tasked with taking the series into R-rated extremes of violence to properly match Hellboy to his ink and paint origins. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Her Smell


Writer/director Alex Ross Perry specializes in off-beat character examinations, and he’s done depressive downfall with actress Elisabeth Moss before, in 2015’s “Queen of Earth.” Their collaboration was powerful then and remains vibrantly poisonous in “Her Smell,” with Perry taking his fixation with mental illness to the alternative rock realm, dialing back the clock to the mid-1990s to examine the complete and utter erosion of a music star. Perry doesn’t pull punches here, creating a deep sea dive into madness, with Moss going for broke in a turn that runs exclusively on pain and shame. “Her Smell” demands an audience with enough strength to remain in the vortex of a nervous breakdown for 135 minutes, and those with the proper preparation are rewarded with a raw, often thrilling display of behavioral excess. Read the rest at

Film Review - Little


In 1988, there was “Big,” and it was delightful. A fine offering of gentle comedy concerning the magical transformation of a boy into a man’s body, “Big” was sweet, hilarious, and featured one of Tom Hanks’s finest performances in director Penny Marshall’s best film. In 2019, there’s “Little,” which isn’t classified as a remake of “Big,” but let’s not dismiss the lawyers just yet. Here, the magical transformation turns a mean thirtysomething woman into her 14-year-old self. It’s meant to be a comedy with a healthy dose of heart, but it’s also uncomfortably scattershot and ill-defined when it comes to an actual sense of humor. The actors seem to be having a good time, which is perhaps enough to entertain, but actual creative effort is lacking in “Little,” which simply doesn’t have much to share with its audience. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Man Who Killed Don Quixote


Co-writer/director Terry Gilliam has been dreaming of making “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” for 30 years, craving the chance to bring Miguel de Cervantes’s novel to the big screen. Famously, in 2000, Gilliam almost managed to make such a miracle happen, with stars Jean Rochefort and Johnny Depp joining forces to give the helmer’s unusual vision dramatic life. However, a disaster ensued, with schedules, location problems, and actor unreliability shutting down the shoot, crushing Gilliam’s plans to make one of his weirdest movies to date (the experience was chronicled in the 2002 documentary, “Lost in La Mancha”). The project was left for dead, branded cursed, but such toxicity didn’t bother Gilliam, who remained obsessed with the material, emerging in 2019 with a completed interpretation of “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” finally freeing himself from the burden of having to prove himself. Read the rest at