Film Review - Dune: Part Two


Hollywood isn’t big on taking risks, but they put their faith into director Denis Villeneuve, who wanted to bring Frank Herbert’s literary sci-fi epic, “Dune,” to the screen once again. Such ambition isn’t unheard of, but labeling the picture as “Part One” without a second chapter in the can was unusual, depending on audience response to trigger production on a sequel. The gamble paid off, with the success of “Part One” finally clearing the way for “Dune: Part Two,” which realizes the second half of Herbert’s novel, with Villeneuve returning to finish what he started a few years ago. Picking up where he left off, the helmer looks to increase the scale and depth of “Dune,” newly emboldened to dig into the fine details of this universe, examining its chess game of power while confronting the potency of authority as it bleeds into extremism. “Part Two” makes some curious moves in its final moments, but it remains as consistently enthralling as the previous chapter, and Villeneuve certainly puts on a visual show for fans, once again wowing with his technical achievements. Read the rest at

Film Review - Red Right Hand


Jonathan Easley makes his screenwriting debut with “Red Right Hand,” and he’s not chasing originality with the material. It’s another one-man-army feature, this time offering star Orlando Bloom his moment as a once aggressive man is brought back into the darkness when a criminal kingpin threatens the health and happiness of his family. Easley looks to shake up the norm by setting the tale in the deep south, with this level of isolation creating a war zone for the story. He also looks to flavor the writing with defined characters dealing with past sins, endeavoring to add some emotional weight to the effort. Directors Eshom and Ian Nelms (who previously helmed the enjoyable Santa actioner, “Fatman”) do their best to support the slow ride to revenge, embracing the theatrical qualities of Easley’s work. “Red Right Hand” could certainly use a tighter edit, but what’s here has occasional power and an appreciation for violent escalation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Drive-Away Dolls


Joel and Ethan Coen are on a break. Maybe it’s a permanent one, who knows at this point, but the filmmaking siblings responsible for some incredible features during their decades of collaboration are currently operating solo. Joel went highbrow, taking command of 2021’s arty, stark “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” clearly out to flex his wings with a wildly different creative challenge. Ethan’s more interested in making a Coen Brothers picture, with “Drive-Away Dolls” basically tracing over tonal lines the siblings have previously drawn. It’s a dryly comedic, slightly madcap take on lovers-on-the-run cinema, and whatever Joel brought to the partnership is clearly missing from the endeavor. A labored exercise in zaniness, “Drive-Away Dolls” isn’t charming or funny, finding Ethan unable to cough up that old Coen magic in a movie that, well, he’s already made several times before. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ordinary Angels


“Ordinary Angels” is meant to be feel-good entertainment, providing a “based on a true story” tale concerning the kindness of strangers and the power of community support. It’s faith-based cinema from director Jon Gunn, who’s spent his career in the genre, last seen on screens with 2017’s “The Case for Christ.” Godly influence is a little less prioritized in the feature, as the story deals with a medical and fiscal crisis facing a widower trying to help his sick five-year-old daughter. There are a lot of buttons being pushed in this endeavor, but “Ordinary Angels” does make some effort to find nooks and crannies in characterization to explore. Screenwriters Kelly Fremon Craig (“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret”) and Meg Tilly (yes, that Meg Tilly) work to bring some points of pressure to the film, locating a few realistic emotional struggles to go with all the honeyed ways of Christian storytelling. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bring Him to Me


Director Luke Sparke has spent a chunk of his career trying to launch his own sci-fi franchise, overseeing 2018’s “Occupation” and 2020’s “Occupation: Rainfall.” The franchise didn’t take the world by storm, and Sparke’s filmmaking imagination was limited at best, trying to make his tight budgets look epic. He’s back to more human concerns with “Bring Him to Me,” which follows growing tensions between two men on a long drive to certain doom, with the passenger unaware of what’s coming for him. It’s a talky offering from screenwriter Tom Evans, who hopes to tap into damaged characters and their battle to express the pain that powers them. “Bring Him to Me” is something of a crime movie as well, but Sparke is better off pursuing the gut-rot elements of the material, which are always more compelling than showdowns. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - La Garce


1984's "La Garce" looks to be a Hitchcockian mystery about sexual obsession and criminal activity, but it mostly registers a B-movie from Verhoeven. Co-writer/director Christine Pascal looks to challenge viewers with an uncomfortable understanding of manipulation and poor impulse control, offering an unseemly tale of a bad cop who can't shake a terrible woman out of his system. It's a classic understanding of temptation given a distinct French spin by Pascal, who delivers ideal strangeness with "La Garce," but comes up short when it comes to a more fulfilling study of corrupt behavior. Read the rest at


Blu-ray Review - Neige


Actress Julie Berto makes her directorial debut with 1981's "Neige," sharing helming duties with Jean-Henri Roger. They seek to present nights of desperation in Pigalle, an area of Paris where sin and commerce collide, following characters as they try to create some balance to the chaos of their lives. The picture isn't too concerned with dramatic movement, electing a more observational approach, presenting an understanding of the community and those trying to survive within it. "Neige" is a film that sneaks up on the viewer, turning a casual understanding of pain into something more interesting as focus starts to appear for all involved. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Amazon Jail II


1985's "Amazon Jail" contained unintentional laughs, but it was mostly a production out to provide a serious understanding of dangers involving a collection of women and their fight against human traffickers. 1987's "Amazon Jail II" is an intentional comedy, turning something that intended to be both titillating and bleak into an episode of "The Benny Hill Show," complete with undercranked shenanigans and screen time set aside to ogle female characters. "Amazon Jail II" isn't really a sequel, but more of a remake of the original endeavor, only here the emphasis is on silliness, watching the actors flail around in an attempt to be funny. Director Conrado Sanchez doesn't really have a vision for the feature, loosely stitching together whatever he can capture with his camera, creating a wearisome viewing experience that's too random to be engaging, resembling a production where everyone gave up early on. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Amazon Jail


1985's "Amazon Jail" is an exploitation film, there's no doubt about it. The primary goal of the Brazilian production is to showcase as many nude ladies as possible, playing to expectations for a women-in-prison picture. This aspect of the feature is certainly prominent during the run time, with the production happy to follow as many unclothed characters as possible. The actual entertainment value of "Amazon Jail" is up for debate, as co- writer/director Oswaldo de Oliveira shows little interest in storytelling with this endeavor, fumbling around with the plot and characters as he tries to provide the vague shape of a prison escape movie without actually putting in the effort to sharpen excitement or define characters. It's always strange to watch something that's meant to disturb and titillate become rather dull. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bob Marley: One Love


Before my showing of “Bob Marley: One Love,” there was a brief video message from Ziggy Marley, one of Bob’s sons, offering a quick word about the family’s pride in the picture. There’s nothing inherently wrong with such promotion, but with such estate approval comes some skepticism about the movie, as the production needs the cooperation of Marley’s relatives to use his music in the feature, which doesn’t bode well for at least a passably authentic bio-pic. Suspicions are confirmed in “One Love,” with four screenwriters remaining incredibly careful with the details of this existence, ignoring most of it to highlight a few years in the life of the iconic singer and his battles with marriage, management, and declining health. Director Reinaldo Marcus Green (who also played loose with life details in 2021’s “King Richard”) is more interested in the aura of Bob Marley than the man himself, crafting a shallow understanding of behavior while emphasizing the music to please fans. Read the rest at

Film Review - Madame Web


Sony is determined to do something with their rights to the Spider-Man Universe, emboldened to explore the comic book space after the massive success of two “Venom” pictures, which managed to entice the fan base back into theaters. 2022’s “Morbius” had the opposite effect, with the feature dismissed and fully ridiculed, identifying that name recognition alone isn’t enough to tempt the faithful. Sony takes another swing with “Madame Web,” which also plays in the “Spider-Man” sandbox without actually including the web-crawler, offering an origin story for a character with limited superhero appeal in a movie that makes every conceivable wrong move. From script to screen, “Madame Web” is a dire endeavor, with co-writer/director S.J. Clarkson in over her head with this stunningly clumsy exploration of strange powers, motherhood, and villainy. The film won’t be the death of superhero cinema, but it’s a good reminder that greater care is required when bringing these strange worlds to life. Read the rest at

Film Review - Land of Bad


We’ve had films about drone pilots before, and “Land of Bad” is in no mood to debate the moral and political choices involved in the service. Co-writer/director William Eubank (“Underwater,” “Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin”) is in Michael Bay mode with the endeavor, which delves into a mission gone wrong, finding a surviving soldier depending on his drone support to help escape a deadly situation in a foreign land. It’s more of a B-movie than a thought-provoking thriller, but Eubank does try to keep the endeavor technical and emotional in some ways, retaining human qualities between explosions and gunfights. “Land of Bad” is suspenseful for its first half, as the screenplay creates a sense of personality and stakes before the helmer cranks up the explosions and villainous hostility, which eventually diminishes the feature’s unusual intimacy. Read the rest at

Film Review - No Way Up

NO WAY UP - Still 1

“No Way Up” is being marketed as a shark attack picture, which, no matter the quality, usually finds their way to a certain audience and their insatiable need to watch creatures of the deep devour humans. The feature has sharks in it, but predator experiences are exceedingly rare in the film, which is more focused on the survival event for a small handful of passengers stuck inside an airplane that crashes into the water, making its way to the ocean floor. Screenwriter Andy Mayson offers the usual in personalities and crises with “No Way Up,” but there’s not much of a budget in place to go wild with the premise, and director Claudio Fah is stuck trying to make a film about panicked people conversing feel exciting. The endeavor isn’t always static, but it definitely lacks a killer instinct when it comes to B-movie entertainment, feeling a little too slack when it comes to providing big thrills. Read the rest at

Film Review - Lights Out (2024)


Screenwriters Chad Law and Garry Charles aren’t going for originality with “Lights Out,” which carries a story that basically lines up with most VOD/streaming titles these days. There’s an ex-military man weighed down with heavy PTSD, an opportunity to prove himself in a physical way, and a community of dirty cops and bad dudes trying to shorten his life. It’s basic stuff handed to director Christian Sesma, who’s seasoned in the ways of disposable entertainment with generic names (previously helming “Take Back,” “The Night Crew,” and “Vigilante Diaries”), and “Lights Out” is certainly similar to many of these releases. And yet, there’s something wonderfully weird about the feature, which works very hard to be hostile and dramatic during its first two acts, almost achieving a real personality before the usual orgy of violence begins in the end. It’s not a terrible way to spend 90 minutes, especially for fans of B-movies and those capable of shutting off the film at the 60-minute mark. Read the rest at

Film Review - Players (2024)


“Players” was shot nearly three years ago, finally landing a Valentine’s Day release to help lubricate warm relationship feelings for viewers on the hunt for something soft to watch. However, the feature, scripted by Whit Anderson, doesn’t have much of a gooey center. It’s a sillier picture about hostile people lying their way into the pants of unsuspecting partners, with the main characters practiced deceivers, presented here as lovable scamps. For a movie about intense planning and foresight, “Players” doesn’t seem to understand its own unpleasantness, marching forward with comedy that doesn’t connect and character chemistry that never appears. It's a misguided shot of romantic vibes from director Trish Sie (who shot another film, “Sitting in Bars with Cake,” after this, which was released last year), who doesn’t bring a sense of gentleness to feelings, and she’s clumsy with funny business, pitching everything broadly in an effort to register the endeavor as “cute.” Read the rest at

Film Review - Bleeding Love


“Bleeding Love” tells the story of two very fragile people trying to make sense of their relationship while on a road trip to an unknown destination. The screenplay (by Ruby Caster, making her debut) sets up a troubled dynamic between a father and daughter dealing with the roughness of estrangement, and the production tries to maintain some performance reality with the casting of real-life relatives, Ewan McGregor and Clara McGregor, who are tasked with portraying the strangeness and hostility of an unexpected reunion. “Bleeding Love” finds its rhythm with the stars, who nail occasional moments of behavioral clarity. The movie as a whole doesn’t quite work, finding the material a little too in love with the quirks of small-town America, and director Emma Westenberg (a music video vet) doesn’t trust her performers to communicate the horrors of addiction and abandonment, turning to distracting camerawork to sell such personal distortion. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV


Eager to horrify audiences with all new depths of depravity, Troma Entertainment reaches, quite intentionally, a specific low point with 2000's "Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV," their final installment in the weirdly enduring franchise. Director/co-writer Lloyd Kaufman throws everything he can into this sequel, working up a sweat to transform the picture into the most offensive movie in the history of the company, swerving wildly as the production makes fun of school shootings, the developmentally disabled, lynching, and abortion. Granted, Troma isn't one to play nice, always begging for attention, but there are limits to how much odious behavior one can take from a helmer who can't even conquer basic camera focus issues. At 109 minutes, "Citizen Toxie" feels like it runs an entire decade, with grotesque shenanigans and strident performances losing their appeal after 109 seconds. The Superhero from New Jersey is back for his fourth adventure, but perhaps three of these things were enough. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - The Toxic Avenger Part III: The Last Temptation of Toxie


When we last saw the Toxic Crusader, he saved Japan and Tromaville from Apocalypse Inc., using his monster gifts to protect the innocent from pollution and corporate abuse. True to form, Troma Entertainment isn't about to let their cash-cow take a rest, reviving the "superhero from New Jersey" for 1989's "The Toxic Avenger Part III: The Last Temptation of Toxie," a sequel that basically admits defeat from the opening act. Loud and cheaply made, the continuation of the saga tries to sustain irreverence and gore, utilizing Troma's silly sense of humor to fuel yet another round of one-liners and lethargic battles. The creative tank is clearly out of gas for this follow-up, but that doesn't stop directors Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz from trying to staple together a continuation made out of random ideas and footage from "The Toxic Avenger Part II." Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - The Toxic Avenger Part II


After clearing away the leagues of bullies and baddies out to get him in 1984's "The Toxic Avenger," New Jersey's only superhero returns to duty in 1989's "The Toxic Avenger Part II," which promotes the mutant to full-fledged do-gooder. It's rowdy work from co-directors Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz, who trust that an overall amplification of violence coupled with a change in location might revive the picture and its quest to transform the mangled hero into a household name. The manic vibe only works in small doses, with "The Toxic Avenger Part II" disappointingly unfocused, trying to pull together an overall arc of psychological inspection and traditional Troma bloodletting, but never finding a sweet spot of inspiration. It's entertaining at times, but rarely coherent, presenting itself as a grab-bag of ideas and broad reactions, watching Kaufman and Herz spend all their time staging slapstick, leaving the script only a vague outline of character development. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - The Toxic Avenger


1984's "The Toxic Avenger" is the movie that put Troma Entertainment on the map. Previously employed as a distribution machine for titillation comedies, Troma hit pay dirt when they switched their focus to silly splatter efforts and horror pictures, finding a rabid audience who couldn't get enough of their specialized brand of winky mayhem. "The Toxic Avenger" is the prototype for subsequent Troma endeavors, mixing a bewildering cocktail of one-liners and ultraviolence in a production that actually desires to make audiences laugh, even while it kills a kid and a dog, and points a shotgun at a baby. Still, the earnestness of the feature is amazing, always working to find a note of absurdity to molest as directors Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman (billed here as "Samuel Weil") bathe the screen in blood, nudity, and slapstick, funneled into a superhero spoof with a vague environmental message. Nearly 40 years after its initial release and "The Toxic Avenger" still manages to trigger disgust and a handful of laughs, representing not only a key Troma financial victory, but it's quite possibly their finest original work. Read the rest at