Blu-ray Review - Treasure of the Amazon


Prolific director Rene Cardona Jr. elects to claim part of the jungle adventure gold rush of the early 1980s with "Treasure of the Amazon," one of three movies he made in 1985. Cardona Jr. is not one to offer hospital corners on his pictures, and this messiness extends to "Treasure of the Amazon," which attempts to create three distinct plotlines about outsiders in the deep jungle hunting for gold and diamonds, tracking separate games of survival as the teams are hit from all sides by danger. The feature isn't a good example of multi-character storytelling, but it does remain on the move, with Cardona Jr. interested in exploitation elements to hold attention, working to give his jungle event some cheap thrills. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Cyclone


For his second film of 1978, director Rene Cardona Jr. gets away from the unsatisfying mysteries of "The Bermuda Triangle," and tries to latch on to the disaster movie trend with "Cyclone." Of course, he's a little past the peak of the subgenre's popularity during the 1970s, but Cardona Jr. comes armed with a small-scale overview of human suffering, taking a second bite of the Andes Mountain Disaster after overseeing 1976's "Survive!" Instead of revisiting high-altitude danger, "Cyclone" visits the vastness of the ocean, tracking the physical exhaustion and thinning patience of characters lost at sea. Cardona Jr. doesn't have enough cash for the Irwin Allen treatment, but he creates passable misery with the picture, which has some fine moments of agitation contained within a bizarrely long run time. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Bermuda Triangle


Considering the potential of a story set inside the Bermuda Triangle, it's very disappointing to watch Rene Cardona Jr.'s take on the myth. Instead of dialing up the suspense while managing a ship-based tale of familial troubles colliding with the unknown, the helmer mostly manufactures a soap opera with "The Bermuda Triangle," filling a bloated run time with unexciting events happening to uninteresting people. Sure, there's a cursed doll in the mix (making this play like an "Annabelle" sequel), but the director oversees a strangely casual chiller that's more about banal conversations than nail-biting sequences of survival. Read the rest at

Film Review - Halloween Kills


2018’s “Halloween” was more than just another installment of the long-running franchise. It was an attempt to get the brand name back on track, with co-writers Danny McBride and David Gordon Green (who also directed the effort) clearing away most character connections and pretzeled storylines, aiming to get back to basics with a follow-up to the original 1978 horror classic. “Halloween” struck gold at the box office, but it didn’t feel all that fresh as a movie, going through the motions of slasher cinema while star Jamie Lee Curtis clearly enjoyed a chance to reprise her role as the traumatized Laurie Strode. Stumbling into a major hit, McBride and Green (now joined by Scott Teems) suddenly have a chance to keep going with the series, resurrecting Michael Myers and his undying evil for “Halloween Kills,” which gets away from the solo flight of misery, out to examine mob mentality and the true source of wickedness in Haddonfield. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dune (2021)


Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel, “Dune,” has been hailed by many as a master class on literary world-building, offering a sophisticated tale of war, family, and spice. It’s no surprise to see filmmakers chase the material for dramatic exploration, including a 2000 T.V. miniseries and, most famously, a 1984 extravaganza from David Lynch, who made a valiant attempt to make sense of Herbert’s details while offering mainstream audiences a potent dose of his artful insanity. The book has been adapted once again, this time for co-writer/director Denis Villeneuve, who aims to make a more faithful version of “Dune,” but still retain the bigness of the project, which visits multiple planets and oversees enormous battles. Scale is the selling point of the feature, with Villeneuve doing a masterful job bringing viewers into the heart of these conflicts. Storytelling remains a bucking bronco, but when this picture rears back and aims for widescreen glory, it actually achieves it. Read the rest at

Film Review - Needle in a Timestack


“Needle in a Timestack” is an adaptation of a short story written by Robert Silverberg, originally published in Playboy Magazine in 1983. The tale explores a world of tomorrow, where time travel is more than a common occurrence, it’s a source of sabotage, putting characters on a disorienting journey through the power of memory and the trouble of relationships. The futureworld has been updated by writer/director John Ridley (who collected an Academy Award for his work on “12 Years a Slave”), who dials down the strangeness of such a new reality, working his way underneath the gimmick to understand the tough feelings associated with friends and lovers. Unfortunately, Ridley is in no hurry with the picture, which is excruciatingly paced at times, but he does retain the strangeness of Silverberg’s central premise, achieving unusual intimacy with the paranoia and exhaustion of time manipulation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hard Luck Love Song


The screenplay for “Hard Luck Love Song” attempts to stretch the lyrics of a Todd Snider song to a feature-length movie. It’s not an easy process, as there isn’t enough material in the tune to fill a short film, but writers Craig Ugoretz and Justin Corsbie (who also directs) are determined to make it work, padding the effort with hard stares and pregnant pauses. The production also deals with the crusty edges of humanity, enjoying the process of working through troubled lives as characters fight to gain some clarity and freedom. It’s all meant to carry a certain cowboy poetry, but the film unfolds at a leisurely pace, making it difficult to remain invested in an endeavor that’s in no hurry to do anything besides stew in day-old soup with battered personalities. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Eye of the Tiger


Not really cut out for roles that require a great deal of warmth and gentleness, actor Gary Busey goes full exploitation for 1986's "Eye of the Tiger." The screenplay (by Michael Thomas Montgomery) plays to the performer's strengths, tasking him to play a hardened man whose hunt for some type of domestic heaven is destroyed by the deadly ways of a local biker gang that controls the town. Director Richard C. Sarafian (who worked with Busey in 1984's "The Bear") doesn't pretend he's makes a Shakespeare adaptation with the endeavor, diving into merciless violence and heated confrontations, while the material adds a few fantasy touches to make the whole thing wonderfully absurd. "Eye of the Tiger" is slight but entertaining, with Busey offering a steely turn that helps the feature reach its potential as bottom shelf escapism with noticeable hustle and plenty of angry encounters. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Donny's Bar Mitzvah


Crudeness should have a level of wit to it, helping viewers work through gross-outs and general raunch knowing there's some light at the end of the tunnel. Writer/director Jonathan Kaufman skipped smartness when he put together "Donny's Bar Mitzvah," which is meant to deliver a mockumentary- style faux documentary romp about the titular teen and his special party, which, rather quickly, spins wildly out of control for a collection of characters. Kaufman intentionally aims for the bottom of the barrel with this endeavor, which is relentless in its pursuit of vulgarity. It's a chore to sit through, with the helmer's greatest sin being a lack of invention when it comes to jokes, which there aren't any. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Martha: A Picture Story


Martha Cooper was once a young woman with a dream to become a working photographer, facing a male-dominated industry that wasn't particularly interested in her talents. Cooper ultimately didn't allow such discouragement to break her spirit, and "Martha: A Picture Story" charts her rise in the industry, gaining widespread respect and fame for her interest in the world of street art, with this artful "writing" finding an unusual guardian in Cooper, who fell in love with the subculture in the 1970s and never looked back. Director Selina Miles is offered access to Cooper, splitting time between interviews and photographic activity as the subject continues her research into the ways of graffiti and its creators. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Adoration


Director Fabrice du Welz was last seen on screens with 2017's "Message from the King," a largely forgettable endeavor that provided the helmer with a taste of Hollywood-style filmmaking, working with a decent budget and big stars, including Chadwick Boseman. Feeling a bit burned by the experience, du Welz returns to more personal storytelling with 2019's "Adoration," which has more in common with early efforts like "Alleluia" and "Vinyan." He's not making a horror movie with the offering, but "Adoration" triggers a few chills as it examines the ravages of mental illness and the destructive purity of a boy's heart. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Kindred


Co-writers Joe Marcantonio and Jason McColgan try to summon the spirit of early Polanksi with "Kindred," which shares a great deal in common with "Rosemary's Baby" and a few other paranoid offerings from the director. Marcantonio also makes his feature-length helming debut with the endeavor, aiming to give the audience a deliberately paced ride of panic and despair, hoping to reach a dark psychological space with the movie, which deals intimately with imprisonment and manipulation. "Kindred" isn't a particularly long picture, but it could still do with another editorial pass, with Marcantonio trying a bit too hard to prove himself with dreamscape imagery and prolonged suspense, missing a chance to manufacture an impressive nail-biter with real snowballing potential. Read the rest at

Film Review - Aileen Wuornos: American Boogeywoman

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Just last month, writer/director Daniel Farrands was in theaters with “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman,” which turned horrific details of suffering and personal loss into the helmer’s chance to make a “Halloween” sequel. It was a distasteful offering of genre entertainment, using the cover of a true crime tale to supply cheap thrills with an even cheaper production, watching Farrands fumble with the particulars of his no-budget endeavor. He’s an old hand with sleazy, clumsy efforts (including “The Haunting of Sharon Tate” and “The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson”), and he returns with the awkwardly titled “Aileen Wuornos: American Boogeywoman,” which attempts to use the personal agony and burgeoning evil of the eponymous serial killer to inspire a sort of noir-ish take on troublemaking. As with other productions from Farrands, it’s a complete waste of time. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Last Duel


Director Ridley Scott loves his tales of masculinity run amok, achieving one of his greatest commercial and critical successes with 2000’s “Gladiator,” which explored the true price of honor and revenge. Scott returns to somewhat similar material with “The Last Duel,” which dramatizes the events leading to the “last legally sanctioned duel in France’s history,” following the development of an accusation as it grows bigger with years of resentment and launched with malice, creating a dramatic scenario where the audience is left with a “Rashomon”-style viewing experience to enhance the mystery at the heart of the story. “The Last Duel” is a long movie, far too long at times, but it does benefit from Scott’s practiced style and love of violence in many forms. There’s a vicious war between small men at the end of the feature, but there’s plenty more to the endeavor than the main event, offering a ride of humiliations and suspicion to those with patience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Survive the Game


“Survive the Game” is the latest release from producers George Furla and Randall Emmett, who recently brought titles such as “Out of Death” and “Midnight in the Switchgrass” to screens. The men specialize in low-budget entertainment for VOD providers, never going above and beyond when it comes to the quality of the work. “Survive the Game” (which doesn’t involve any sort of contest) is yet another offering of clumsy action and acting, with Bruce Willis once again appearing in an immobile supporting role, putting in zero effort while the rest of the cast tries to pretend they’re collaborating on a top-notch thriller. Director James Cullen Bressack has been here before, previously helming genere offerings such as “Beyond the Law,” “Blood Craft,” and “Alone,” and he’s not trying hard enough with his newest feature, which is basically a backyard production featuring a few chases, some gunplay, and a story that doesn’t go anywhere of interest. This is the Emmett/Furla way. Read the rest at

Film Review - V/H/S/94

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2012’s “V/H/S” was a low-budget attempt to restore a little unpredictability to the horror anthology film, offering a handful a moviemakers a chance to go wild with strange visions of violence and macabre events. It turned into a minor hit, inspiring two sequels (2013’s “V/H/S/2,” arguably the best in the series, and 2014’s “V/H/S: Viral”) and a spin-off in 2016’s “Siren.” There was a flurry of franchise activity for a few years, and then nothing, with the producers retiring their cinematic dreams for the brand name. Well, the time has come for “V/H/S” to rise from the grave, rebooted with “V/H/S/94,” which takes technology back to the heyday of video recording equipment, giving the feature a low-res resurrection that delivers big time on gory events and dark visions of death. As with the previous installments, not everything works, but the chapters that connect keep things interesting, supporting the viewing experience. Read the rest at

Film Review - South of Heaven


In 2013, Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado collaborated on “Big Bad Wolves,” creating a hard-hitting revenge saga that genuinely disturbed, launching lofty expectations for their next feature-length project. It’s taken quite some time for the duo to figure professional opportunities out, but 2021 is their year, with Papushado taking command of last summer’s “Gunpowder Milkshake,” while Keshales delivers “South of Heaven,” which is a crime story about characters getting caught up in bad business, but remain more interested in confessional conversations. While Papushado contributes to the screenplay, “South of Heaven” is Keshales’s solo creative flight, using some of the darkness conjured for “Big Bad Wolves” for this periodically unsettling and somewhat leisurely endeavor, which tries to challenge expectations when it comes to tales of missing money, doomed romance, and men with guns. Read the rest at

Film Review - There’s Someone Inside Your House


Producers James Wan (currently in theaters with “Malignant”) and Shawn Levy (“Free Guy”) team up to bring “There’s Someone Inside Your House” to the screen. It’s an adaptation of a 2017 book by Stephanie Perkins, who delivers a YA-style story of teenagers struggling with their past while being hunted by a mysterious serial killer. The material deals with the power of secrets and the strangeness of relationships, but it’s also a slasher film directed by Patrick Brice, who puts in the work to create a passable threat level, which is periodically interrupted by rough acts of violence. “There’s Someone Inside Your House” is burdened by a large number of characters who need their backstories worked on, but when it comes time to deliver some brutality, Brice isn’t afraid to make a movie about youngsters that’s not for youngsters, delivering some forbidden fruit for the Netflix audience. Read the rest at