Blu-ray Review - Shallow Grave


1987's "Shallow Grave" follows marketplace demands by putting a collection of young women in the line of fire, tracking their mad dash for survival as a predatory man is suddenly inspired to end their lives. The premise is nothing new, remaining withing the parameters of slasher cinema, but writer George Fernandez and director Richard Styles aim to add a little sinister business to the material, giving it more of an edge while it manages the deaths of multiple characters. "Shallow Grave" has some issues with pacing, but when it digs into nasty business, it produces decent suspense sequences and a pleasingly dark finale, helping the project to stand out from the competition. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Little Vampire


"Little Vampire" is inspired by a book series created by Angela Sommer-Bodenburg, who wrote about a friendship between a human boy and his monster pal. The source material is changed somewhat for the film adaptation, with director Joann Sfar aiming to transform the idea into a comedy with a slight horror approach. For the French production, Michel is an orphan looking for something more than life with his grandparents, coming into contact with the Vampire, who was once a human as well 300 years ago, now rebelling against a protective curse that's kept him 10 years old for centuries. In the mix are the Vampire's monster buddies, a skeleton pirate and the woman who loves him, and a villain with a head shaped like a crescent moon. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Coppelia


As a ballet, "Coppelia" dates back to 1870, where it achieved enormous success on the stage. It was adapted into a 1900 short film by Georges Melies, who worked his own cinematic magic on the material, which was initially taken from an E.T.A. Hoffmann short story. For 2021, the Dutch National Ballet is called in to update the tale with digital twist, offering an exploration of heroes and villains, low self-esteem, and young love with help from CG-animation. It's a brightly colored, highly acted version of "Coppelia" for specialized audiences, but the display of dance is quite enchanting, with talented professionals challenged to merge with unreal elements of temptation to revive the story for a new audience. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Wild Tigers I Have Known


2006's "Wild Tigers I Have Known" is abstract, interpretive cinema similar to the work found in Gus Van Sant's forays into art-house flexing and the depths of depression during the time period. Short filmmaker Cam Archer makes his feature-length debut here, and the fingerprint of performance art is pushed deeply into the skin of the picture. "Wild Tigers I Have Known" is difficult to watch, yet undeniably hypnotic. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Debbie Does Dallas Part II


Riffing on the pop culture rise of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, 1978's "Debbie Does Dallas" didn't have to do much to become an adult film sensation, as long as star Bambi Woods maintained some presence in the feature while wearing an NFL-adjacent uniform. The movie was an enormous hit, giving Woods (who tried out to be an actual Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader) a major boost to her acting career. A sequel was inevitable, and eventually arrived in 1981, with "Debbie Does Dallas Part II" trying to keep a good thing going, though the follow-up weirdly drops the cheerleader storyline, keeping things episodic with Debbie and her journey of sexual curiosity. Read the rest at

TV Review - El Deafo


“El Deafo” is an adaptation of a 2014 graphic novel by Cece Bell, who turned to the page to detail moments from her early life in the 1970s, where she dealt with the hardships of hearing loss. The book won accolades for its imagination and treatment of a delicate issue, and Bell now brings her story to television, with a three-episode animated series that seeks to support the author’s tender tale of traumatic experiences and empowerment. “El Deafo” was an incredible young adult literary achievement, and director Gilly Fogg and writer Will McRobb do everything they can to preserve Bell’s POV, including a creative use of sound to generate a specific listening experience for viewers, presenting an immersive understanding of hearing issues and a gentle overview of growing pains. “El Deafo” is simply wonderful. Read the rest at

Film Review - Parallel Mothers


Writer/director Pedro Almodovar reclaimed his artistic supremacy with 2019’s “Pain and Glory,” which reunited the helmer with frequent collaborator Antonio Banderas, working on a personal story concerning mortality. It was a gem, and now he’s back with another of his favorite performers, Penelope Cruz, for “Parallel Mothers,” with the pair returning to the turbulent ways of a Almodovar melodrama, this time examining the sacrifices of parenthood and the cruelty of history. The picture isn’t a puzzle, but it contains a significant amount of turns and challenging ideas on the nature of motherhood, blended with a feminine POV the helmer adores. “Parallel Mothers” enjoys depicting matters of the heart, but the material heads into some strange directions at times, keeping viewers glued to the wild developments Almodovar has prepared for his latest foray into the depths of doubt. Read the rest at

Film Review - Riverdance: The Animated Adventure


Just over 25 years ago, the show “Riverdance” premiered. It brought the world of Irish dancing to the world, with touring companies traveling around the globe, delighting audiences eager to experience the thrill of synchronized movement and the power of culture. And what better way to celebrate the stage extravaganza than to release an animated movie about fantasy deer with magical antlers who populate Irish rivers, becoming prey for a mythical predator who becomes real when a lighthouse goes dark. And there’s dancing too. “Riverdance: The Animated Adventure” is one of the weirdest family films I’ve seen in some time, but the oddity doesn’t always translate into ideal entertainment. There’s some fun to be had with the strangeness of it all, but the production doesn’t know what to do with itself at times, reaching a 73-minute runtime in mostly disappointing ways. Read the rest at

Film Review - Scream (2022)


When “Scream” debuted in 1996, little was expected of it. It was horror counterprogramming for the holiday season, eventually making its way to a sizable box office take while inspiring a trend in self-aware chillers featuring disposable teen characters. It launched a line of sequels that gradually lost audience interest (the last appearing in 2011), and eventually found its way to a television series that lasted three seasons on MTV and VH1. The franchise tires were soon deflated, the cash cow was milked dry, but now there’s another “Scream,” which is titled “Scream,” because that’s what studios do when they want to repackage material for a new generation. And this is exactly the approach of the new “Scream,” which takes the original’s fixation on genre movie rules and formula and updates it for the “re-quel” world of today. Screenwriters James Vanderbilt (“Independence Day: Resurgence,” “White House Down”) and Guy Busick (“Ready or Not”) take the concept of remakes quite seriously, mounting what’s basically a do-over of the original Wes Craven film, leaning into déjà vu to best appeal to longtime fans and newcomers to the stalking routine of the Ghostface killer. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hotel Transylvania: Transformania


It was inevitable that another “Hotel Transylvania” sequel would be made. The last one, 2018’s “Summer Vacation,” managed to become the franchise’s biggest grossing and best reviewed installment, finally finding a semi-inspired way to deal with director Genndy Tartakovsky’s often manic vision for cartoon chaos. What’s surprising about “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” is the absence of Tartakovsky, who elected to step down from helming duties, taking a co-writing credit instead. Also missing is star Adam Sandler, who weirdly retreats from the easiest gig of his career, allowing voice actor Brian Hull to take over as Dracula. Some elements have changed for the fourth chapter of the horror-themed series, but slapstick remains in full force for “Transformania,” which works extremely hard to match the energy of previous offerings, though the absence of key players is felt. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sex Appeal


Screenwriter Tate Hanyok is out to challenge the teen sex comedy with “Sex Appeal.” It’s a movie for a new age of body and sex positivity, getting away from male-oriented adventures into lustful situations. Hanyok’s had enough of these perspectives, electing to create a female-centric study of carnal exploration, with emphasis on the journey of virginity featuring a character who’s prioritized academic achievements over an examination of pleasure. Hanyok has fun with the premise, delivering a mostly amusing endeavor that’s occasionally broad to help relax inherent tensions concerning the plot. She also offers a commendable female POV, helping to freshen up the teen horndog subgenre, updating its interests. “Sex Appeal” eventually battles a breakout of two different films competing for attention, but that effort to doing something different is commendable, and the picture remains quite entertaining. Read the rest at

Film Review - Borrego


Writer/director Jesse Harris wants to do something significant with “Borrego,” but there are two different films fighting for attention here. The feature is bookended with text detailing the harsh world of pharmaceutical drugs, where introductory doses of powerful painkillers can often lead to personal ruin, sending users on a journey they’re not prepared for. And then there’s the rest of the endeavor, which details various characters involved in a botched plan to fly drugs over the Mexican border into California, leading to violent events involving confused people. “Borrego” has an interesting start, but Harris isn’t necessarily making an anti-drug picture, trying to manage thriller mode for a film that’s more about silent study than tense confrontations. Read the rest at

Film Review - Shattered


Screenwriter David Loughery has enjoyed a career resurgence over the last decade, going from studio work in the 1990s (“Tom and Huck,” “Money Train”) to low-budget thrillers that require extraordinarily little production effort, often set in a single location. He’s written “Fatale” and “The Intruder,” creating his own formula for cheap chills, and he’s back with “Shattered,” which doesn’t deviate from his to-do list of suspense moves. Mixing eroticism with a home invasion tale, Loughery does exactly what he normally does with the material, providing an unimaginative but affordable take on troubles for an innocent character faced with the actions of evildoers. Director Luis Prieto (“Kidnap”) doesn’t help the cause, stuck trying to manage dreary writing and weak performances, unable to get the picture going with any shock value or basic dramatic engagement. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers


Just when you thought it was safe to go trick-or-treating in Haddonfield again…here comes 1989's "Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers," which represents producer Moustapha Akkad's quest for maximum box office profit, turning around a sequel to "Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers" in just a hair under a year. As explored in the supplementary material on the Blu-ray, the shoot for the fourth sequel began without a completed screenplay, and one can easily tell this from the general make-em-up nature of the film, which never offers a clear franchise idea worth pursuing. "Halloween 5" is a mess, but director Dominique Othenin-Girard tries to provide a stylish return to Michael Myers and his night of terror, overseeing impressive technical achievements that help the feature seem a little different than what's come before. Beyond some slick moviemaking, the endeavor doesn't come together, stumbling around with half-baked ideas and needless character deaths, trying to keep the gravy train running without thinking things through. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers


The murderous wrath of Michael Myers was seemingly stopped for good in 1981's "Halloween II," and the brand name's box office potential was torpedoed with 1982's "Halloween III: Season of the Witch," which tried to steer the franchise away from Myers-related havoc. Looking to make a comeback, 1988's "Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers" puts The Shape back to work terrorizing the residents of Haddonfield, out to recreate the pure "Halloween" experience with a new cast and a back-to-basics creative approach. Director Dwight H. Little and screenwriter Alan B. McElroy are handed the keys to the series, tasked with getting Michael Myers back up and running, and with that limited goal in mind, "Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers" is successful, playing strictly to fans as the production endeavors to find fresh inspiration to take on traditional slasher business. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - Halloween III: Season of the Witch


In 1982, producers John Carpenter and Debra Hill decided to do the one thing that most people don't do in Hollywood: they took a creative risk. They delivered a massive hit in 1978's "Halloween," and begrudgingly decided to return to duty for 1981's "Halloween II," but the pair grew tired of dealing with the murderous ways of Michael Myers, putting The Shape to bed after two commercially triumphant endeavors. The duo wanted to do something different, looking to take the "Halloween" brand name into a different direction, with plans made to generate a new spooky story for the holiday every year, working with the specifics of Halloween to create fresh possibilities for big screen horror. The first and only chapter to make it out alive was "Halloween III: Season of the Witch," which didn't include Michael Myers, going to a far darker place, exploring the macabre plans of a mask maker and his dream to kill the children of America after they go trick-or-treating. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - Halloween II (1981)


We live in an age when sequels are planned out before the first film even reaches theaters, but 1978's "Halloween" was such an out-of-nowhere success, it left co-writers John Carpenter and Debra Hill temporarily stunned. The creators were caught between using the moment to advance their careers and being put on the spot for a follow-up, tasked with figuring out a way to resurrect the "Halloween" experience for another survival quest featuring The Shape. It took three years for "Halloween II" to hit screens, which is a surprising amount of time considering how routine the sequel is, as Carpenter and Hill return with very little invention for the continuation. "Halloween II" has the novelty of taking place on the same night as the original feature, but this idea hurts the picture as much as it helps it, asking audience to return to the same dramatic starting point with Michael Myers, who's once again on the loose, out to slaughter innocent people on Halloween night. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - Halloween (1978)


I'm not sure there's anything left to say about 1978's "Halloween," with the feature becoming bulletproof over the decades, growing in reputation as producers have scrambled to replicate its success with sequels and spin-offs. It's a masterpiece from co-writer/director John Carpenter and co- writer/producer Debra Hill, with the pair putting in the effort to elevate what could've been a cheap, exploitative horror film for basic drive-in entertainment, giving it an unusual sense of style and defined level of menace. The low-budget endeavor retains its obvious production limitations, but the joy of "Halloween" is watching Carpenter work his magic on the genre, playing with conventions in inventive ways, also focused on giving the picture a pure sense of escalation, going from creepiness to blasts of suspense in the final act. It's a gem, and a movie that's endured for over 40 years, still inspiring imitators as the brand name remains active and the boogeyman sustains his iconic intimidation factor. Read the rest at

Film Review - The 355

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With the return of James Bond and the ongoing “Mission: Impossible” series, there’s tough competition out there in the superspy genre. “The 355” intends to launch a new series focusing on a team of opposites learning to work with one another to achieve success while trying to prevent the end of the world, and it collects some of the finest actresses in the industry to do so, presenting a more dignified air while the screenplay assembles various missions for the characters. The material isn’t quite as advanced as one would hope with this kind of thespian talent, but “The 355” remains an entertaining actioner with a few effective scenes of conflict and pursuit. Director Simon Kinberg (the woeful “Dark Phoenix”) tries to maintain a global experience for the production, and he manages the speed of the effort well. Those used to more complex espionage puzzles might feel a bit disappointed with the writing, but the performances, and their commitment to the story, keep the production on the move. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Hero


Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi is a celebrated storyteller whose emphasis on human tales of struggle and doubt have made him one of the finest helmers in international cinema. Farhadi took a break from the intimacy of his native Iran to work with bigger stars in 2018’s “Everybody Knows,” collaborating with Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem on the Spanish-language mystery. The feature offered access to a wider audience, but Farhadi returns to local matters of suspicion with “A Hero,” which brings the helmer back to Iran to examine a knotted plan of innocence involving a character with a history of guilt. “A Hero” is familiar work, but that’s not a criticism, as Farhadi is highly skilled at this kind of small-scale, hard emotions screenwriting, working with local customs and personalities to detail larger themes of responsibility and self-preservation. The suspense generated here is surprising and sustained, with Farhadi generating a deep understanding of bad ideas inspired by desperate times. Read the rest at