Film Review - Tetris


“Based on a true story” is the opening claim of “Tetris,” with the “based” part perhaps the key word here. Screenwriter Noah Pink attempts to turn the creation of the video game “Tetris” into a nail-biting study of negotiations and global tensions, hoping to inhale some Aaron Sorkin fumes to deliver a riveting understanding of how the puzzle game was turned into an international sensation, compelling millions of players to remain intently focused on the movement of bricks as they fall into place. Pink endeavors to make something of a spy story with “Tetris,” aiming to crank up elements of paranoia and manipulation, while director Jon S. Baird (“Stan & Ollie”) gives the feature an initial jump of wheeling and dealing, pushing to make the story of a video game acquisition the most suspenseful effort of the year. Instead of supplying edge-of-your-seat entertainment, the picture falls into repetition and overlength, teasing the breakout of an “SNL” parody as Pink goes overboard with the seriousness of it all. Read the rest at

Film Review - Spinning Gold


Casablanca Records was founded in 1973, dealing with the severe ups and downs of the music industry during a time of transition. The label strived to present an eclectic roster of artists, each with a powerful voice and/or image, emerging from heavy financial losses to score big on the disco scene, guaranteeing the company a short life in terms of pop culture relevance. “Spinning Gold” is being marketed as the story of Casablanca Records, but it’s more of a valentine to the man who helped to start it all, Neil Bogart, with his son, Timothy Scott Bogart, claiming writing and directing duties for the endeavor, trying to celebrate his father’s wild ride of fame and, eventually, fortune. Those coming to “Spinning Gold” expecting a gritty look at the birth of a brand are going to be disappointed in the picture, which mostly presents a glossy, low-budget understanding of financial pain and emotional trials, aiming to push Neil as a legend in the music business. And perhaps that’s justified, but the film about part of his life is deeply underwhelming and, at times, bafflingly executed. Read the rest at

Film Review - Air (2023)


The idea for “Air” is to explore the story of how Nike’s Air Jordan line of shoes came to be, before the footwear became a behemoth brand for the company, going billion-dollar big with merchandise sales every year. The aftermath of the deal is common knowledge, but screenwriter Alex Convery attempts to track the development of such a partnership, placing emphasis not on the world-famous athlete, but the corporate team trying to do something radical with a sagging company. Director Ben Affleck finds unique inspiration to explore this study of determination, rebounding from his last helming effort, 2016’s dismal “Live by Night,” with impressively buoyant work for “Air,” which is soaked in ‘80s nostalgia and supported by excellent performances that communicate the struggle and the vulnerability that occurred to secure a special agreement that changed the shoe world and sports business forever. Read the rest at

Film Review - Smoking Causes Coughing


While different filmmakers tackle different subjects for their pictures, writer/director Quentin Dupieux has maintained a steady interest in creating absurdist comedies, doing so with remarkable consistency (curiously, his last endeavor, “Incredible but True,” was not made available for review). He’s a man in love with oddity, giving the French film industry a healthy dose of nonsense, creating some impressive and hilarious offerings of insanity. For “Smoking Causes Coughing,” Dupieux looks to merge the adventuring of “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” with the horror of “Tales from the Crypt,” doing so with a tiny budget but a grand imagination for silly business that comments, to a certain degree, on the human condition. “Smoking Causes Coughing” is broken down into bits of lunacy, presented as an anthology film where tales of horror and personal reflection emerge from anywhere. It’s traditional Dupieux, but the feature is hilarious at times, reinforcing his skills as a moviemaker. Read the rest at

Film Review - Assassin


“Assassin” is a forgettable picture, but it does offer something that will likely keep it memorable for some viewers. The feature represents likely the last screen performance from iconic actor Bruce Willis, who’s currently battling frontotemporal dementia, forcing him to pull out of the public eye and deal with his health challenges. There’s certainly been no shortage of Willis movies over the last decade, with the star on a tear to collect paychecks in mostly terrible endeavors, allowing viewers to track his physical decline with increasingly stiff screen movement. There’s a book to be written about the situation involving Willis and his handlers, but “Assassin” represents the end of this era, with the actor once again looking unwell in a body-switching thriller that’s light on filmmaking invention and heavy with dullness, with the central idea better suited for an episode of television. Read the rest at

Film Review - Space Oddity


While building a directorial career with television projects, actress Kyra Segdwick graduates to the big screen with “Space Oddity,” taking command of a screenplay by Rebecca Banner (“True Spirit”). Sedgwick plays to her strengths with the project, which examines the emotional health of a family that’s been hit by tragedy, with the eldest son going to a special extreme to handle his various psychological issues. Banner creates an interesting household dynamic and she’s even better with specific points of pressure on the human heart, giving Sedgwick something to work with as the helmer oversees an excellent cast who do well with the tricky tonality of the material. “Space Oddity” isn’t an overly cinematic viewing experience, but it has deep feeling for its characters and an unusual approach to the trials of grief, going in compelling directions as the whole thing works hard to avoid becoming a melodrama. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Moonstalker


During the 1970s and '80, campgrounds were downgraded as a cinematic setting, transformed from a peaceful time in nature to a slaughterhouse environment for slasher cinema, boosted by the success of "Friday the 13th." 1989's "Moonstalker" hopes to participate in some nightmarish encounters, with writer/director Michael S. O'Rourke taking the production to Nevada during the wintertime, arranging a tale of a determined killer and the campers he's targeting, with future victims more interested in sex than survival. "Moonstalker" is as basic as it gets, with O'Rourke leaning on genre highlights to get by, failing to head in different creative directions, depending on horror fans to meet him halfway as tent encounters commence and bodies begin to pile up. And yet, despite such familiarity, there's something compellingly low budget about the effort, finding O'Rourke battling intense cold and snow while trying to sell some form of suspense. And there's a slight endgame here worth sticking around for, finally exposing some sickness to keep the movie interesting. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Sworn to Justice


From 1985 to 1995, martial arts star Cynthia Rothrock received many opportunities to showcase her fight skills, appearing in a great number of movies happy to toss the actress into dangerous situations. She battles baddies with the best of them, but 1996's "Sworn to Justice" tries to highlight other sides of her personality, giving Rothrock a chance to deal with slightly more dramatic situations, and there's a sensual side to the feature, giving the lead a rare challenge to sell bedroom activity. There's a lot going on in "Sworn to Justice," with screenwriter Robert Easter tasked with creating a coherent film with ideas that often don't blend together, offering swings into fantasy and comedy that seem awfully strange in a revenge story. As usual, Rothrock is the main reason to stick with the wild tonality of the endeavor, and while she can't always master deep emotional expression, she's dynamic when it comes time to destroy villains, delivering lively escapism. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - The Invisible Maniac


Writer/director Adam Rifkin had a dream, working to bring "The Dark Backward" to screens. However, he also needed work as a young filmmaker, and part of his learning process involved the creation of 1990's "The Invisible Maniac," which was written and produced in a matter of weeks. It's a low- budget quickie from Rifkin (billed here as "Rif Coogan"), and his creative mission here is to play with the mad scientist genre and photograph as many nude actresses as possible. Even with limited creative goals, "The Invisible Maniac" isn't quite the romp it should be, as Rifkin has a real problem with filler, noticeably sweating to get the movie up to a sellable run time, which results in some serious drag in a feature that wants to be a rip-roaring ride of violence and sexploitation. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - A Walk to Remember


1999's "Message in a Bottle" proved there was an audience for an adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks's novel, inspiring the producers to try again with 2002's "A Walk to Remember." While "Message in a Bottle" was aimed at adult audiences, the second Sparks production hopes to appeal to a much younger demographic, with screenwriter Karen Janszen delivering an ultra-soft take on a burgeoning relationship between a reckless high school student and a pure-hearted girl dealing with a terminal illness. "A Walk to Remember" is basically a television production that found its way to the big screen, with director Adam Shankman ("The Pacifier") trying to make the most vanilla picture possible, never demanding much of his actors or the material. He's crafting a simple tearjerker, rarely going above and beyond to make something truly meaningful with Sparks's tale of final wishes and transformative encounters. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves


The role-playing game “Dungeons & Dragons” has been around for nearly 50 years, and Hollywood has certainly tried to capitalize on the popularity of the brand name over the decades. Perhaps the most notable was a charming, violent Saturday morning cartoon that began a two-year run in 1983, and the most notorious offering was a 2000 feature, which merged mid-budget extravaganza with the comedy stylings of Marlon Wayans. Hoping to reestablish a new cinematic realm for the tabletop experience is “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves,” with co-writers/directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein aiming to bring a more respectful adaptation to the screen while still playing in a big-budget sandbox that requires some level of accessibility for the mass audience. “Honor Among Thieves” is at its best in adventure mode, with the helmers delivering visual gymnastics and plenty of fantasy components, but the pair often favor their funny bone, which isn’t nearly as enjoyable as wild encounters with strange creatures and perilous environments. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Lost King


“The Lost King” hopes to illuminate an otherwise forgotten bit of recent British history, sharing the story of Philippa Langley and her quest to locate the remains of Richard III, endeavoring to dig through rumor and research to achieve a seemingly impossible goal. It’s a fascinating tale of obsession, handed a smooth dramatic ride by screenwriters Jeff Pope and Steve Coogan (adapting Langley’s book, “The Search for Richard III”), who strive to focus on the woman’s journey through the darkness of doubt and rejection, forced to rely on belief to achieve desired results. Director Stephen Frears (“Dangerous Liaisons,” “Philomena”) helps to keep the feature on the move, settling on a semi-Hitchcockian tone for the picture, which is both unexpected and most welcome. “The Lost King” has ideas to share on inequality and historical inaccuracy, and the writing successfully balances the human drive of the story with the details of the hunt. Read the rest at

Film Review - Last Sentinel


If the story of the “Last Sentinel” was the basis for an episode of television, it could work, dealing with a short run time and more focus on achieving a certain level of suspense with fewer dramatic moves. However, this is not T.V., but a movie from writer Malachi Smyth and director Tanel Toom, and they’re not in a hurry to generate any sort of nail-biting viewing experience with an endeavor that inexplicably runs for nearly two hours. The material has some ambition to detail the habitual cycles of destruction found in humanity, and there’s some interest in replicating a chain-of-command thriller, where duty and survival are forced to battle it out. “Last Sentinel” is a confusing picture, showing no interest in screen movement despite taking on a plot that has the potential for a more active sense of danger, leaving the audience with very little to rile up the senses as one comatose scene after another fills up a painfully overlong run time. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - Road House


In the 1980s, actor Patrick Swayze was climbing the career ladder, enjoying supporting roles in minor hits and misses. When 1987's "Dirty Dancing" became a surprise smash success and cultural phenomenon, Swayze suddenly had career opportunities, presenting Hollywood with a chance to define a new leading man. In 1989, Swayze locked into hero mode, gravitating toward tough guy parts in "Next of Kin" and "Road House," with the latter specifically built to take advantage of his physicality, good looks, and more sensitive screen appeal. And it works, rather wonderfully, finding Swayze in his element as cooler supreme Dalton, a philosophical destroyer of bodies and breaker of hearts who takes on villains with surgical skill, trying to remain "nice, until it's time to not be nice." There's goofiness galore, but director Rowdy Herrington commits to a certain brawler vibe to the picture, giving it a special screen energy, and there's always Swayze, perfectly cast here as a man of action, helping to keep the feature superbly entertaining and different than the competition, making something unique with Dalton. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Creature from Black Lake


1976's "Creature from Black Lake" provides yet another look at the pursuit of a Bigfoot-type monster in the middle of nowhere. It's a popular topic for moviemakers, especially in the 1970s, when tales of sasquatch were all the rage, handed in a boost in popularity with a success of 1972's "The Legend of Boggy Creek." Writer Jim McCullough Jr. goes one step beyond the replication of a hit film, striving to merge two hit films with the work, which also hopes to summon some "Jaws"-style suspense, especially in the final act. Director Joy N. Houck Jr. ("The Night of the Strangler") isn't known for his flashy style, but there's some effort made to keep "Creature from Black Lake" at least reasonably distinct, with a cinematic look to the picture helping the viewing experience immensely. And the screenplay is unusual in the way it pays attention to characters and relationships, generating a firm appreciation of motivation with a first hour that's largely devoted to community exploration and mild detective work. Weirdly, the feature actually becomes less interesting when the monster is around, making the endeavor unusual as drive-in fodder, emerging with decent personality and bonding time. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - Freeway


Matthew Bright's career as a writer/director only lasted for four movies, and during this run, the helmer made sure to make his mark by offering askew takes on the human experience, often pumping up the endeavors with shock value to secure viewer attention. His first effort is 1996's "Freeway," with Bright trying to rework the story of "Little Red Riding Hood" into a streetwise tale of survival and revenge, with Reese Witherspoon portraying a particularly nasty fairy tale heroine, while Kiefer Sutherland becomes a perverted, serial killer "wolf." Bright's fondness for extremity is immediately understood, giving "Freeway" a funky sense of threat, but some, including the filmmakers, have identified the picture as a dark comedy, though it's quite difficult to find anything funny about this overview of suffering and mental illness. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Mindfield


Project MKUltra provides the inspiration for 1989's "Mindfield," which explores secret government efforts to control test subjects with "induced amnesia," with plans to utilize such chemical experimentation to best strengthen interrogations and inspire violence. The screenplay by Tom Berry, George Mihalka, and William Deverell (who adapts his own novel) is careful not to get too close to the source of such corruption, creating a dramatic path for the picture, which follows a Montreal cop struggling with his past as he hunts for killers across the city. It's chilly work from director Jean- Claude Lord, who's not committed to making a procedural thriller or explore the scientific manipulation in full, ending up somewhere in the middle, trying to make sense of character connections and motivations. "Mindfield" is well-acted and select scenes of hostility work as intended, but the overall endeavor is a bit scattered, with many ideas and characters competing for screen time, coming up short as a conspiracy thriller. Read the rest at

Film Review - Shazam! Fury of the Gods


2019’s “Shazam!” was an attempt by the DC Cinematic Universe to open the door for more fringe players in the superhero game, building up the brand with fresher faces used for cinematic adventuring. The picture wasn’t exactly a screaming success, but it managed to inspire a sequel, with “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” arriving four years later, ready to return to the might of Billy Batson and his transformation into the powerful Champion, Shazam. Returning screenwriter Henry Gayden (now joined by Chris Morgan, from the “Fast & Furious” franchise) and director David F. Sandberg are certainly enthusiastic about a second go-around with cutesy heroes and Greek myth-inspired villainy, but there’s nothing really different about “Fury of the Gods,” which suffers from the same tonal issues as the original feature, and Sandberg cranks up the noise to make an epic, relying on visual effects, not story, to wow viewers in this bland follow-up. Read the rest at

Film Review - John Wick: Chapter 4


2014’s “John Wick” was a relatively simple affair. It was a revenge picture with clear antagonists and a straightforward mission of payback, using extreme violence and brutal style to reinvent the action movie in a genuinely thrilling manner, using just about 95 minutes to get the job done. Lean and mean. “John Wick: Chapter 4” is anything but lean, asking audiences to be patient with its gargantuan 165-minute-long run time, with the character set on a globetrotting mission of fury, still managing to survive all sorts of physical attacks. The new sequel is definitely mean, with returning director Chad Stahelski absolutely determined to top himself with this new wave of furious stunt work and extended choreography, once again putting star Keanu Reeves through the paces as John returns to power in this exhausting endeavor, which still retains many cinematic highs, but good heavens, does it ever need a few more passes in the editing room. Read the rest at

Film Review - Boston Strangler


2007’s “Zodiac” is largely considered to be one of the great films about an investigation into the horrific acts committed by a serial killer. Director David Fincher summoned an incredible mood for the movie, playing to his strengths with style and storytelling patience, striving to conjure real suspense with the workings of newspaper journalism. “Boston Strangler” has the same idea, with writer/director Matt Ruskin setting a Fincher-esque tone with the feature, which examines the drive of two female reporters in the 1960s to make sense of a murderer in Massachusetts who targets vulnerable women, sending messages to the public with the discovery of each victim. “Boston Strangler” has a special feeling of dread, and the first half of the picture captures the intensity of analysis and suspicion, with stars Keira Knightley and Carrie Coon offering appealingly steely work as the two brilliant minds looking to crack a particularly gruesome case. Read the rest at