Blu-ray Review - Sister Sister


There's probably a book to be written about the career of writer/director Bill Condon, which has enjoyed such extreme turns of fate and opportunity since he began his rise in the industry. There's the man who helmed "Dreamgirls," "Kinsey," and "Gods and Monsters." And there's the man who made "Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh," "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn" and the live-action version of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast." It's been a wild ride for Condon, but he officially stepped behind the camera for the first time with 1987's "Sister Sister," in charge of creating an atmospheric southern gothic thriller focusing on violence in the bayou, adding bits of eroticism along the way. As debuts go, "Sister Sister" is a bit of a narrative mess, but Condon has surrounded himself with talented cast and crew, making him look capable as he struggles to tell a dark tale of Louisiana murder and mystery, which always looks and sounds great, but slowly loses its initial appeal. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - Madman


Created during a fertile period in slasher film distribution, 1982's "Madman" takes a slightly different route than the average kill-all-the-campers genre offering. Rooted in urban legend idolatry and executed with the slow-burn build of a campfire tale, the feature hopes to creep out audiences with prolonged silences and extended stalking sequences. Patience levels are periodically tested during the run time, but as the effort unfolds, there's an appreciation for frights and atmosphere that keeps the picture interesting when it stops being engaging. Perhaps it doesn't reach the iconic highs of "Friday the 13th," but "Madman" has its simple pleasures, including attention to character and an unusual interest in music to help secure its creepy intent. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Blood on Her Name


2019's "Blood on Her Name" begins with a compelling mix of violence and shock, establishing a visceral thriller to come concerning one woman's decision-making process when involved in a deadly act. Co-writer/director Matthew Pope gets about 15 minutes into the feature before he gradually moves away from the potential of the premise, more interested in making a psychological study with "Blood on Her Name," which isn't nearly as interesting as the pulpy chiller it initially promises to become. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Ham on Rye


"Ham on Rye" is film about the moment when adolescence transforms into adulthood, with some enjoying an adventure into the unknown of future possibilities, while others remain where they are, continuing their existence without opportunities or interest in growth. Co-writer/director Tyler Taormina doesn't prepare a story for "Ham on Rye," instead working with atmosphere to summon a sense of malaise involving teenagers on the precipice of great change. The helmer is dealing with the traditions of teen cinema, but he refuses to submit to formula, endeavoring to creating a more abstract viewing experience concerning universal feelings of fear and melancholy. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hypnosis


"Hypnosis" is a Russian production from 2020, and it's largely being sold as a thriller, exploring the charged relationship between a hypnotherapist and his latest patient, a 16-year-old boy struggling with sleepwalking issues. There's certainly the potential for a more explosive study of a seemingly manipulative relationship, but "Hypnosis" doesn't pursue candied chills. Director Valey Todorovsky elects to make more of a psychological study with coming-of-age elements, settling on a slowly paced examination of control, which doesn't always command attention, despite some strong performances and a vague sense of illness the helmer works up the energy to toy with on occasion. Read the rest at

Film Review - Good Mourning


Colson Baker (aka Machine Gun Kelly) and Mod Sun (aka Derek Ryan Smith) are musicians attempting to transition into filmmakers. The men have made music videos, even collaborating on a long-form endeavor, 2021’s “Downfalls High,” but “Good Mourning” is their feature-length debut, and to ensure they have some type of hit on their resume, they’ve elected to make a stoner comedy, which always seem to end up profitable no matter the quality. They aim to create a new “Up in Smoke,” but they end up with another “How High 2,” and their lack of practice when dealing with the nuances of a big screen comedy is abundantly clear during the run time (about 85 minutes, but it feels three times as long). “Good Mourning” has no tricks or treats, marching forward as a dumb guy experience with dismal improvisation and generic plotting, putting a lot of faith in Baker and Mod Sun’s fans to be patient enough to sit through what’s essentially a joke-free endeavor. Read the rest at

Film Review - Top Gun: Maverick


Producers certainly tried to pull together a continuation over the last 36 years, but it remains awfully strange that a “Top Gun” sequel didn’t materialize right after the release of the 1986 film. After all, the original was a monster box office success, becoming the highest grossing feature of its release year, and the picture became a pop culture phenomenon, launching a hit soundtrack, creating a sunglasses craze, and it even became a potent recruitment tool for the military. “Top Gun” was massive, but star Tom Cruise kept his distance from a follow-up, finally returning to his high-flying ways with “Top Gun: Maverick,” which picks up the saga of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell as he returns to the scars of his past while tasked with training the next generation of fighter pilots. Director Joseph Kosinski (“Tron: Legacy,” “Oblivion”) takes command of the endeavor, which is acutely aware of audience expectations, forcing the production to ride the line between nostalgia and high-tech thrills, presenting a movie that’s incredibly successful as an offering of entertainment, with barely tolerable levels of corniness. Read the rest at

Film Review - Downton Abbey: A New Era


2019’s “Downton Abbey” wasn’t a financial risk, but it provided a clear creative challenge for writer Julian Fellowes, who was tasked with bringing his hit television show to the big screen without losing the small-screen essentials of the show. Melodrama remained, but Fellowes attempted to upgrade character tensions and aristocratic stakes, coming up with a very comfortable and appealing victory lap for his creation, gathering the cast for another go-around with wealth, class, and British matters of heart and manners. The film turned out to be a huge hit, forcing Fellowes to rethink finality, returning to the franchise with “Downton Abbey: A New Era,” which offers another reunion of familiar faces and places, with the new picture out to give the fanbase what they’ve come for, but also move the story forward in a way that could inspire additional sequels now that the Crawley gang have proved their theatrical appeal. Read the rest at

Film Review - Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers


While many attempts to put a sequel together were made over the years, a true follow-up to 1988’s “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” never found its way into production, robbing audiences of a chance to return to a world where pieces of animation history and detective fiction fit together with a comedic tilt. Writers Dan Gregor and Doug Mand seem to have this feisty spirit in mind for “Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers,” which offers an update of the 1989 animated series for ardent fans who’ve missed the crime-solving chipmunks, but also gives the whole thing a self-referential makeover that weaves the beloved characters into a world of cartoon heroes, villains, and monstrosities. Director Akvia Schaffer (“Hot Rod,” “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping”) isn’t interested in reviving the show’s sense of playfulness, going hipper and louder with this mosaic of animated styles, brands, and history, hoping to huff some “Roger Rabbit” fumes while reintroducing the “Rescue Rangers” concept to a younger audience…in a film that’s not really for kids. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Kids in the Hall: Comedy Punks


In 2018, writer Paul Myers decided to put his fandom to the test, assembling interviews and undertaking research for the book, “The Kids in the Hall: One Dumb Guy.” It was his valentine to the Canadian comedy troupe, looking to provide some insight into complicated relationships and creative efforts, exploring the formation and rise to fame for The Kids in the Hall, filling pages with anecdotes, information, and tributes. It remains a vital biography of the group, reaching into the strange magic shared among members Mark McKinney, Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, and Scott Thompson. “The Kids in the Hall: Comedy Punks” isn’t the film version of Myers’s book, but it tries to cover the same ground, examining how these strange stage performers found one another in the 1980s, combining forces to generate a wave of idiosyncratic comedy that was cult-ready and fabulously bizarre. “Comedy Punks” doesn’t have the deep grooves of “One Dumb Guy,” but as a visual summary of career highs and lows, it’s a compelling sit, offering fans some necessary intimacy with the performers as they walk down memory lane. Read the rest at

Film Review - Vendetta (2022)


If it’s low budget, shot in Georgia, and co-stars Bruce Willis, it must be a revenge story. The subgenre is all VOD cinema is usually about, and “Vendetta” is no different, with writer/director Jared Cohn (2021’s “Die Hard” rip-off, “Deadlock,” which also co-starred Willis) trying to pretend he’s the first filmmaker to touch on the physical and psychological violence of vengeance, attempting to conjure a mighty sense of fury with dramatic working parts seen in hundreds of other movies. “Vendetta” is predictable until it comes to explaining what’s going on, with Cohn committing a few unpardonable errors with his storytelling choices, offering true surprise with all the confusion the production generates. He also doesn’t have a big enough imagination to bring something passably novel to the endeavor, which is in desperate need of something more than tough guy posturing to remain even the slightest bit interesting. Read the rest at

Film Review - Torn Hearts


Two years ago, Brea Grant directed “12 Hour Shift,” a nifty thriller about a corrupt nurse trying to make it through a long night where everything goes wrong. Grant proved herself skilled with dark comedy and strange material, and she’s back in the same creative situation with “Torn Hearts,” which examines a bizarre encounter between a country duo and one of their inspirations. Writer Rachel Koller Craft cooks up a pleasingly unusual plot for Grant to detail, examining the stresses of partnership and the demands of the music industry. There’s also some horror worked into the flow of the feature, giving it a handful of charged moments that go beyond emotional violence. “Torn Hearts” isn’t an overwhelming study of pent-up feelings and malevolent therapy, but it contains some interesting hostility and a unique idea for confrontations, highlighting the dark side of music business ambition. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Valet


Eugenio Derbez is a comedic actor who recently found success with a slightly different role in the Oscar-winning film, “CODA,” making a rare appearance in an emotionally charged endeavor that asked him to tone down his natural pull toward slapstick behavior. Derbez isn’t staying still for very long, quickly returning to sillier material with “The Valet,” which is a remake of a 2006 French comedy, directed by Frances Verber. The premise of a modest man caught up in a messy Hollywood situation seems to play to Derbez’s thespian strengths, but there’s something strangely off about the work, which has the star laboring to play a nice guy. It’s a vanilla approach in a feature that’s aiming to be as benign as possible, despite a story that welcomes an edgier approach to the ways of adultery and nervous breakdowns. “The Valet” finds Derbez basically taking a nap in the part, contributing little to an absurdly overlong effort that lacks charm and especially pace, going about its business often in the least memorable way possible. Read the rest at

Film Review - Emergency


“Emergency” began life as a 2018 short, which attracted attention to writer K.D. Davila and director Carey Williams, who decided to expand the premise of a dangerous discovery made by three vulnerable college students into a feature film. The strain of such a move is evident while watching the movie, as Davila has her central idea about possible exposure to lethal force when young black men deal with the police, struggling to come up with an extra 90 minutes of material to support the expansion. “Emergency” isn’t a potent comedy, often fumbling through scenes of playful engagement before a crisis kicks in, and Williams struggles to find a level of interplay with his characters, as most of the endeavor involves people arguing, which isn’t all that interesting to watch. There’s periodic thematic clarity worth waiting for, but Davila and Williams show little command of comedic and dramatic escalation, keeping the effort at arm’s length from enlightenment. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - C.H.O.M.P.S.


There was something about the 1970s and movies interested in exploring the canine experience. Dogs were involved in robbing banks, saving families, and, apparently, becoming high-tech robots meant to dominate the home security industry. 1979's "C.H.O.M.P.S." endeavors to take the cute and cuddly ways of a pet and turn it into a slapstick comedy with some action beats. It's one of the few ventures into live-action filmmaking from animation titans Hanna-Barbera (coming off their work on "Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park"), who retain their cartoon instincts for the feature, which is directly aimed at 5-year-olds in need of aggressive music cues and broad antics to understand the entertainment value of the picture. "C.H.O.M.P.S." isn't made for adults, but it's not exactly a shining example of family entertainment, as the simplistic screenplay and unrelenting goofiness of the supporting cast wears thin in a hurry, even for the target demographic. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Beware! Children at Play


1989's "Beware! Children at Play" isn't a well-known film, but those aware of it tend to have mixed feelings about the endeavor. Writer Fred Scharkey and director Mik Cribben attempt to create their own "Children of the Corn" experience with the feature, wading into Stephen King waters with their take on cult horrors involving ruined kids and the adults trying to make sense of madness. Viewers aren't treated to a polished understanding of taboo villainy, with Cribben acquiring a small budget for the effort, trying to win over genre fans with moments of body-blasting gore and a finale that's all about violence toward children. Naturally, this all ties into "Beowulf," right? Well, according to Scharkey, it does, working to give "Beware! Children at Play" some distinction beyond its vision for slaughtering little ones. This is a supremely weird picture, and one that visibly struggles to fill its run time. However, for some, the journey to its splatter conclusion might be worth enduring extreme dramatic flatness to get there. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Alligator II: The Mutation


1980's "Alligator" was a minor hit in theaters, but it managed to attract significant viewership when it made its television debut, bringing the strange ways of a "Jaws" riff to a home audience. "Alligator" was no major dramatic or technical achievement, but it was decent, which is no small feat, offering competent actors, smart writing, and careful editing to conjure a horror story that managed to do something interesting with the ridiculousness of a monster alligator on the loose in the big city. Producer Brandon Chase, perhaps not aware of the whole "strike while the iron is hot" theory, waits an astonishing 11 years to resurrect the brand name, hoping to tap into a similar sense of low-budget thrills with 1991's "Alligator II: The Mutation." Unfortunately, the creative team from the original film are long gone, replaced with less interesting moviemakers who try to craft what's essentially a remake, moving the action to Los Angeles without any noticeable upgrades in thespian talent or alligator puppetry. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Drop Dead Fred


I saw "Drop Dead Fred" in 1991, and I didn't care for it. I revisited the feature in 2011 for an anniversary piece, and I didn't care for it. However, over the last decade, the film has evolved from a forgettable, incorrectly marketed comedy into something that means quite a bit to certain viewers. "Drop Dead Fred" has become a cult favorite, though not for its sense of humor, instead managing to reach people who view the endeavor as a subversive study of psychology, using wacky jokes and manic spirit to provide a thin layer of merriment over a profoundly dark tale of mental illness. It's definitely one way to read the picture, as bits and pieces of such analysis are present in the final cut. It's the rest of the effort that's remains abrasive and unfunny, with the production betting big on co-star Rik Mayall's big screen appeal, which is mostly missing from the endeavor. Third time should be the charm, but I still don't care for it. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Bilitis


David Hamilton was a famous British photographer who loved to take pictures of young girls in various stages of undress. He was a controversial figure, inspiring intense debates about the definition of pornography. Eventually, he made his way into the director's chair, bringing his love of underage pursuits to the big screen in 1977's "Bilitis," which offers a coming-of-age story about an adolescent girl trying to understand her sexuality. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hamilton isn't a decent storyteller (working with a script co-written by fellow provocateur, Catherine Breillat), using the moment to…well, photograph young girls in various states of undress. He certainly has his fetish, and crafts a movie that makes one feel as though they're on some type of watch list when it's over. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Tragedy Girls


There's going to be a generational divide when it comes to the audience for "Tragedy Girls." There will be those who understand, possibly even relate to the modern depiction of teenagedom, which is showcased here as a marathon of social media anxiety, bullying, and insincerity. Older audiences will likely spend the viewing experience being grateful they are no longer adolescents, forced to compete in a ferociously connected world. Thankfully, "Tragedy Girls" isn't a documentary, but a horror comedy, offering satiric touches and exaggerated performances to help viewers ease into the challenges of juvenile life, which, for this endeavor, include murder. Co-writer/director Tyler MacIntyre pulls off a bit of a miracle here, finding ways to connect to unpleasant characters, while the rest of the movie speeds ahead with macabre twists and turns, and shares a love for bloody mischief. Read the rest at