Film Review - Dinner in America


“Dinner in America” premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, where it received mostly positive reviews and viewer appreciation. It’s now ready for release over two years after its first screening, and it’s easy to see why a distributor would have some reluctance to launch the feature, which isn’t an audience-pleasing type of movie. Writer/director Adam Carter Rehmeier is attempting to create a character study about unlikable people going through stressful times, and such a venture requires a fine touch when it comes to comedy and heart. “Dinner in America” uses a sledgehammer to bang out some type of tone, which results in a confusing endeavor where nothing is really amusing and personalities are mostly uninteresting. A few performances bring some life to the effort, but the picture plays like a private joke for Rehmeier, who’s not pursuing a story here, just an extended run of idiosyncrasy. Read the rest at

Film Review - There Are No Saints


“There Are No Saints” comes from the mind of Paul Schrader, who’s certainly capable of making terrible pictures (“The Canyons,” “Dog Eat Dog”), and this is most definitely one of them. It’s Schrader’s version of a revenge movie, and one that teases elements of culture and religion while trying to compete in the marketplace with select action sequences. The feature doesn’t want to be generic, but it can’t fight fate, with director Alfonso Pineda Ulloa basically making an episode of a bad television show here, trapped by weak writing and vague characterization. “There Are No Saints” tries to be ruthless, butching up with salty language and rough treatment of women and children, but as a “Taken”-esque ride of violent interactions, it falls woefully short of VOD cinema standards, offering a steady display of tension-free scenes and flimsy filmmaking. Read the rest at

Film Review - Montana Story


Directors Scott McGhee and David Siegel haven’t made many films over the course of their career, with “Montana Story” their sixth production since 1993. They’ve taken their time when developing projects, and the endeavors typically focus on human behavior during challenging times of familial strife or relationship fractures. Through titles such as “Bee Season” and “What Maisie Knew,” McGhee and Siegel have proved their commitment to telling stories about intimate connections and unresolved feelings, and “Montana Story” is no different, with the helmers using the wide-open spaces of the state to examine internalized pain, offering a tale of sibling communication after years spent apart. As with other McGhee/Siegel efforts, their latest is in no hurry to get anywhere, offering a slow flow of feelings and developing conflicts that doesn’t always translate into compelling cinema. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Delta Space Mission


1984's "Delta Space Mission" is a Romanian animated film that attempts to rework elements of "Star Trek" for a young audience. It's more in line with classic Saturday morning television programming, offering a deep space adventure with a cast of heroes as they encounter a series of alien and A.I. entanglements, forced to fight their way out of dangerous situations. It's an episodic feature, beginning in the middle of chaos like a matinee serial, but it's immense fun to watch, especially when the production gets a little ambitious with its style, playing with movement and angles to spice up an offering of cartoon escapism with a super space team. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Wolfpack


"Wolfpack" is from 1987, but it definitely plays much more interestingly in 2022. Screenwriters Fred E. Sharkey and William Milling (who also directs) use drama at a New Jersey high school to explore the rituals and dangers of fascism, where lessons from Nazi Germany are being utilized by the football team to generate a form of control over the student body and staff. It's analysis of power that's eerily reminiscent of the world we live in today, with the writing using the trials of adolescence to detail the ways of the Big Lie, highlighting the ease of its return and the influence it carries. "Wolfpack" is a teen movie that's quite different from the competition, and while it still deals with the ways of love and acceptance, Sharkey and Milling attempt to subvert subgenre expectations, providing a slightly more muscular intellectual exercise. The production hopes to hit impressionable minds with the work, providing a look at the ease of influence and submission when the seductive ways of deception take command of the masses. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Sister Sister


There's probably a book to be written about the career of writer/director Bill Condon, which has enjoyed such extreme turns of fate and opportunity since he began his rise in the industry. There's the man who helmed "Dreamgirls," "Kinsey," and "Gods and Monsters." And there's the man who made "Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh," "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn" and the live-action version of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast." It's been a wild ride for Condon, but he officially stepped behind the camera for the first time with 1987's "Sister Sister," in charge of creating an atmospheric southern gothic thriller focusing on violence in the bayou, adding bits of eroticism along the way. As debuts go, "Sister Sister" is a bit of a narrative mess, but Condon has surrounded himself with talented cast and crew, making him look capable as he struggles to tell a dark tale of Louisiana murder and mystery, which always looks and sounds great, but slowly loses its initial appeal. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - Madman


Created during a fertile period in slasher film distribution, 1982's "Madman" takes a slightly different route than the average kill-all-the-campers genre offering. Rooted in urban legend idolatry and executed with the slow-burn build of a campfire tale, the feature hopes to creep out audiences with prolonged silences and extended stalking sequences. Patience levels are periodically tested during the run time, but as the effort unfolds, there's an appreciation for frights and atmosphere that keeps the picture interesting when it stops being engaging. Perhaps it doesn't reach the iconic highs of "Friday the 13th," but "Madman" has its simple pleasures, including attention to character and an unusual interest in music to help secure its creepy intent. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Blood on Her Name


2019's "Blood on Her Name" begins with a compelling mix of violence and shock, establishing a visceral thriller to come concerning one woman's decision-making process when involved in a deadly act. Co-writer/director Matthew Pope gets about 15 minutes into the feature before he gradually moves away from the potential of the premise, more interested in making a psychological study with "Blood on Her Name," which isn't nearly as interesting as the pulpy chiller it initially promises to become. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Ham on Rye


"Ham on Rye" is film about the moment when adolescence transforms into adulthood, with some enjoying an adventure into the unknown of future possibilities, while others remain where they are, continuing their existence without opportunities or interest in growth. Co-writer/director Tyler Taormina doesn't prepare a story for "Ham on Rye," instead working with atmosphere to summon a sense of malaise involving teenagers on the precipice of great change. The helmer is dealing with the traditions of teen cinema, but he refuses to submit to formula, endeavoring to creating a more abstract viewing experience concerning universal feelings of fear and melancholy. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hypnosis


"Hypnosis" is a Russian production from 2020, and it's largely being sold as a thriller, exploring the charged relationship between a hypnotherapist and his latest patient, a 16-year-old boy struggling with sleepwalking issues. There's certainly the potential for a more explosive study of a seemingly manipulative relationship, but "Hypnosis" doesn't pursue candied chills. Director Valey Todorovsky elects to make more of a psychological study with coming-of-age elements, settling on a slowly paced examination of control, which doesn't always command attention, despite some strong performances and a vague sense of illness the helmer works up the energy to toy with on occasion. Read the rest at

Film Review - Good Mourning


Colson Baker (aka Machine Gun Kelly) and Mod Sun (aka Derek Ryan Smith) are musicians attempting to transition into filmmakers. The men have made music videos, even collaborating on a long-form endeavor, 2021’s “Downfalls High,” but “Good Mourning” is their feature-length debut, and to ensure they have some type of hit on their resume, they’ve elected to make a stoner comedy, which always seem to end up profitable no matter the quality. They aim to create a new “Up in Smoke,” but they end up with another “How High 2,” and their lack of practice when dealing with the nuances of a big screen comedy is abundantly clear during the run time (about 85 minutes, but it feels three times as long). “Good Mourning” has no tricks or treats, marching forward as a dumb guy experience with dismal improvisation and generic plotting, putting a lot of faith in Baker and Mod Sun’s fans to be patient enough to sit through what’s essentially a joke-free endeavor. Read the rest at

Film Review - Top Gun: Maverick


Producers certainly tried to pull together a continuation over the last 36 years, but it remains awfully strange that a “Top Gun” sequel didn’t materialize right after the release of the 1986 film. After all, the original was a monster box office success, becoming the highest grossing feature of its release year, and the picture became a pop culture phenomenon, launching a hit soundtrack, creating a sunglasses craze, and it even became a potent recruitment tool for the military. “Top Gun” was massive, but star Tom Cruise kept his distance from a follow-up, finally returning to his high-flying ways with “Top Gun: Maverick,” which picks up the saga of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell as he returns to the scars of his past while tasked with training the next generation of fighter pilots. Director Joseph Kosinski (“Tron: Legacy,” “Oblivion”) takes command of the endeavor, which is acutely aware of audience expectations, forcing the production to ride the line between nostalgia and high-tech thrills, presenting a movie that’s incredibly successful as an offering of entertainment, with barely tolerable levels of corniness. Read the rest at

Film Review - Downton Abbey: A New Era


2019’s “Downton Abbey” wasn’t a financial risk, but it provided a clear creative challenge for writer Julian Fellowes, who was tasked with bringing his hit television show to the big screen without losing the small-screen essentials of the show. Melodrama remained, but Fellowes attempted to upgrade character tensions and aristocratic stakes, coming up with a very comfortable and appealing victory lap for his creation, gathering the cast for another go-around with wealth, class, and British matters of heart and manners. The film turned out to be a huge hit, forcing Fellowes to rethink finality, returning to the franchise with “Downton Abbey: A New Era,” which offers another reunion of familiar faces and places, with the new picture out to give the fanbase what they’ve come for, but also move the story forward in a way that could inspire additional sequels now that the Crawley gang have proved their theatrical appeal. Read the rest at

Film Review - Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers


While many attempts to put a sequel together were made over the years, a true follow-up to 1988’s “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” never found its way into production, robbing audiences of a chance to return to a world where pieces of animation history and detective fiction fit together with a comedic tilt. Writers Dan Gregor and Doug Mand seem to have this feisty spirit in mind for “Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers,” which offers an update of the 1989 animated series for ardent fans who’ve missed the crime-solving chipmunks, but also gives the whole thing a self-referential makeover that weaves the beloved characters into a world of cartoon heroes, villains, and monstrosities. Director Akvia Schaffer (“Hot Rod,” “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping”) isn’t interested in reviving the show’s sense of playfulness, going hipper and louder with this mosaic of animated styles, brands, and history, hoping to huff some “Roger Rabbit” fumes while reintroducing the “Rescue Rangers” concept to a younger audience…in a film that’s not really for kids. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Kids in the Hall: Comedy Punks


In 2018, writer Paul Myers decided to put his fandom to the test, assembling interviews and undertaking research for the book, “The Kids in the Hall: One Dumb Guy.” It was his valentine to the Canadian comedy troupe, looking to provide some insight into complicated relationships and creative efforts, exploring the formation and rise to fame for The Kids in the Hall, filling pages with anecdotes, information, and tributes. It remains a vital biography of the group, reaching into the strange magic shared among members Mark McKinney, Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, and Scott Thompson. “The Kids in the Hall: Comedy Punks” isn’t the film version of Myers’s book, but it tries to cover the same ground, examining how these strange stage performers found one another in the 1980s, combining forces to generate a wave of idiosyncratic comedy that was cult-ready and fabulously bizarre. “Comedy Punks” doesn’t have the deep grooves of “One Dumb Guy,” but as a visual summary of career highs and lows, it’s a compelling sit, offering fans some necessary intimacy with the performers as they walk down memory lane. Read the rest at

Film Review - Vendetta (2022)


If it’s low budget, shot in Georgia, and co-stars Bruce Willis, it must be a revenge story. The subgenre is all VOD cinema is usually about, and “Vendetta” is no different, with writer/director Jared Cohn (2021’s “Die Hard” rip-off, “Deadlock,” which also co-starred Willis) trying to pretend he’s the first filmmaker to touch on the physical and psychological violence of vengeance, attempting to conjure a mighty sense of fury with dramatic working parts seen in hundreds of other movies. “Vendetta” is predictable until it comes to explaining what’s going on, with Cohn committing a few unpardonable errors with his storytelling choices, offering true surprise with all the confusion the production generates. He also doesn’t have a big enough imagination to bring something passably novel to the endeavor, which is in desperate need of something more than tough guy posturing to remain even the slightest bit interesting. Read the rest at

Film Review - Torn Hearts


Two years ago, Brea Grant directed “12 Hour Shift,” a nifty thriller about a corrupt nurse trying to make it through a long night where everything goes wrong. Grant proved herself skilled with dark comedy and strange material, and she’s back in the same creative situation with “Torn Hearts,” which examines a bizarre encounter between a country duo and one of their inspirations. Writer Rachel Koller Craft cooks up a pleasingly unusual plot for Grant to detail, examining the stresses of partnership and the demands of the music industry. There’s also some horror worked into the flow of the feature, giving it a handful of charged moments that go beyond emotional violence. “Torn Hearts” isn’t an overwhelming study of pent-up feelings and malevolent therapy, but it contains some interesting hostility and a unique idea for confrontations, highlighting the dark side of music business ambition. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Valet


Eugenio Derbez is a comedic actor who recently found success with a slightly different role in the Oscar-winning film, “CODA,” making a rare appearance in an emotionally charged endeavor that asked him to tone down his natural pull toward slapstick behavior. Derbez isn’t staying still for very long, quickly returning to sillier material with “The Valet,” which is a remake of a 2006 French comedy, directed by Frances Verber. The premise of a modest man caught up in a messy Hollywood situation seems to play to Derbez’s thespian strengths, but there’s something strangely off about the work, which has the star laboring to play a nice guy. It’s a vanilla approach in a feature that’s aiming to be as benign as possible, despite a story that welcomes an edgier approach to the ways of adultery and nervous breakdowns. “The Valet” finds Derbez basically taking a nap in the part, contributing little to an absurdly overlong effort that lacks charm and especially pace, going about its business often in the least memorable way possible. Read the rest at

Film Review - Emergency


“Emergency” began life as a 2018 short, which attracted attention to writer K.D. Davila and director Carey Williams, who decided to expand the premise of a dangerous discovery made by three vulnerable college students into a feature film. The strain of such a move is evident while watching the movie, as Davila has her central idea about possible exposure to lethal force when young black men deal with the police, struggling to come up with an extra 90 minutes of material to support the expansion. “Emergency” isn’t a potent comedy, often fumbling through scenes of playful engagement before a crisis kicks in, and Williams struggles to find a level of interplay with his characters, as most of the endeavor involves people arguing, which isn’t all that interesting to watch. There’s periodic thematic clarity worth waiting for, but Davila and Williams show little command of comedic and dramatic escalation, keeping the effort at arm’s length from enlightenment. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - C.H.O.M.P.S.


There was something about the 1970s and movies interested in exploring the canine experience. Dogs were involved in robbing banks, saving families, and, apparently, becoming high-tech robots meant to dominate the home security industry. 1979's "C.H.O.M.P.S." endeavors to take the cute and cuddly ways of a pet and turn it into a slapstick comedy with some action beats. It's one of the few ventures into live-action filmmaking from animation titans Hanna-Barbera (coming off their work on "Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park"), who retain their cartoon instincts for the feature, which is directly aimed at 5-year-olds in need of aggressive music cues and broad antics to understand the entertainment value of the picture. "C.H.O.M.P.S." isn't made for adults, but it's not exactly a shining example of family entertainment, as the simplistic screenplay and unrelenting goofiness of the supporting cast wears thin in a hurry, even for the target demographic. Read the rest at