Blu-ray Review - The Girl in Room 2A


It's difficult to describe 1974's "The Girl in Room 2A" has a giallo, especially as viewers understand the subgenre today. It's a pulpy mystery featuring the hunt for missing people, and it's more of a fetish film, highlighting the dungeon punishment of naked women by a man dressed in a deep red executioner outfit. It's not a movie that's looking to startle its audience, aiming to be more kinky than macabre. The production almost resembles a Hammer Horror event at times, which works best for the endeavor, finding success with mild sleuthing, not terrifying encounters. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - French Sex Murders


1972's "French Sex Murders" appears to have a plan to deliver lurid entertainment for murder mystery fans, delving into an underworld of prostitution and maniacal male behavior to best stir up some evil encounters. Director Ferdinando Merighi doesn't push himself when it comes time to crank up tension and provide horrors, but there are a few promising elements to the feature. It's not a striking giallo, with "French Sex Murders" keeping a low profile when it comes to the basic ingredients of the subgenre. Morris aims for a blunt viewing experience, more comfortable teasing human perversion than actually delivering it. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - My Dear Killer


The unfortunate reality about 1972's "My Dear Killer" is that its best scene also happens to be its first scene. It's a reverse climax for the feature, which opens with a man being decapitated by a giant excavator, killed in a uniquely gruesome way, launching the movie with a surge of murder mystery energy that gradually weakens at the production transitions to a detective story that's primarily about conversations and interrogations. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Sputnik


"Sputnik" is an unsettling picture. It's a Russian production that's out to challenge expectations for an alien invasion story, providing a more sinister ride of paranoia and panic without expanding to epic size. It also marks the return of actress Oksana Akinshina to American screens, having made her breakthrough in 2002's "Lilya 4-Ever," a shattering feature about human trafficking that promised great things from the young talent. While she made an appearance in "The Bourne Supremacy," Akinshina has largely remained in Russian films, returning to western view in "Sputnik," where she delivers a commanding performance as a medical mind put into contact with an extraterrestrial experience that overwhelms her before it begins to threaten her. Akinshina's part of a strong cast that gives director Egor Abramenko a firm dramatic foundation while the tale explores close encounters and government control with sharp cinematic highlights. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hard Kill


Actor Bruce Willis and director Matt Eskandari have a friendly relationship, as "Hard Kill" is their third collaboration in a short amount of time. And by collaboration, I mean Eskandari is in charge of creating low-budget mayhem while Willis sits comfortably somewhere away from the action, collecting what I assume to be a sizable paycheck. They teamed for "Trauma Center" and the reasonably engaging "Survive the Night," but they press their luck with "Hard Kill," which puts in next to no effort when it comes to creating even basic suspense or excitement. It's a siege picture in a way, with the helmer in charge of making pennies spent on the production look like dimes. The production doesn't have any fresh ideas or, at times, basic competency, staying weirdly small with a plot that welcomes a grander feel for B-movie escapism. Read the rest at

Film Review - Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway


2018’s “Peter Rabbit” seemed like a disaster in the making, with the production working to hip-up the iconic Beatrix Potter character, going full-Poochie to get kids interested in a character who’s been around since 1902. The original film is not a great work of art, but it made a ton of money, delighting family audiences with its slapstick and lively voicework, fulfilling its purpose as the beginning of a new franchise that trades Potter-y stillness for more cartoonish antics. For “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway,” the vibe is generally the same, with returning director Will Gluck (who co-scripts with Patrick Burleigh) concentrating on his CG-animated stars as they find themselves in new kinds of trouble, while the adults also deal with mild moral corruption. What’s different about “The Runaway” is confidence, with Gluck knowing his vision for the brand name works for many, willing to let the sequel get wackier and weirder as it aims for laughs. Read the rest at

Film Review - The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2


“Meet the Blacks” opened in 2016 to limited box office and horrific reviews, and director Deon Taylor has been trying to distance himself from the feature, working on a steady stream of low-budget thrillers with limited marketplace impact (including “The Intruder,” “Traffik,” “Black and Blue,” and last year’s “Fatale”). “The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2” is a sequel that doesn’t really want to be a sequel (the “Meet the Blacks 2” part of the title doesn’t appear onscreen), and it’s not a project that’s been rushed into theaters, with the helmer completing work on the movie four years ago. There’s no reason for a “Meet the Blacks” continuation, and Taylor once again makes a braindead comedy incredibly difficult to sit through, showing no aptitude for funny business or even horror happenings, and one gets the feeling he’s almost ashamed of the film, keeping his distance from any noticeable directorial influence. Read the rest at

Film Review - Infinite


“Infinite” is a loose adaptation of a 2009 book by author D. Eric Maikranz, with the producers working to inflate the novel’s understanding of reincarnation to fuel a potential fantasy franchise that could conceivably welcome a new ensemble with every installment. It’s a fascinating approach to blockbuster filmmaking, handed to director Antoine Fuqua, who’s not known for making refined movies. The helmer’s smash-em instincts work relatively well in this picture, which aims to become a type of comic book extravaganza featuring nasty villains, troubled heroes, and special abilities that develop over the run time. A few miscastings weaken the viewing experience, but “Infinite” is entertaining, transforming into a YA adventure for adult audiences, with the endeavor working especially hard to build enough momentum for future installments. Read the rest at

Film Review - In the Heights


It’s difficult to imagine a world before “Hamilton,” the all-consuming Broadway sensation that turned creator Lin-Manuel Miranda into a household name. But there was an earlier success, with 2005’s “In the Heights” creating its own excitement as a little musical about life in Washington Heights, New York managed to march its way to a Tony Award victory for Best Musical. It was here where Miranda established his theater interests, sharpening his approach to “Hamilton,” and now the material is making a jump to the big screen. “In the Heights” isn’t playing with history, instead exploring the vibrant lives and big dreams of a tight-knit community, with director Jon M. Chu (“Crazy Rich Asians,” “Jem and the Holograms”) aiming to amplify the setting and the culture with his music video-esque take on the stage creation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Wish Dragon


It’s been a big year for animated productions featuring dragons. A few months ago, “Raya and the Last Dragon” offered a tale of a warrior and the fantasy creature summoned to help bring peace to a fractured land. Now there’s “Wish Dragon,” which isn’t as epic as the Disney Animation event, offering a slightly more comical take on an odd couple relationship. It’s a Chinese production that aims to be sensitive to its cultural surroundings, and it’s also an adventure experience with plenty of chases and defined villainy. “Wish Dragon” is ultimately derivative of other, better pictures, but writer/director Chris Appelhans makes a positive impression with his helming debut, delivering engaging characters and fluid action, which helps to digest the familiarity of it all. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Misfits


There’s a reason producers pay for star power. A leading performance can turn a horrible film into a good time, and in the case of “The Misfits,” it can turn a leaden romp into a less painful time-killer. Credit goes to Pierce Brosnan, who isn’t putting in the greatest effort with his turn as a practiced thief pulled into a Middle East gold bar heist, but he has his usual cool charms and pinched face concentration for “The Misfits,” doing what he can to make the latest feature from Renny Harlin bearable. In fact, the movie would be much better off with just Brosnan, but Harlin is trying to taffy pull the material into an ensemble piece, displaying incredibly poor judgment when it comes to finding funny people for funny business. It’s not the thrill ride the helmer intends it to be, but the picture is always more appealing when dealing with snappy criminal elements, leaving jokes behind. Read the rest at

Film Review - Holler


The agony of life in the Midwest is once again examined in “Holler,” which is perhaps the first production to deal with false manufacturing promises made by Donald Trump, setting the scene for a once thriving industrial town facing its final days of life. Timeliness is appreciated, with writer/director Nicole Riegel trying to capture the current woes of American life, examining cycles of poverty and denial facing those who are unable to make a meaningful difference in their lives. “Holler” deals with rough emotions and bitter realities, and it gets somewhere when it concentrates on universal feelings of frustration, with a little helplessness mixed in. The rest of the picture is more difficult to digest, as Riegel is prone to meandering with her storytelling, looking to coast along on atmosphere when the feature could clearly benefit from a sharper dramatic approach. Read the rest at

Film Review - Occupation: Rainfall


In 2018, writer/director Luke Sparke wanted to remake “Red Dawn” with a sci-fi approach, organizing the alien invasion thriller, “Occupation.” The Australian production attempted to provide a Hollywood-style ride of visual effects and broad acts of heroism, but Sparke couldn’t find an original take on old “War of the Worlds” mayhem, and his limited budget showed in the scope of the feature and its casting. Apparently, the first movie did some business, prompting a relatively quick turnaround for “Occupation: Rainfall,” with Sparke attempting to expand the story to deal with a more continent-wide threat, this time lifting ideas and visuals from “Independence Day.” The issues that plagued “Occupation” remain in “Rainfall,” but there is genuine effort supplied to make a proper blockbuster with action and aliens this time around, keeping this unlikely franchise going. Read the rest at

Film Review - Domino: Battle of the Bones


A few features have included dominoes in a peripheral fashion, but “Domino: Battle of the Bones” attempts to transform the game into sporting cinema. Directors Baron Davis, Steven V. Vasquez, and Carl Reid come together to turn a static game with sitting players into a heated battle of attitudes and family, endeavoring to make a comedy with broad characters and crazy situations. It’s so incredibly odd to encounter a movie about the world of dominoes, but that initial strangeness represents the only interesting thing about the picture. “Domino: Battle of the Bones” doesn’t push hard enough to understand the game and its passionate participants. Instead, the endeavor wants to be a dopey comedy, and an unfunny one at that, spending a painfully long run time on bad jokes and shrill performances. Read the rest at

Film Review - Awake


Netflix hit the jackpot with 2018’s “Bird Box,” collecting huge viewership numbers with the grim chiller, which also managed to become something of a phenomenon during the early weeks of its release. It only makes sense to return to such a tale of motherly concern during an apocalyptic event, with “Awake” using the slow-dip demise of sleeplessness as the primary source of terror. Elements shared between the films are noted, but “Awake” is a much more violent picture and, unexpectedly, has sharper spiritual interests, slipping some Christian concepts into a harsh movie. Writers Joseph and Mark Raso (who also directs) get a charge out of dangerous situations in the feature, creating a sort of suburban mom passion play that has a decent pace and compellingly bizarre touches to keep the endeavor alert. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Martial Law II: Undercover


1991's "Martial Law" turned out to be a hit in the VHS marketplace, immediately triggering plans for a sequel. However, for 1992's "Martial Law II: Undercover," star Chad McQueen is replaced by Jeff Wincott, with producers aiming to bring more power to the party, but, once again, they don't value contributions from co-star Cynthia Rothrock nearly as much. The actress returns to fight form for a new adventure into the L.A. underworld, and once again Rothrock emerges as the most exciting element of the movie, giving "Martial Law II: Undercover" entertainment value as her character takes out nasty men and bad guys. I'm not sure why the moneymen insist the series is about anyone else but her. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Martial Law


1990's "Martial Law" is meant to be a vehicle for Chad McQueen, showcasing his steely screen presence and martial arts capabilities. What director Steve Cohen actually finds is screen magic with co-star Cynthia Rothrock, who's meant to support McQueen, but ends up stealing the movie with her lightning-fast fight skills and icy supercop stare. "Martial Law" doesn't add up to much without Rothrock, finding the screenplay laboring to assemble a story of criminal activity that's just as compelling as simple scenes of McQueen and Rothrock taking on waves of bad guys. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Just Before Dawn


While trying to participate in the growing trend of slasher entertainment in the 1980s, director Jeff Lieberman ("Squirm," "Blue Sunshine") aims to do something slightly different with 1981's "Just Before Dawn." It's a low-budget chiller concerning innocents trying to outwit evil in the deep woods, and while it features a killer with a large machete hunting young things, Lieberman is more interested in creating a survival thriller, dealing with hiking and climbing challenges instead of giving the whole thing over to genre expectations. The effort is appreciated, but such ambition doesn't magically make "Just Before Dawn" exciting. Pacing and limited incident are real problems for the picture, which often equates stillness with suspense, triggering tremendous impatience as Lieberman gets around to suspenseful encounters, which are few and far between here. Read the rest at