Film Review - Silent Night (2023)


Acclaimed Hong Kong director John Woo made the leap to Hollywood in 1993, commencing a decade-long run of actioners that brought his signature style to America, creating a few genre highlights in the process (including 1997’s “Face/Off”). Woo returned to his homeland to continue his artistic explorations, and now, 20 years later, he’s back in the U.S.A. with “Silent Night,” which doesn’t provide an extreme tonal challenge, retaining all the hardcore violence the helmer is known for. Instead of losing his identity, Woo tries to maintain some solemnity with “Silent Night,” laboring to preserve elements of catastrophe while still maintaining rough stunt work and chaotic gun fights. The screenplay by Robert Archer Lynn has sorrow to share involving one man’s fight for revenge against those who’ve killed his son, and Woo gets to most points of pain in the endeavor, which is an interesting return to the ways of expressionistic filmmaking. Read the rest at

Film Review - Under the Boardwalk


“Under the Boardwalk” is a 2023 animated film that parodies the world of “Jersey Shore,” an MTV show that originally aired 14 years ago. In terms of timing, the feature has a strange sense of pop culture ribbing, trying to work with the basics of the reality program, transferring imagery and attitude to a world of crabs and their quest to find themselves in the big sweep of oceanic life. The target is stale and at least one hire in the voice cast is sure to make viewers cringe, but “Under the Boardwalk” isn’t a sloppy effort. It’s nicely animated work with a colorful sense of character design and locations, offering a pleasant New Jersey journey with the smallest of creatures, with director David Soren (“Turbo,” “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie”) doing well with some comedic activity and exploration. It’s not an especially strong picture, but as this type of entertainment goes, it has polish and some decent ideas to share with little ones concerning kindness and acceptance. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - So I Married an Axe Murderer


1993 was meant to be a major year for Mike Myers. The tremendous success of 1992's "Wayne's World" brought the "Saturday Night Live" player to the attention of Hollywood, who wanted to turn him into a leading man. The year hastily pushed a messy but hilarious "Wayne's World" sequel through the system, and there was also "So I Married an Axe Murderer," with Myers offered a chance to prove his stuff as a romantic lead. There's a certain air of indecision with the feature, which was originally written as more of a chiller and neurotic comedy before Myers and studio demands attempted to change course, creating a softer, broader movie to help the star shine. "So I Married an Axe Murderer" isn't carried along by a defined vision, but it holds together with comedy, with Myers working to make something charmingly silly with the tale of a serial killer, playing to his strengths as a goofball with a fondness for weird character work. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Team America: World Police


Matt Stone and Trey Parker are fully committed to the world of "South Park," the iconic animated show they created in the 1990s. "South Park" has been exceptionally good to the men, making them a fortune and creating a legacy of up-to-the-minute production that's unrivaled, with such speed, creative autonomy, and lucrative reward understandably impossible to give up. However, when Stone and Parker elect to make movies, they do really well when manufacturing memorable entertainment, with the pair partnering on 1993's "Cannibal! The Musical," 1997's "Orgazmo," and 1998's "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut." Stepping out of the cartoon womb for a rare visit to the big screen, Stone and Parker try to make a puppet-based action extravaganza with 2004's "Team America: World Police," inhaling Jerry Bruckheimer fumes as they pants the state of the world in the early 2000s, creating their own take on "G.I. Joe," but with marionettes and a healthy disdain for Hollywood actors and North Korean dictators. "Team America: World Police" is certainly unwieldly at times, but it's impressively mounted, with the production refusing to go cheap and easy with this valentine to action cinema and screwball patriotism of the day. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - Showgirls


It's impossible to imagine at this point in its extensive exhibition and home video journey, but, in 1995, "Showgirls" was a very big deal and an extremely serious motion picture. Coming off the astonishing success of their smoldering thriller, "Basic Instinct," director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas paired up again to investigate that abyssal trench of sin: Las Vegas. Presented with a hefty budget, an eye-catching cast, and a no-questions-asked use of the NC-17 rating by a major studio, "Showgirls" was ready to break new ground in adult-minded cinema, making sex a major moviegoing event. But we all know how that turned out. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - Gorgo


1961's "Gorgo" is largely remembered as the giant monster movie with a heart. There's plenty of destruction in the feature, and even human death, but the production attempts to soften kaiju motivation, making the film more about an angry mother than a more traditional raging beast. Directed by Eugene Lourie, "Gorgo" has a unique personality and interesting locations, taking the action to an Irish island before unleashing mayhem in London, and, as giant monster entertainment goes, there's some inviting man-in-suit work and miniature construction, acting to balance out some of the cruder special effects of the day. The endeavor certainly loses any sense of timing in the final act, but Lourie has command over the tone of the effort, creating genuinely compelling chaos in a subgenre that's often loaded with more generic pandemonium. Read the rest at

Film Review - Good Burger 2


1997’s “Good Burger” wasn’t a hit movie, but it managed to make a little money during its brief theatrical run, eventually developing a loyal fan base and cult appreciation. A feature-length version of a Nickelodeon “All That” sketch, the picture wasn’t a towering achievement in the art of filmmaking, but it was goofy and mostly fun, with the screenplay managing to expand on the world of television, also serving as a vehicle for stars Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell, with the latter showing great comedic chops as a lovable half-wit. 26 years later, there’s “Good Burger 2,” which reunites Thompson and Mitchell for a new adventure in fast food mischief, and the atmosphere of absurdity is mostly retained in the sequel. The endeavor doesn’t stray far from the highlights of the previous effort, presenting likeable dumb guy entertainment with minimal stakes, and Mitchell once again becomes a good reason to sit through the occasional dud bits the writing creates. Read the rest at

Film Review - Urkel Saves Santa


“Family Matters” was a popular ABC show during the 1990s, part of the “TGIF” movement to bring family programming to prime time. However, the show itself, which began as a study of household dynamics, soon became the Steve Urkel show, giving the spotlight to a nerdy character with an extraordinarily broad screen presence. Urkel claimed a spot in pop culture, spawning all kinds of merchandise (even a breakfast cereal) while gradually handed major screen time, helping to expand the mainstream appeal of “Family Matters” while undoubtedly irritating a few of his castmates. The show ended in 1998, but the icon is back, in animated form, with “Urkel Saves Santa,” which returns star Jaleel White to the role that made him famous, contributing voicework that’s digitally altered, but still Urkel-y with lowered expectations, sending the geek into help mode as holiday cheer is threatened, requiring his special inventing skills to save the day. Read the rest at

Film Review - Maestro


Five years ago, Bradley Cooper made his directorial debut with “A Star Is Born.” He poured a lot of soul into the endeavor, emerging with not only a hit movie, but a feature that carried pop culture for a few moments, and dominated the music scene. It was a film with many flaws, but Cooper had passion for the project, and its cinematic potential was something to see. He returns with an even fiercer understanding of creative and romantic life with “Maestro,” which isn’t a bio-pic of composer Leonard Bernstein, but a portrait of behavior and musical mastery, also delivering an inspection of marital challenges and sexual needs. It’s all over the place, but that’s what Cooper wants from the effort, which follows the patterns of Bernstein’s volatile orchestral achievements, exploring sudden surges of emotion and inspiration as the conductor tried and often failed to exert control over his own domestic life. “Maestro” is gorgeously made, but much like “A Star Is Born,” the dramatic value of the picture often trails its incredible craftsmanship. Read the rest at

Film Review - Genie (2023)


“Genie” is a remake of a 1991 BBC special, “Bernard and the Genie,” which took a slightly darker look at the relationship between a sad man and the magical, wish-granting prisoner he releases. The show was written by Richard Curtis (“Love Actually, “Four Weddings and a Funeral”), and he returns to duty with an Americanized update, trading a slightly somber study of the dangers of wish-fulfillment for the brightness of comedy that typically emits from Melissa McCarthy. The actress doesn’t push too hard with her usual slapstick ways here, but she’s in charge of bringing positive energy to the endeavor, with director Sam Boyd looking to generate a cozy holiday mood for the offering. “Genie” is not a powerful viewing experience, and comedic value is tested at times, but it’s gentle work with a pleasing Christmas atmosphere. Read the rest at

Film Review - Billion Dollar Babies: The True Story of the Cabbage Patch Kids


2023 marks the 40th anniversary of the Cabbage Patch Kids phenomenon. The dolls have been around longer than that, but in 1983, sales of the brand went through the roof, creating scarcity in stores, which soon led to hysteria. Some recall the violence that broke out as parents madly dashed to claim a prized box for their children (or even themselves), with the media devoted to capturing such insanity, adding fuel to the fire of Cabbage Patch Kids frenzy. There have been a few television specials tracking the history of the brand name this year, while “Billion Dollar Babies: The True Story of the Cabbage Patch Kids” offers a feature-length overview of ownership and marketing, with director Andrew Jenks finding some fresh ways to detail a known story, gaining access to a few people who’ve gone on record about the brand’s development and its legal woes. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Lords of the Deep


1989 was an incredible year for filmgoing, but it was also a strange year for releases. Suddenly, various producers and studios wanted to participate in a type of gold rush, with tales of horror and mystery involving an underwater setting all the rage. This wasn't a usual situation of competing productions (e.g. an "Antz" vs. "A Bug's Life" showdown), but a semi-quarterly event for movie theaters and video stores. The big one was James Cameron's masterful "The Abyss," which had a major budget and full studio support, gunning to be one of the major triumphs of a highly competitive summer. However, other efforts emerged, trying to capture the same audience, with "Deep Star Six," "Leviathan," and "The Evil Below" all attempting to bring the dangers of deep water to viewers perhaps slightly confused as to why there was suddenly a stampede of aquatic endeavors demanding their attention. Never one to leave a dime behind, producer Roger Corman wanted in on the trend, offering "Lords of the Deep" to the masses. Corman being Corman, little money has been spent on the feature, which boasts the talents of people involved with "Aliens" and "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" to deliver special effects, coming up with a small-scale understanding of an alien visitation, mixed with a little corporate menace. "Lords of the Deep" is very silly, but director Mary Ann Fisher (this being her sole helming credit) at least tries to do something with what little she has to work with, trying to summon suspense with minor moments of alarm, gradually building to a sci-fi payoff that's hilariously short on epic qualities. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Sawbones


If 1992's "Dr. Giggles" wasn't enough of a shocking viewing experience, die-hard horror fans are offered a slightly similar endeavor in 1995's "Sawbones," a Roger Corman production that originally aired on Showtime. Once again, there's a madman with daddy issues targeting special victims used for surgical purposes, with the creep indulging an interest in body horror to scratch a highly specific itch of human suffering. The pictures aren't identical, but they share the same idea, with "Sawbones" trying to be more of a detective story, setting up a young office clerk with instincts for investigation and the fatigued cop who's one step behind the carnage. The screenplay by Sam Montgomery ("U-571," "Breakdown") makes some effort to be a twisty, tortured chiller highlighting frustrated characters dealing with their issues in all the wrong ways, but director Catherine Cyran ("The Prince & Me II: Royal Wedding," "The Prince & Me 3: A Royal Honeymoon," and "The Prince & Me: The Elephant Adventure") goes the B-movie route with the film. The helmer keeps the feature crude and deflated when it comes to suspense, and she's also struggling to fill the run time, padding the event with lengthy surgical nightmare sequences that always bring the tale to a full stop. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - School Spirit


Teen horndog cinema goes to the afterlife in 1985's "School Spirit." Or, at least some of the way there. It's a ghost story from screenwriter Geoffrey Baere, who isn't making a horror film, but something incredibly sillier, using the post-death experience of a college student to dream up all kinds of high jinks, slapstick confrontations, and opportunities for nudity, trying to do his part for producer Roger Corman and his interest in the R-rated adolescent comedy market. "School Spirit" has everything one expects from this type of production, but there's a distinct lack of likability with the lead character and his strange determination to treat people like garbage, with Baere looking to make the man a hero of sorts. It's the first of many creative miscalculations with this feature, which isn't nearly as fun as it should be, caught trying to be a party animal movie without putting in the time to generate endearing goons to cheer on. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Assault on Hill 400


War is Hell. And it's potentially profitable for moviemakers. Stepping away from their usual "mockbuster" routine (including "Top Gunner," "Planet Dune," "Battle Star Wars," and "Independents' Day"), production company The Asylum looks to celebrate U.S.A. heroism in World War II with "Assault on Hill 400," which attempts to recreate the spirit of an endeavor from the 1940s, but retains the appearance of a low-budget effort from 2023. Director Christopher Ray ("3-Headed Shark Attack," "Dick Dickster") and writer George Clymer ("The Rebels of PT-218") strive to offer a respectful understanding of military danger and camaraderie, and that intent gets the movie to a certain level of engagement. However, silliness is unavoidable with some creative choices, and the general backyard atmosphere of "Assault on Hill 400" doesn't provide an epic cinematic quality to help bring the story to life. Read the rest at

Film Review - Please Don't Destroy: The Treasure of Foggy Mountain


Please Don’t Destroy is a comedy troupe best known for their work on “Saturday Night Live,” picking up the weird-short-videos-from-three-friends mantle previously held by Lonely Island. Members John Higgins, Ben Marshall, and Martin Herlihy have a special approach to comedy, combining intense emotional highs and lows with healthy amounts of absurdity, sold with lightning-fast edits and zoom-happy cinematography. Their bits are often limited to their office space, and the gang uses the art of brevity well. Much like Lonely Island, Please Don’t Destroy is ready for a cinematic upgrade, with “The Treasure of Foggy Mountain” their debut movie, requiring Higgins, Marshall, and Herlihy to think bigger and much longer with their screenplay. Not straying far from their sense of humor, “The Treasure of Foggy Mountain” is a big goof, but it’s also a very funny one, with Please Don’t Destroy successfully handling the challenge of length with a fast-paced, wonderfully silly romp. Read the rest at

Film Review - Wish (2023)


To help celebrate the Walt Disney Company’s 100th anniversary, the studio is attempting to get back to basics with “Wish,” their latest animation offering. It’s a fairy tale set in a storybook world, using the broad strokes of fantasy to inspire a classic hero vs. villain conflict, buttered up with plenty of songs and the usual offerings of animal sidekick comedy and positivity. It’s basically an easy lay-up production for Disney, but they do this stuff relatively well, and “Wish” is no exception, with directors Chris Buck (“Frozen” and its sequel) and Fawn Veerasunthorn overseeing a decent offering of widescreen magic, and one that’s aware of the studio’s legacy, presenting easter eggs and origin stories for dedicated fans. It’s easy to enjoy the picture, but it’s best to approach it with some sense of understanding that it’s not swinging for the fences in terms of storytelling, content to deliver the essentials, sold with outstanding visuals. Read the rest at

Film Review - Leo


After sitting out the last “Hotel Transylvania” sequel, 2022’s “Transformania,” Adam Sandler returns to the world of animated entertainment with “Leo,” which he co-scripts with Paul Sado and Robert Smigel (who co-directs with Robert Marianetti and David Wachtenheim). Sandler remains in family film mode with the endeavor, which looks to illuminate the world of fifth graders and their specific concerns about life, especially when they’re coached by a talking lizard facing the end of his days. Much like Sandler’s 2002 holiday effort, “Eight Crazy Nights,” the feature is an unexpected musical, using tunes to support a lighter journey into neuroses, giving the effort some amusing moments of performance before it heads back to simple silliness. “Leo” isn’t grand, but it's fun, with lively voicework and some genuinely hilarious moments. Those in the target demographic will likely find it shockingly real about elementary school concerns, giving the movie a nice edge of relatability as it deals with typical Sandler goofballery. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dream Scenario


While he works almost non-stop at this point, it’s heartening to watch Nicolas Cage at least make some effort to challenge himself with wildly different parts. In 2023 alone, he’s portrayed a cowboy (“The Old Way”), Dracula (“Renfield”), a bison hunter (“Butcher’s Crossing”), a lunatic (“Sympathy for the Devil”), and a man of action (“The Retirement Plan”), and Cage retains that omnipresence for “Dream Scenario,” playing an average person who’s suddenly inserted into everyone’s mind while they sleep. It’s a dark comedy from writer/director Kristoffer Borgli, who uses Cage’s natural way with strangeness and panic perfectly, guiding the actor to his best performance of the year in a movie that takes on the choppy waters of fame and infamy, tracking the powerlessness of such a position in our modern age. “Dream Scenario” is a mix of Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman, with Borgli more interested in behavior then quirk, finding some level of humanity in the middle of a giant subconscious mess. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes


The cinematic exploration of “The Hunger Games” ended eight years ago, concluding with two pictures meant to bring finality to the saga of Katniss Everdeen, following the epic scale of revolution envisioned by author Suzanne Collins. The saga was over, making a killing at the box office in the process, giving fans a rest after dealing with four straight years of class turmoil in the fictional world of Panem. But something this profitable could never be finished, finding Collins resurrecting the brand name for a 2020 prequel, going back in time to see how the villain of the franchise, President Snow, became the monster he was meant to be. To some, it was a welcome return to this universe, while others were critical of Collins’s true creative mission with the release. To Lionsgate Films, “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” means the moneymaking machine is back online, quickly ordering up a film adaptation, with director Francis Lawrence (who helmed the last three “Hunger Games” features) returning to explore a time of development and betrayal, making a plodding movie in the process. Read the rest at