Blu-ray Review - Apocalypse After


Director Bertrand Mandico made an impression on certain audiences with 2017's "The Wild Boys." It was his first feature-length production, and he poured everything into its creation, using experience gained after spending a large portion of his life making short films. "The Wild Boys" was weird and incredibly specific in its moviemaking goals. Dramatic value is debatable, but the endeavor was a striking showcase of craftsmanship, earning him a loyal fanbase interested in his helming future. Altered Innocence elects to go into Mandico's past with their release of "Apocalypse After," which offers the 2018 short and ten others to provide an understanding of creative development and artistic vision, identifying Mandico's growing obsessions as well. It's a high dive into challenging, arresting cinema, with the shorts detailing Mandico's fetishes and pursuit of enigmatic material. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Jazzman's Blues


Tyler Perry provided a surprise early this year when he broke his promise to the public, pulling his most popular character, Madea, out of retirement. The idea was to deliver some laughs to a world that desperately needs the distraction during bleak times. The result was a mess, with “A Madea Homecoming” as profoundly unpleasant as anything Perry has made before, reinforcing his severe limitations as a filmmaker and judge of funny business. Perry returns with “A Jazzman’s Blues,” which was actually shot before Madea’s unwelcome return, but is only now seeing a release, with autumn a more appropriate season for a more serious picture from the writer/director. “A Jazzman’s Blues” isn’t high art from Perry, who doesn’t stray far from his love of melodrama, cooking up a juicy tragedy concerning race relations and forbidden love in 1940s Georgia, going all-in with broad performances and thickly sliced horrors of the heart. While sections of the endeavor show some restraint, Perry can’t help himself, aiming for pure audience reaction with this exhausting soap opera. Read the rest at

Film Review - Lou


Beloved actress Allison Janney, known for her skills in comedy and drama, is now an action star? That’s the idea driving “Lou,” which puts the actress behind the wheel of her own bruiser, albeit with slightly less interest in a sustained run of physical activity. Screenwriters Maggie Cohn and Jack Stanley are in charge of making this magic at least partially credible, transforming Janney into an ex-government recluse with a particular set of skills, out to protect a young mother searching for her kidnapped child. It’s the stuff of Neeson, but Janney is a nice change of pace for this type of entertainment, providing an authoritative performance as the eponymous character, giving director Anna Foerster some behavioral business to manage while also participating in stunt work. “Lou” doesn’t win points for originality, but it does provide an enjoyable viewing experience, and a chance to watch Janney go into butt-kicking mode is certainly worth a look. Read the rest at

Film Review - Don't Worry Darling


2019’s “Booksmart” was special, emerging from a murky sea of lame teen comedy films, trying to offer a fresh take on adolescent high jinks from a female perspective. It was the directorial debut for actress Olivia Wilde, and she managed to balance tone and performances, working with co-screenwriter Katie Silberman to offer something oddball and somewhat loveable, capturing a volatile high school energy. It was a pleasantly surprising offering from Wilde, and she returns with an intentionally cryptic endeavor in “Don’t Worry Darling,” reteaming with Silberman for a much different study of power and paranoia. While “Booksmart” carried a casual energy, “Don’t Worry Darling” is attempting to be a suffocating viewing experience, hammering viewers with an intimidating soundscape and cranked-up acting. Wilde’s trying to master a mystery with her second feature, but she’s mostly making noise with this aggressive picture, which is too derivative of other movies to truly shock. And while its messages on the state of gender relations are valid, the effort’s violent execution and painful overlength erodes any lasting appreciation for its themes. Read the rest at

Film Review - Meet Cute


While time travel is often used to create fantasy scenarios of heroism and discovery, it’s also become a device to launch romantic comedies, with the potential of grand manipulation and relationship obsession driving a different kind of year-jumping momentum. “Meet Cute” is the latest production to use a “Groundhog Day”-ish approach to the obstacle course of love, with stars Kaley Cuoco and Pete Davidson tasked with playing people meant to be, only the path to partnership is complicated by disruptions in time. Writer Noga Pnueli offers some silliness with her concept, which involves weird science and dramatic repetition, but she’s also in sync with relationship concerns and demands, understanding how people often get in their own way when it comes to connecting with other human beings. “Meet Cute” is slight but funny, and Pnueli finds fresh ways to explore the same crisis of appeal, manufacturing a puzzle of emotions Davidson and Cuoco handle with authority. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bandit


“Bandit” tells the story of Gilbert Galvan Jr., who, during the 1980s. became known as “The Flying Bandit,” traveling all over Canada to rob nearly 50 banks over a three-year period. It’s a tale that involves dented nobility and economic pressure, disguises and friendships, and a romance of sorts. It’s amazing this tale hasn’t found its way to the screen before, but the production turns to a 1996 book by Robert Knuckle for inspiration, trying to create a crime story worth paying attention to, filled with strange characters and conflicts of the heart. “Bandit” is a spirited picture, with director Allan Ungar (“Tapped Out,” “Gridlocked”) aiming to balance the sugar rush nature of criminal behavior with Gilbert’s emotional crisis, caught between the job he loves and the people he’s responsible for. Ungar keeps the feature on the move, and he has a dependable leading man in Josh Duhamel, who rises to the tonal challenge when playing this odd man and his particularly sticky situation. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Infernal Machine


Adaptations can come from anywhere, but “The Infernal Machine” attempts to do something with a newer form of media, trying to form a feature-length movie from a 25-minute-long episode of “The Truth” podcast. “The Hilly Earth Society” explored the declining sanity of a writer dealing with a most determined stalker through a series of calls to an answering machine, giving writer/director Andrew Hunt a foundation for a mystery, building on the thinnest of ideas. What he ultimately comes up with is a very Stephen King-esque overview of paranoia and intimidation, working to create a story to pair with the central phone call concept, coming up with an uneven viewing experience. The first half builds to a few promising questions of sanity, but “The Infernal Machine” slips out of control soon after, as Hunt gets sloppy with his ideas for suspense. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Enforcer


While it walks and talks like a generic thriller, “The Enforcer” has moments when it feels like it’s genuinely trying to do something with its characters and their seemingly hopeless situations of criminal activity. Perhaps this has something to do with the screenplay, which is credited to W. Peter Iliff, who long ago created “Point Break,” helping to bring one of the finest action films of the 1990s to the screen. Iliff doesn’t have a high caliber director this time around to bring intense visuals and extract ideal performances, but there’s something interesting buried in the feature, which attempts to get past B-movie formula on occasion. Unfortunately, there’s not enough of the promising stuff to support “The Enforcer,” which soon gets tangled up in underworld cliches and dismal casting, losing sight of its more compelling elements. Read the rest at

Film Review - Section 8


Action films aren’t as special as they once were. Blame the VOD market, which has inspired producers to go crazy making violent entertainment for the masses, churning them out without much regard for quality. “Section 8” is part of this generation of B-movies, offering a decent tale of dark servitude that’s poorly executed all around. Director Christian Sesma has worked this routine before, helming similar exercises in low-wattage distractions (including “Paydirt” and “Take Back”), but he’s not one to challenge the norm when it comes to the ways of hard men trying to intimidate other hard men. “Section 8” could’ve worked with some passion for the game, pushing the endeavor into more of a free-for-all experience of shootouts and fist fights. Sesma doesn’t have the vision to really go for it, and the writing (credited to Chad Law and Josh Ridgeway) has no imagination, sticking with familiar grunts of bad dialogue and unwelcome turns of plot. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dig


“Dig” is a minimally budgeted production made in the COVID-19 era, offering a low stakes plot featuring a handful of characters, with the action largely contained to a single location. It doesn’t exactly charm with its bland visuals, but it does open with a loaded moment of suspense and horror, establishing hope that the screenplay by Banipal Ablakhad might be interested in a more gripping level of viewer engagement, dealing with the dangers of the real world as a road rage incident goes horribly wrong for the lead character. “Dig” has a chance to be different than most VOD offerings, but such promise isn’t realized by the production, which gradually falls into routine with cartoonish villains and basic acts of survival. Director K. Asher Levin puts the movie into motion early on, but he’s soon stuck with a bad case of storytelling inertia, leaving the viewing experience disappointingly uneventful. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Cross My Heart


Love is a complicated thing, with "Cross My Heart" an examination of the dating process between two people fighting to overcome their scorching insecurities. It's a comedy from writers Gail Parent and Armyan Bernstein (who also directs), and one that hopes to inspect its characters a little more deeply, getting into the muck of adult gamesmanship as the participants try to present themselves in the most appealing light possible, only to have the truth slowly command the evening. It's up to leads Martin Short and Annette O'Toole to carry the feature, and the pair share wonderful chemistry and timing in this slight but enjoyable two-hander that touches on the challenges of honesty and the thrill of attraction. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Pure Luck


1991's "Pure Luck" is a remake of 1981's "Le Chevre," a French production directed by Francis Verber. The popular French filmmaker proved to be an object of fascination for Hollywood, with studios trying to bring his sense of humor to American audiences. Star Martin Short previously Verber-ed in 1989's "Three Fugitives," and he returns for "Pure Luck," trying to find some funny business with co-star Danny Glover. Instead of luring Verber to handle directorial duties, Universal Pictures turns to Nadia Tass, an Australian helmer who isn't quite up for the challenge of mastering the slapstick comedy. Instead of winding up the leads and arranging plenty of tomfoolery, Tass is caught up with uneven material, constructing a farce about clueless people that's also a detective story, often stopping the feature to highlight weirdly DOA sequences that lack jokes. There's Short, who's always a welcome screen presence, but he's working hard for no reward in this tedious misfire. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Scared to Death


To make a first impression as a filmmaker, William Malone leans on his love of monster movies with 1980's "Scared to Death," joining a long list of directors using genre entertainment as their way into the Hollywood system. The effort is low-budget and limited to a few locations and sets, but Malone has heart, working with whatever he's got to piece together a horror film featuring the threat of a "synthesized genetic organism," or Syngenor, who's basically the Xenomorph from "Alien" if he grew up in the sewers of Los Angeles. Enthusiasm for the project is appreciable, but "Scared to Death" isn't crisply edited, with Malone refusing to tighten the bolts on a picture that often wanders away from the central crisis, dealing with character business that's not important, which helps to dilute what little suspense is present here. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Six Million Dollar Man


Author Martin Caidin created the character Steve Austin for his 1972 book, "Cyborg." Hollywood was soon interested in the material, and a television movie, "The Six Million Dollar Man," was produced in 1973. It provided an origin story for Steve, detailing the former astronaut's horrific accident and his recovery, where his body was reconstructed with bionic parts, giving him super powers he didn't immediately understand. Two more television films followed, taking the premise into a James Bond-ish direction, and a weekly series eventually arrived in 1974, keeping Steve busy with various adventures that involved the use of his bionic powers, his cool demeanor around certain doom, and his feminine appeal. "The Six Million Dollar Man" quickly turned into a hit show, offering audiences a fantasy premise with unusual visuals (and sound effects) and defined heroism, with the production's command of escapism keeping the series going for five seasons. Read the rest at

Film Review - Blonde (2022)


“Blonde” began life as a 2000 novel by Joyce Carol Oates, who presented a fictionalized version of Marilyn Monroe’s life, playing up her torturous experiences and the violence, in many forms, forced on her by men. The book was quickly adapted into a 2001 television miniseries, sanitized for the mass audience, and now returns to the screen in an NC-17 interpretation, with writer/director Andrew Dominik (“Killing Them Softly,” “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”) free to explore the murky headspace of the subject as she craves to be treated humanely, only to face horror. There have been so many versions of this story across all forms of media, but Dominik doesn’t lead with his Monroe obsession, looking to explore the turbulence of her existence, spending nearly three hours in the swirling vortex of her cancerous thoughts. The helmer touches on the steps in Monroe’s life, but he’s more interested in creating a suffocating viewing experience, which works to a certain degree, especially when interpreted by star Ana de Armas, who delivers a full-body breakdown in the part, singlehandedly supporting the feature at times. Read the rest at

Film Review - Goodnight Mommy (2022)


“Goodnight Mommy” was originally a 2014 Austrian chiller from writer/directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala. The pair concocted a dark tale of suspicion featuring twins who no longer trust the identity of their mother, going to extreme lengths to deduce if she’s truly the woman she claims to be. It wasn’t a horror endeavor in the traditional sense, aiming for more of a slow-burn churn of discovery, and it worked wonderfully, delivering terrific menace. The premise has been recycled for an American remake, with “Goodnight Mommy” attempting to summon the same level of unease with a different set of actors, with director Matt Sobel and screenwriter Kyle Warren tasked with sprucing up the fear factor while retaining the same story. Unfortunately for the filmmakers, “Goodnight Mommy” didn’t need a remake, especially one that doesn’t do anything special with the working parts of the original movie, sanding down some of the sharper edges of the 2014 effort to appeal to a wider audience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Do Revenge


Originality is in short supply in “Do Revenge.” The screenplay is an update of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951 thriller, “Strangers on a Train,” and the rest of the feature is a homage to teen cinema of the 1990s, even working with a soundtrack from the decade. It’s the second directorial outing for Jennifer Kaytin Robinson (who co-wrote last summer’s “Thor: Love and Thunder”), and she’s not in the mood to push the material very far, keeping things familiar to help find an audience for the dark comedy, where plans for murder are replaced by grand schemes of high school humiliations. “Do Revenge” has a game cast to embody troubled characters trying to keep up appearances, and early scenes suggest sharper antics to come, but Robinson isn’t interested in sustained cattiness, trying to give the endeavor an emotional core, which adds more formula to an already overwhelmed and overlong picture. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Woman King


While certainly boosted by the mega success of “Black Panther,” “The Woman King” hopes to sell a more historical story, going the “Braveheart” route as it mixes elements of culture and character with heavy big screen action, providing grand sweeps of physical and dramatic conflict. It tells the story of the Agojie, an all-female African team of warriors tasked with defending the kingdom of Dahomey from potential invaders. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood (who recently helmed “The Old Guard,” preparing her for the stunt-heavy gig) makes a valiant attempt to preserve the reality of this story of bravery while remaining highly cinematic with the work, providing a gripping ride of dangerous events and tight relationships. There’s deep feeling and power on display here that’s thrilling to watch, with Prince-Bythewood extremely focused on making a mostly overlooked tale of honor and dedication feel enormous and emotional, largely achieving her ambitious goal, especially with help from star Viola Davis, who was born to play such roles of fiery authority. Read the rest at

Film Review - Confess, Fletch


The character Irwin Maurice “Fletch” Fletcher was born from the mind of author Gregory Mcdonald. For two decades, the author developed a universe for the investigative reporter, delivering multiple novels that tracked his interactions with crime and mischief. He was a popular literary creation, but perhaps most people know the character from 1985’s “Fletch,” with comedian Chevy Chase hired to bring the wiseacre to the big screen. The Michael Ritchie film was a hit, giving Chase one of his most important successes in the 1980s, and there was a 1989 sequel that effectively terminated future tales of Fletch in action. For “Confess, Fletch,” Chase is out, with Jon Hamm taking over the part, bringing his debatable comedic personality to the picture, working with director Greg Mottola (his first feature since 2016’s “Keeping Up with the Joneses”) to create a slightly less wacky take on Mcdonald’s creation. Humor remains, but “Confess, Fletch” would also like to be taken a bit more seriously as a mystery, putting the clever man in the middle of a collection of eccentric characters. Read the rest at

Film Review - See How They Run


The monster success of 2019’s “Knives Out” was sure to stir interest in the return of the big screen mystery movie. “See How They Run” hopes to ride a trend with its own take on the ways of Agatha Christie, this time involving the author in a different way. The screenplay by Mark Chappell looks to restore some period activity to a classic Christie whodunit, returning audiences to post-war London, which is prime setting for cinematic troublemaking. The material launches as something of a comedy, having fun with its assortment of fussy characters and secret motivations. “See How They Run” doesn’t remain spirited for long, with director Tom George endeavoring to shape a substantial tale of criminal activity while still tending to a rapidly diminishing sense of playfulness. It’s a handsome feature with lively performances, but George can’t get the film off the ground at times. Read the rest at