Film Review - Transformers: Rise of the Beasts


2018’s “Bumblebee” was a chance for the “Transformers” series to rethink things after director Michael Bay brought the brand name to box office highs and critical lows. It served as a prequel/restart for the saga, and while it didn’t scare up enormous box office returns (released during heavy competition), it connected with viewers, successfully getting fans reinterested in the ongoing big screen adventures of the robots in disguise. “Bumblebee” was a lot of fun, and director Steven Caple Jr. (“Creed II”) is determined to keep the party going in “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts,” supplying a thrilling sequel that hopes to wow kids and kids-at-heart with a grander display of Autobot heroics and human courage, presenting an epic study of action and planet-gobbling doom. Of course, this is a “Transformers” picture, with silliness unavoidable, but Caple Jr. really captures the enormity of the brand’s warrior spirit and ways of destruction, making for a lively sit. Read the rest at

Film Review - Arnold


Love him or hate him, there’s nobody quite like Arnold Schwarzenegger. He’s been an athlete, a movie star, a family man, a politician, and a social media figure, and there’s plenty more to the man than meets the eye. The idea behind the documentary series “Arnold” is to identify his extraordinary personal journey, tracking Schwarzenegger’s rise from a little boy raised in a tiny Austrian village to becoming one of the most famous people in the world, seemingly enjoying almost every second of his remarkable development. Director Lesley Chilcott (“Helter Skelter: The American Myth”) has quite the challenge of corralling so much living into three episodes, aiming to break up the odyssey into chapters of growth and professional redirection, allowing Schwarzenegger to tell his own story in his inimitable way. “Arnold” has its glossiness, dealing with a subject who fully understands the power of self-promotion, but it also carries outstanding attention to Schwarzenegger’s sacrifices and ferocious ambition, with Chilcott delivering a fascinating understanding of the media figure and his singular way of living. Read the rest at

Film Review - Brooklyn 45


Wartime secrets are explored in “Brooklyn 45,” which offers a single location and a cast of characters for a 90-minute examination of death, patriotism, and xenophobia. There’s a supernatural element to the tale, which involves a particularly active séance, but writer/director Ted Geoghegan doesn’t make a horror feature, going the psychological route with a real-time journey into suspicion. There’s a lot to like about the endeavor, with Geoghegan challenged to create a suspenseful viewing experience while the story remains in one position. There’s an interesting examination of World War II and all the pain involved with service and intimidation, which is just beginning to spill into civilian life for the players, and while it seems to be headed in an Agatha Christie direction in the opening act, “Brooklyn 45” shies away from mystery elements, as Geoghegan shows more interest in character wear and tear, not the capacity for murder. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster


Mary Shelley has inspired a plethora of interpretations of her 1818 novel, “Frankenstein,” with “The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster” the latest attempt to do something with material that’s been reworked repeatedly. For this round of literary inspiration, writer/director Bomani J. Story (making his feature-length helming debut) turns to the problem of inner-city life to inspire a fresh take on death and scientific obsession. “The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster” has a terrific idea, using the plagues of gangs and drugs to explore the singular desperation of the main character and her drive to reanimate the dead, and Story manages to work up some decent atmosphere for the low-budget endeavor. There’s a distinct level of dread in the film, and strong performances to carry the effort when it needs it the most. What’s actually here is more of a short story, and the stretch marks to bring it to 90 minutes are visible, but there’s power in its most primal moments. Read the rest at

Film Review - Flamin' Hot


“Flamin’ Hot” tells the story of Richard Montanez, who claimed to have invented an extra spicy snack food that helped to boost the fortunes of megacorporation PepsiCo when they needed it the most. The movie arrives with some controversy, which is unexpected when dealing with a story about Cheetos, but there’s been a general questioning of Montanez’s claim of ownership in recent years, with the screenplay (credited to Lewis Colick) working solely from Montanez’s 2013 autobiography (“A Boy, a Burrito, and a Cookie”), strictly following his version of the events that led to his marketplace breakthrough. Take “Flamin’ Hot” as a true story, and it doesn’t connect. Accept it as a one-note inspirational tale, and there’s more to enjoy, with director Eva Longoria making sure viewers understand the power of self-worth and motivation when selling the story of a man and his junk food destiny. Read the rest at

Film Review - Buddy Games: Spring Awakening


If you have no idea what “Buddy Games” is, I understand. The 2020 release attracted very little attention and box office, but in this world of streaming, perhaps the endeavor managed to find an audience. Three years later, there’s “Buddy Games: Spring Awakening,” a sequel from returning director/star Josh Duhamel, who reunites most of the original cast for another round of crude antics featuring unlikable characters. “Buddy Games” was one of the worst films of its release year, and “Spring Awakening” is sure to hold a special spot on this year’s list, finding Duhamel simply out to make a goofy, raunchy comedy for the broheim crowds, but he can’t even land a single joke. The follow-up is lazy, unprepared to deal with some of its more pointed ideas on culture. When all else fails the effort, the helmer serves up a poop joke, which is about as clever as it gets with this slapdash production. Read the rest at

Film Review - Heroes of the Golden Mask


Director Sean Patrick O’Reilly has an extensive background in budget animation, overseeing the creation of such titles as “The Steam Engines of Oz,” “Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom,” and “Go Fish” (he recently took on a live-action project, “Corrective Measures,” which has the distinction of being the least depressing of the “Bruce Willis isn’t well” run of features). He returns to duty with “Heroes of the Golden Mask,” which is a Chinese production looking to offer some action and magic to younger viewers in the mood for a simple distraction. The picture does just fine with physical activity, with O’Reilly keeping the endeavor on the move, staging chases and battles with mild excitement. However, while “Heroes of the Golden Mask” is filled with world-building and characters, it’s also determined to have a sense of humor, making funny business quite unappealing, often getting in the way of a passable offering of low-budget adventure. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Secret Kingdom


Writer/director Matt Drummond is paying tribute to the fantasy films of his youth with “The Secret Kingdom.” It’s a valentine to Jim Henson-style cinema, where imagination dominates and adventure awaits the lead characters, who are sent on a lengthy quest to find special objects, face adversaries, and battle to reunite a broken kingdom. The screenplay has the ingredients to get at least halfway to excitement, but Drummond strangely struggles with the endeavor. He’s absolutely committed to constructing a fantasyland odyssey, but he’s missing a sense of urgency with the picture, unable to find dramatic power, especially for younger viewers who will likely feel restless with the fatigued spirit of the movie. “The Secret Kingdom” has all the good intentions in the world, but the helmer doesn’t have the budget to really provide stunning visuals, and he’s often too busy working on the animation to really pay attention to what’s happening with the snoozy storytelling. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Frostbiter


Director Sam Raimi is a Michigander who created "The Evil Dead." Tom Chaney is a director from Michigan who would love to be considered a peer to Raimi, fashioning his own version of "Evil Dead"-like happenings with "Frostbiter," which brings viewers to a cabin in the woods for a haunting rooted in unreality. It's a tiny picture shot over many years, and there's something feisty about "Frostbiter" that's appealing, with Chaney overseeing a plan to create a mess of monsters, demons, and survival panic, doing so with some serious DIY energy. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling


They were known as the "Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling." It was female wrestling presented to the American public in a different way, and the television series "GLOW" (which debuted in 1986) strived to connect worlds of comedy and athleticism, with creator David McLane and director Matt Cimber hoping to create a stir with their blend of outrageousness and silliness, giving birth to specialized entertainment during a pop culture period when pro-wrestling was king. Director Brett Whitcomb ("The Rock-afire Explosion," "Jasper Mall") looks to understand how such an oddball offering of T.V. managed to make an impression on a generation of viewers in 2012's "GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling," with the documentary collecting interviews with the professionals involved in the business. Whitcomb doesn't have a sizable run time (77 minutes), but he has access to many people who put their bodies through hell to make some syndication magic for the masses, covering the four-year-long run of the show and its long list of peculiarities. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Infernal Rapist


With a title like "The Infernal Rapist," one must act cautiously around the film. It's more of a warning than a title, with the 1988 Mexican production working hard to be an ugly movie, examining the corruption of an already corrupt man compelled by dark forces to hurt people in the name of Satan. There's certainly a way to do this kind of exploitation endeavor, but the production (including director Damian Acosta Esparza) isn't attentive to the wily ways of genre happenings, preferring to be more of a blunt instrument aimed at viewers who elect to sit through multiple scenes of sexual violence and occult grisliness. "The Infernal Rapist" initially offers a slightly amusing take on evil events and macabre motivations, but it quickly extinguishes such inspiration, preferring to be sleazy and aggressive instead, which turns the viewing experience into a painful sit. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Flesh and Fantasy


1943's "Flesh and Fantasy" is an anthology film, taking a closer look at the ways of obsession with three different tales of strange behaviors and future visions. Director Julien Duvivier has a tremendous cast to help bring these stories to life, and he puts in quite an effort as well, crafting a mostly suspenseful understanding of pained people, offering style and tension to help accentuate strange circumstances the characters find themselves in. "Flesh and Fantasy" is a decent ride for this type of undertaking, always most interesting at its weirdest points. Read the rest at

Film Review - Simulant


“Simulant” definitely has interesting release timing, entering theaters as world leaders and the entertainment business discuss the future of artificial intelligence and its impact on humanity. The screenplay by Ryan Christopher Churchill looks to examine a futureworld of A.I. enhancement, where people claim machines to help with work and fill holes in their hearts, but this deceptive stability is newly challenged by someone who doesn’t believe in such order. “Simulant” has the appearance of a nail-biting thriller, but Churchill and director April Mullen (“Wander”) don’t step on the gas with the endeavor, preferring a more meditative understanding of the central crisis. Unfortunately, this approach keeps “Simulant” largely uneventful and dull, with the importance of the message and the urgency of the hunt lost in superfluous atmosphere and uninspired casting. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Boogeyman (2023)


“The Boogeyman” is based on a Stephen King short story from 1978. And with most, if not all, adaptations of King’s short stories, the tale has been changed dramatically to meet the needs of a feature-length run time. Enter screenwriters Scott Beck, Bryan Woods, and Mark Heyman, who are tasked with making something substantial out of a tale that only filled 25 pages, turning to the ways of tragedy, family ties, and teen angst to do so. “The Boogeyman” isn’t a fulfilling viewing experience, with director Rob Savage sticking to the basics in horror moviemaking, juggling the weight of damaged people and the movement of something sinister in the dark. It’s the usual PG-13 stuff, though it seems capable of avoiding routine with a deeper emotional journey. The picture has the means to get there, but the writing isn’t that brave. Read the rest at

Film Review - Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse


It’s hard to believe it came out nearly five years ago, but “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” made a lot of comic book fans happy. It wasn’t an enormous hit, but it found an audience, and one ready to absorb the production’s love of the character and his superhero history, delivering a portal-opening ride of then-unique animation and interesting characters, only really running into trouble when trying to find a way out of the mess of the story. For “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” sequel-flexing is felt, with the run time expanded, the cast list lengthened, and dramatic ambition inflated. “Into the Spider-Verse” was a careful introduction to the eponymous character(s) and their amusing disorientation, but “Across the Spider-Verse” aims for an epic feel of multiverse maneuvering, attempting to deliver a heavily knotted tale of fates and friendships, with directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson speeding up the edits and slowing down the storytelling as they build on the previous picture’s artistic achievements, though they still have a problem with pacing. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares: The Robert Englund Story


Robert Englund has been acting since he was 13 years old, working on stage and screen, pushing his way through the industry, pursuing a life as a character actor. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Englund managed to land a role that would turn him into a star, transforming a man of many faces into a scarred monster the public adored. It’s a crazy story of fame and pop culture ubiquity, and it’s a major subject for “Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares: The Robert Englund Story,” with directors Chris Griffiths and Gary Smart endeavoring to give the cult film legend a chance to explore his diverse career in this long-form interview with the once and future Freddy Krueger. It’s Englund’s big tour, and there’s nobody better at articulating the turns of his life than the man himself, who commands this exhausting but informative and entertaining documentary. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Son of the Stars


1984's "Delta Space Mission" offered a Saturday morning cartoon viewing experience, going wild with adventurous happenings, focusing on delivering a certain level of excitement to support its Romanian animation storytelling. Ambition increases with 1985's "The Son of the Stars," which returns to the ways of deep space and colorful creatures, but amplifies surreal intent. It's a psychedelic viewing experience, with the production basically doing away with measured storytelling to march full steam ahead into a swirl of intergalactic unreality featuring a telekinetic hero and his never-ending quest to understand the unreachable limits of the universe. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Curucu, Beast of the Amazon


1956's "Curucu, Beast of the Amazon" is generally considered a monster movie, produced during an era in Hollywood when such entertainment was happily devoured by young audiences. Unfortunately, the reality of the film isn't quiet as enticing, with the creature feature elements of the screenplay quickly burned through to deal with a greater selling point in South American tourism, as the endeavor was shot in Brazil, even reminding viewers of such a creative get with an opening card. "Curucu" is more of a travelogue than a horror experience, and one that often plays like a slightly more aggressive version of the "Jungle Cruise" attraction at Disney Parks. Writer/director Curt Siodmak isn't going for hospital corners with the effort, basically trying to make a weird adventure with exotic locations, adding as much excitement as a limited budget allows. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Beast in Space


1980's "Beast in Space" is an offering of low-budget sci-fi from director Alfonso Brescia, who works very hard to deliver the basics of space exploration with limited resources. It's more "Star Trek" than "Star Wars," with the helmer hoping to go one step beyond the usual marketable elements by adding a few hardcore sex scenes to the mix, bringing some spice to the endeavor, which could really use all the distractions it can find. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Broker


Writer/director Hirokazu Kore-eda is an exceptionally talented filmmaker who's been on a streak of involving dramas over the last decade, mostly recently on view in 2018's "Shoplifters" and 2019's "The Truth," which offered him a chance to make a French endeavor, changing things up from his usual interests. With "Broker," Kore-eda is back in South Korea, examining the inner lives and relationships of characters involved in the business of selling babies. This is no horror story, adding to the helmer's preference for humanist dramas, taking time to understand the mindset of those contributing to such a situation, exploring the complexity of such a choice. There are layers to examine with "Broker," and wonderful moviemaking to help with the journey, as Kore-eda oversees excellent performances and an approachable level of melancholy with this feature, which remains gripping, even when it deals with simple matters of the heart. Read the rest at