Blu-ray Review - Dead Space


Roger Corman is known for recycling anything he can to keep producing genre entertainment for a cult audience, and he does it again with 1991's "Dead Space," which is a remake of 1982's "Forbidden World." Characters have been slightly reworked, but the plots are basically the same, following a man of action as he goes up against a mutated monster in the middle of nowhere. Of course, such a setting allows Corman to keep the effort as low budget as possible, tasking director Fred Gallo ("Dracula Rising") to figure out ways to make tight hallways, labs, and living spaces interesting for 75 minutes of screen time. It's a challenge Gallo can't conquer, as most of "Dead Space" is repetitive and silly, but he has a committed lead performance from Marc Singer to help keep the endeavor somewhat palatable, with the actor trying to make extended nothingness look exciting. Read the rest at

UHD 4K Review - Stiff Competition


Breeziness is not a quality normally associated with adult entertainment, but 1984's "Stiff Competition" breaks away from the bleakness of the industry by offering something fun to watch while still meeting expectations for carnal activity. Director Paul Vatelli creates a spoof of sporting world competitiveness with the endeavor, embracing a "thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat" atmosphere of rivalries and personalities clashing over a most unusual test of skill. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Bluebeard


Cineastes and scholars often praise, borderline worship, films from the 1970s, and understandably so. It was a decade of challenging endeavors, respecting audience intelligence and patience, with studios and talent taking risks to deliver textured, meaningful work. But there were stinkers too, a lot of them, with 1972's "Bluebeard" (an adaptation of a French folktale) caught between a desire to appear like a sophisticated production and the cold reality of its campy-ish approach to horror. It's a deeply weird serial killer story, and one with a confused sense of tone and morality, rendering the picture quite ridiculous as it strives to explore an absurd figure of evil with a straight face. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Other Music


2019's "Other Music" is a documentary about a store in New York City that meant the world to its customers. Other Music specialized in album sales, opening its doors in 1995, when the music business was red hot, giving owners Josh Madell and Chris Vanderloo a chance to create a space catering to a more obsessive type of music fan interested in burgeoning sounds and scenes. In 2016, Other Music closed, with directors Puloma Basu and Rob Hatch-Miller picking up cameras to cover the establishment's final six weeks of life, trying to make sense of this special relationship between the business and its loyal customers. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Princess (2022)


“The Princess” is an empowerment tale from screenwriters Ben Lustig and Jake Thornton, but this is no ordinary story of a young woman’s awakening. Instead of playing directly to a teen audience with a sunny summation of self-preservation, the writing submits an R-rated actioner instead, hoping to wow viewers with graphic violence and extended fight scenes meant to give the feature some oomph. Such energy is appreciated, but most of the attention in “The Princess” is placed on heated battles, with the material too simplistic to really land a few of its valuable ideas on self-worth. The endeavor is more of a video game than a dramatic understanding of character, and that may be enough to support a decent distraction for some viewers, but the shallowness of it all becomes a problem for the effort the more it tries to find a reason for its existence. Read the rest at

Film Review - Minions: The Rise of Gru


The Minions were a supporting act in 2010’s “Despicable Me,” invented to add some wacky energy to the picture, filling all slapstick requirements while the plot was dedicated to a more heartening story of parenthood featuring supervillain Gru. After the release of the film, Minions became all the rage, dominating “Despicable Me” sequels and fitted for their own starring roles in 2015’s “Minions,” which is the highest-grossing installment of the franchise. Perhaps the Minions don’t even need Gru anymore. Illumination apparently disagrees, reuniting most of the family for the prequel “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” which moves the mayhem up to the 1970s but maintains the formula of dastardly deeds and chaotic cartoon visuals, with the fifth installment of the “Despicable Me” series playing it safe to entertain family audiences. It’s fun, periodically funny, but the production takes few risks with this endeavor, which could use a freshening of material at this point. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Forgiven


John Michael McDonagh’s last feature was 2016’s “War on Everyone,” where he attempted to mount a darkly comedic understanding of American life and action movies. The experiment wasn’t creatively satisfying, getting lost in its own quirk, distancing the writer/director from his earlier successes with “The Guard” and “Calvary.” “The Forgiven” inches McDonagh back to his potential, put in charge of an adaptation of a 2012 Lawrence Osborne novel, and one with some sting to it, detailing the experiences of an elite western couple causing major problems in Morocco, dealing with the aftermath in their own uniquely acidic ways. “The Forgiven” finds McDonagh in a very deliberate mood, which is a necessary approach to a story that’s primarily about the experiences of characters gaining some clarity with the darkest of inspiration. McDonagh slows the pace of the endeavor, which doesn’t always help to build tension, but he’s after a specific tone with the picture, and mostly achieves it, maintaining surprises and defined personalities on this strange journey of guilt. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hot Seat


An ex-hacker is trapped inside an office that’s wired with explosives, forced to do the bidding of a secret villain while time ticks down to his own death. It’s a simple idea for a thriller, and we’ve been here before, with many filmmakers trying to create tension while working with a single location. “Hot Seat” joins efforts such as “Phone Booth” and “Speed,” but this isn’t a polished, big-budget feature. It’s the latest offering from churn-em-out producers Randall Emmett and George Furla, who don’t have the resources to deal with the particulars of moviemaking. “Hot Seat” is a B-movie with potential, but it doesn’t possess the creative drive to make an inspired mess of things. Director James Cullen Bressack (who commanded two of 2021’s worst pictures in “Fortress” and “Survive the Game”) continues his VOD adventure with this high concept endeavor, which lacks excitement and surprise, weirdly ignoring the insanity of the central premise. Read the rest at

Film Review - Rubikon


“Rubikon” resembles a literary offering of sci-fi, striving to tackle big ideas on environmental ruin and corporate rule while staying true to character, exploring personalities in full. Co-writer/director Magdalena Lauritsch (making her debut as a feature-length filmmaker) has an idea of what she wants to accomplish with the picture, asking viewers to spend time in the tight confines of a space station while the characters deal with extreme mental and physical hardships as they manage a developing disaster. It initially seems like the stuff of riveting cinema, but “Rubikon” doesn’t have that type of dynamic appeal. It’s a small movie about interpersonal conflicts, and while the production provides accomplished visuals and capable performances, Lauritsch keeps her endeavor crawling along, with tension limited to just a handful of moments, while the rest of the effort sticks with static sequences, limiting the inherent suspense of the central plot. Read the rest at

Film Review - Code Name Banshee


It’s difficult to not be cynical while watching “Code Name Banshee.” This is a paint-by-numbers production for VOD audiences, boasting 30 producers and a director in Jon Keeyes, who’s been making movies with generic names like “The Survivalist” and “Rogue Hostage,” participating in the steady stream of action gunk that’s been clogging distribution channels for the last decade. Keeyes doesn’t bring anything to the endeavor besides camera focus, slapping together yet another exploration of revenge and danger, only here there’s a screenplay (credited to Matthew Rogers) that’s painfully dull, delivering generic drama and threats while miscast actors try to pretend they’re interested in this sleeping pill of a film. “Code Name Banshee” pretends to pursue a deeper dramatic dive into characterization and motivation, but basic elements, such as screen tension, are missing from the mix. There’s nothing here that’s different from the competition, with Keeyes merely looking to complete the picture, not challenge himself with a stronger serving of assassin antagonisms. Read the rest at

Film Review - Doula


“Doula” is written by Will Janowitz and Arron Shiver (who also co-stars in the picture), and the men attempt to capture the female experience of birth with the effort, which is directed by Cheryl Nichols. The screenplay isn’t strictly about the journey of pregnancy, more interested in the knotted ways of relationships and unspoken feelings that turn into corrosive material the longer they remain bottled up inside. “Doula” is a comedy, but it’s not entirely committed to such a mood, enjoying the process of exploring characters and putting the players in sticky situations. The feature is a complex understanding of perspective and fears, and it’s also the rare endeavor to approach the anxieties of pregnancy and birth with some degree of honesty, giving the movie an appealing texture of realism to help it through a few strained ideas for conflict and confession. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Communion


"Communion" was a 1987 book written by Whitley Strieber, with the author detailing his experiences with alien abduction, working with hypnosis to make sense of his blurred mind, helping to identify what happened to him. The book was marketed as "A true story," but there were many doubters when it came to Strieber's experiences, but that didn't stop the title from becoming a major best-seller, attracting those curious about the "grays" and their experimental interests in humans. A film adaptation was quickly assembled, with Strieber taking on the role of screenwriter, transforming the novel into an accessible mystery with a slight horror atmosphere, making sure to emphasize the journey of a man encountering alien activity and all the psychological problems that followed. Director Philippe Mora ("Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf," "Pterodactyl Women from Beverly Hills") is in an unenviable position to turn the nightmares and therapy into a workable movie, which is a task he fails. "Communion" deals with a dubious subject matter and it turns it all into ridiculousness, relying on Walken to use his thespian jazz to make the drab production magically interesting, but the actor deliberately pushes the effort into campiness, joined by Mora, who transforms alien interests into a terrible puppet show. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Benjamin Franklin


In 2019, director Ken Burns oversaw the creation of "Country Music," looking to understand an American sound as it developed over the course of the twentieth century. Burns is back with "Benjamin Franklin," returning to the formation of a nation, once again digging to the roots of American history, this time focusing on the efforts of a single man who, as a boy, wanted to learn everything he could, hoping to shape his own education, which would take him on a most unique ride of power and position. The documentary is divided into two chapters, going from Franklin's first days to his last, and in between resides an astonishing list of achievements that turned the subject into something of a celebrity during his extremely long life. As with previous documentaries from Burns, there's more to Benjamin Franklin than the basics in wit and electricity, with the two-parter working to understand his vices and prejudices, along with his doubts, especially with his own family. "Benjamin Franklin" provides the comfy sweater style and presentation common to all Burns productions, but it offers a slightly more aware comprehension of the man and his legacy, hoping to appreciate his shortcomings as a way to understand the full extent of his atypical life. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Violent Breed


1984's "The Violent Breed" plays like a movie that was made when another production wrapped early, giving the producers a chance to reuse the locations and the cast, hastily arranging another shoot. The screenplay is credited to Nino Marino and Fernando Di Leo (who also directs), but there's little evidence of a story or ideas, and characters aren't fleshed out in the least. Someone, somewhere wanted a quickie actioner with little to no effort put into dramatic entanglements, and that's what "The Violent Breed" is. Things go boom and actors make pained faces, but a greater understanding of motivation and stakes is ignored, with Di Leo quickly assembling vague conflicts to inspire some jungle mayhem. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Screams of a Winter Night


1979's "Screams of a Winter Night" is notable for being one of the few horror films of the era to offer frights to a wider audience, securing a PG-rating for this drive-in release. It's also a picture that was heavily edited, with the anthology feature dropping one of its segments after a test screening, losing nearly 30 minutes from the run time (the segment has been restored on this Blu-ray). Such severe cutting is usually a problem for most movies, but less time with "Screams of a Winter Night" is actually a good thing, as director James L. Wilson isn't too familiar with the benefits of pacing, preferring to play the endeavor as slowly as possible, thinking often unbearable stillness somehow equals suspense. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Cursed


There are not a lot of ways to approach a werewolf story, with freshness lacking when it comes to the details of transforming bodies and vicious appetites. Writer/director Sean Ellis ("Cashback," "Anthropoid") searches for a new take on a monster movie, and he finds it with "The Cursed," which brings such terror to the late 1800s, offering a story about land seizure, denial, and grief. There's also the occasional sequence of stalking between predator and prey, but Ellis doesn't go overboard with his moments of violence. Instead, he elects to take the slow-burn route, playing tribute to Hammer Films and their deliberate ways of exploring an unfolding nightmare. "The Cursed" isn't always riveting, but it comes together as an intelligent study of werewolf fantasy and threat, doing something different with a well-worn concept. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Ode to Nothing


The escalating ways of loneliness are explored in 2018's "Ode to Nothing," which examines a most unusual relationship between a funeral home owner who finds comfort in the presence of a fresh corpse. The premise is ripe for a slapstick take, but writer/director Dwein Baltazar strives to find the emotional pull of such a partnership, offering a serious take on the pains of isolation and social anxieties. "Ode to Nothing" has issues with indulgence, as Baltazar delivers a slow-burn vision for the tale, favoring extended shots that feel unnecessary, but she has an original take on heartache, and the lead performance from Marietta Subong is a richly observed understanding of character distress. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Man from Toronto


Australian director Patrick Hughes has recently made a career out of movies where action is wildly exaggerated and the cast often screams their way through their performances. He’s the helmer behind “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” and “Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard,” two exceedingly ear-splitting endeavors, and he’s trying to recreate the same atmosphere with “The Man from Toronto,” which stars Kevin Hart, and he’s no stranger to the ways of sustained on-screen panic attacks. “The Man from Toronto” hopes to use Hart for comedic purposes while Hughes gets to manage many set pieces involving chases and violent stand-offs. Bullets fly, cars explode, and near-misses are plentiful, but laughs are non-existent in the picture, which doesn’t ask Hart to do anything different than what he normally brings to the screen, while co-star Woody Harrelson is tasked with playing a dark figure of doom, allowing him few opportunities to be funny in a feature that needs a significant boost in the banter department. Read the rest at

Film Review - Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe


After a successful run on MTV (with 222 episodes), “Beavis and Butt-Head” was ready for the big screen, and creator Mike Judge accepted the challenge, producing “Beavis and Butt-Head Do America” in 1996. While not a blockbuster, the animated film did decent business, making enough money to guarantee a sequel. And then a follow-up never happened, with Judge moving on to other projects, while Beavis and Butt-Head were placed on the list of pop culture treasures from the 1990s. 26 years later, Judge is finally ready to deal with a long-form offering of Beavis and Butt-Head shenanigans again, bringing the destructive dimwits into their own future with “Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe.” The hand-drawn animation is gone, and this endeavor isn’t meant for multiplexes, but Judge (joined by directors John Rice and Albert Calleros) still has a firm grasp on his breakthrough creation, finding ways to freshen old jokes and give the eponymous characters more confusion to deal with in their distinctly primitive ways. Read the rest at

Film Review - Elvis (2022)


There’s always a moment before watching a Baz Luhrmann film where one forgets one is about to watch a Baz Luhrmann film. And then it begins, and some sort of insanity is immediately established, promising a cinematic ride for viewers that’s engineered to leave them breathless. This feeling of being overwhelmed struggled to survive in the helmer’s last endeavor, 2013’s “The Great Gatsby,” but Lurhmann is back to his old mischievous ways with operatic excess in “Elvis,” which isn’t a bio-pic of the legendary singer, but more of a comic book-style extravaganza about the icon and his extended struggle with his manager, Col. Tom Parker. “Elvis” is a lot, which is just the way Lurhmann likes it, blasting the screen with extraordinary visuals, acting, and pure energy, trying to replicate Elvis’s whirlwind life and his confusion when dealing with the business elements of his extraordinary career. It’s a 159-minute-long picture, and Lurhmann uses his run time to generate a hurricane of emotion and information, attempting to treat the story of Elvis Presley as a pop tragedy with a side of sensorial assault. Read the rest at