Blu-ray Review - Telefon


After playing a man of the Old West in 1977's "The White Buffalo," hoping to find success with a "Jaws"-like tale of a hunter and a monster animal on the loose, Charles Bronson finds a polar opposite acting opportunity in "Telefon," released in the same year. Of course, Bronson isn't one to push himself too far as a thespian, preferring to remain in his range, even when dealing with plots of increasing craziness. This adaptation of a Walter Wager novel (credited to Peter Hyams and Stirling Silliphant) certainly qualifies as bonkers, finding the star portraying a Russian spy looking to stop the rise of sleeper agents in the U.S., hoping to prevent World War III as a lunatic, armed with a line of poetry, looks to cause unimaginable chaos. It's telephoned-based horror in the feature, which arrives under the direction of Don Siegel (who's billed with his handwritten signature), and the veteran helmer isn't too interested in amplifying suspense for the endeavor. As Cold War thrillers go, "Telefon" has tremendous potential, even as wacky as it is, but Siegel doesn't have the eye of the tiger here. He prefers to keep screen activity intermittent and Bronson more subdued than usual, refusing to go crazy with a premise that invites it. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - St. Ives


The 1970s were good to Charles Bronson. Working his way into leading man parts, Bronson ran with the opportunity, taking as many employment opportunities as possible while developing a loyal fan base responsive to his steely screen presence. He made 21 movies during the decade, mostly sticking with genre entertainment that made the most of his reserved acting style, often finding himself in heroic roles as a man of action dealing with the evils of the world. 1976's "St. Ives" is a slight change of pace for the star, with this adaptation of a 1972 Oliver Bleeck novel putting Bronson in detective mode, portraying a middle man caught between the police and criminals when special information is stolen from a wealthy man. Bronson does Bronson in "St. Ives," but he's great fun to watch as a cautious man stuck in a strange situation. The feature doesn't quite understand that less is more, but director J. Lee Thompson (who would go on to make eight more films with Bronson) keeps things exciting for an hour and change, adding elements of danger and red herrings as the eponymous character tries to make sense of everything that's coming for him. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - Blood Feast (2016)


1963's "Blood Feast" isn't a classic film, but it remains an important one in horror circles. Director Herschell Gordon Lewis wanted to stir up some controversy to help sell tickets, and he found it with "Blood Feast," which was an early endeavor to weaponize gore in a way, offering an unrepentant display of blood and guts for audiences to enjoy…if they dared. In 2024, the feature is comical, but time hasn't diluted much of its gonzo attitude, watching Lewis push the boundaries of violence to attract attention. For a 2016 remake, director Marcel Walz and screenwriter Philip Lilienschwarz try to recapture the spirit of the original picture while generally rethinking almost all of its plot and characters. This "Blood Feast" takes a dull movie and puts it right to sleep, watching Walz boldly refuse any sort of pace or level of suspense to the effort. There's grisliness, no doubt, but the do-over is a colossal bore that takes its sweet time to go nowhere, finding Lewis's take on the hunt for a human dinner much more engaging that this patience- testing experience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Atlas (2024)


As the world buzzes over the rapid development of AI, “Atlas” tries to turn the computer future into action cinema, eschewing scientific analysis for a more blockbuster take on the relationship between people and machines. Moving past his years as a Dwayne Johnson director, Brad Peyton (“Rampage,” “San Andreas,” and “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island”) hopes to bring a little thunder to Jennifer Lopez’s career, overseeing a large-scale endeavor that employs a large amount of visual effects and a screenplay (by Leo Sardarian and Aron Eli Coleite) that’s very derivative of other sci-fi adventures. “Atlas” details the story of a woman’s battle to maintain her very human-ness around a futureworld of artificial intelligence, tasked with stopping a powerful enemy, and Payton aims to go big with the work. However, it’s the quieter moments between the characters that tend to work the best, away from the noisiness of the effort and its bizarrely optimistic portrayal of AI support. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hit Man


Richard Linklater has always been a quality filmmaker. He’s made a few duds over the last 30 years (including an ill-conceived “Bad News Bears” remake), but he’s always invested in the work, trying to find his way through characters and stories, enjoying creative challenges while celebrating with his influences. Collaborating on a screenplay with actor Glen Powell, Linklater delivers one of his finest movies with “Hit Man,” going comedic and noir-ish with the project, which examines a perfectly average person getting lost in his role as an undercover cop, enjoying the break from his usual habits and personality. Powell is gifted a juicy role with the feature, allowed to show off more range than usual, and Linklater clearly delights in playing with tone and dark humor. It’s a mostly tight, exceptionally acted endeavor with enough turns of plot and personality to remain engrossing. “Hit Man” is something special from Linklater, adding a gem to his already impressive oeuvre. Read the rest at

Film Review - Darkness of Man


We don’t see much of Jean-Claude Van Damme these days, making his appearance in “Darkness of Man” something to celebrate. And he tries to stretch with the part, portraying a haggard man of the law looking to atone for past sins through the protection of a teenage boy, caught between Russian and Korean gangsters in Los Angeles. Van Damme provides a grizzled take on a dying spirit, playing up the character’s detective noir design, and he's often the best part of a weak film. Co-writer/director James Cullen Bressack (who’s been churning out forgettable features for the last decade) makes a pass at creating a level of Hell for the main character, but the B-movie-ness of the endeavor can’t be contained. “Darkness of Man” is stuck with cliched writing and flat visuals, going through the motions, unable to find the depths of gravitas Van Damme imagines himself reaching at times. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Garfield Movie


“Garfield” has been a fixture of pop culture for nearly five decades, with the lazy cat’s antics delighting generations of fans. He’s conquered the world of comic strips and television entertainment, but his big screen endeavors, while profitable, haven’t been creatively thrilling. “The Garfield Movie” is a fully CG-animated affair after his last two efforts, 2004’s “Garfield: The Movie” and 2006’s “Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties,” strived to bring the cartoon creation into the world of live-action. The return to a pure animated realm for the character is welcome, with director Mark Dindal (“Chicken Little,” “The Emperor’s New Groove”) overseeing a brightly colored and highly slapstick experience for Garfield and his misadventures. “The Garfield Movie” wrestles with family film formula, but it’s visually appealing and backed by charming turns from most of the voice cast, who work to give the feature some personality missing from previous cinematic adventures. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sight (2024)


“Sight” is billed as the “incredible true story” of Dr. Ming Wang, with the Nashville-based man selling himself as a leader in the field of eye care. The production aims to make a hero out of Wang, with co-writer/director Andrew Hyatt (“The Blind,” “Paul, Apostle of Christ”) telling the story of the subject’s difficult upbringing in China, and his eventual struggles in America, working his way into medical dominance with a focus on helping the blind to see. The essentials of Wang’s journey are fascinating, as it certainly appears he’s lived through so much, remaining true to his integrity and quest to help others. Hyatt isn’t particularly committed to raw experiences and finely tuned dramatic escalation, going the usual faith-based cinema route with harsh melodrama and tedious speechifying. “Sight” (which was shot three years ago) has a real tale about perseverance to offer, but Hyatt’s in the hagiography business here. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Dog Who Stopped the War


The horrors of combat are handed the family film treatment in 1984's "The Dog Who Stopped the War." A Canadian production, the picture looks to understand the strange ways of childhood as neighborhood kids gather to battle one another in a grand scheme of conflict, with snowballs replacing more violent weapons. Director Andre Melancon has the unenviable task of corralling a large group of child actors to help realize this study of playful aggression, and he manages to extract some impressive performances for the feature, which goes from comedic events to a sobering conclusion. "The Dog Who Stopped the War" miraculously holds together during its run time, with Melancon finding a way to preserve the material's messages on the end of innocence while maintaining a heightened reality with this community of reluctant combatants. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Sons of Steel


MTV grew into a dominating force of style during the 1980s, finding music videos going from a curiosity or simple marketing tool into cinematic experiences that helped to influence moviemaking throughout the decade. Such visual power was used by many and abused by even more, and this sense of flashiness dominates 1988's "Sons of Steel," an Australian production from writer/director Gary L. Keady. The helmer tries to merge punky happenings in the nuclear age with a grungy Duran Duran video, aiming to create a chaotic adventure across time with an extremely limited budget. "Sons of Steel" has a vision for bigness when it comes to end-of-days action and performance, but Keady doesn't have the seniority to master the challenge of such ambitious, comic book-style material. His inexperience shows during the viewing event, which quickly goes from a tolerable curiosity to an absolute drag. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Scrapbook


2000's "Scrapbook" is "based on actual events." These situations are never identified, with violence and suffering basically driving the viewing experience, technically qualifying most movies as "based on actual events." Screenwriter Tommy Biondo (who passed away in 1999) has some personal issues to work through in the picture, which explores the merciless ways of a serial killer (played by Biondo) and his obsession with his latest catch, spending time torturing a young woman in his remote farmhouse. And that's about it for dramatic urgency in "Scrapbook," with the shot-on- video endeavor completely made up of scenes where one character torments the other character, with Biondo passing on story and suspense to make what's basically a fetish film that's extraordinarily tedious to watch. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Ernest and Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia


2012's "Ernest & Celestine" (released in America in 2014) was a complete surprise. The animated French picture was small, preferring delicate artistry over expensive imagery, electing to put its energy into personality. The feature was an absolute delight, one of the best films of the year, and little was expected of the movie after melting hearts and hitting the funny bone the first time around. A decade later, there's "Ernest and Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia," a sequel from a different creative team, out to recreate the pleasures of the original picture while finding a new event for the eponymous pals to manage. "A Trip to Gibberitia" is more plot oriented than its predecessor, but the follow-up is nearly as fantastic, returning to character quirks and connections while opening up this lovable world with fresh challenges for animal friends and, now, family. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Strangers: Chapter 1


16 years ago, “The Strangers” became a summer hit, finding its place as a creepy chiller among the blockbusters, acquiring a surprisingly vocal fanbase. Industry hiccups prevented an immediate sequel, with one finally materializing in 2018’s “The Strangers: Prey at Night.” The sequel wasn’t nearly as popular as the original (despite being an arguably stronger film), but it made money, and that’s the primary motivation for horror producers. The brand name is back, with “The Strangers: Chapter 1” the first of three new stories in a one-note world, with the masked trio returning to kill more hapless victims in the slowest of ways. The first endeavor is basically a remake of the 2008 picture, with director Renny Harlin (who hasn’t been an effective helmer in decades) in charge of getting the franchise back up and running, offering no noticeable imagination, pace, and performances while doing so. If this is all “Chapter 1” can offer, it’s going to be a long year with the trilogy. Read the rest at

Film Review - Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga


2015’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” was long in the making and delivered the goods, successfully reviving the “Mad Max” series with an epic depiction of Wasteland war and survival challenges. Director George Miller couldn’t win all of his storytelling battles, but the sequel was a major filmmaking achievement, generating a glorious level of chaos while remaining intimate, to a certain degree, with character motivations. Instead of moving forward with the franchise, following Max to the next adventure, Miller (and co-writer Nick Lathouris) goes the prequel route, turning his attention to Furiosa, originally portrayed by Charlize Theron. Now played by Anya Taylor-Joy and Alyla Browne, the character takes control of “Furiosa,” which has Miller pumping the brakes on the series, electing to explore a multi-chapter study of a life corrupted and a world finding new order in the midst of mayhem. One doesn’t necessarily need this understanding of Furiosa, but the helmer brings the goods with outstanding action sequences and marvelous performances. It’s a literary-style take on the universe of “Mad Max,” watching Miller work on world-building and power plays. Read the rest at

Film Review - Thelma the Unicorn


After scoring a few early hits with 2004’s “Napoleon Dynamite” and 2006’s “Nacho Libre,” writer/director Jared Hess landed on some hard times, struggling to match the financial success and pop culture ubiquity of his initial efforts. It’s been eight years since his last feature, “Masterminds,” and he’s now making a comeback in the realm of animation, joining co-director Lynn Wang on “Thelma the Unicorn,” which is an adaptation of a popular Aaron Blabey (“The Bad Guys”) children’s book. The elastic ways of cartoon antics plays to Hess’s strengths, and he’s clearly under orders to oversee a “Sing”-like study of animal dreams in the world of musical performance. “Thelma the Unicorn” is familiar all around, but it presents its intended audience with a colorful study of identity and friendship, also delivering a soundtrack filled with lively tunes to carry the picture’s thin premise. Read the rest at

Film Review - IF

IF 1

“IF” is being marketed as a lighthearted family film, and one with a giant purple monster, soft and huggable as can be, at the center of its promotional efforts. The creature is in the feature, but ways of joyousness and silliness doesn’t have as big a role in the production as anticipated. Writer/director John Krasinski certainly isn’t at fault for the selling of “IF,” but he’s definitely in charge of the picture’s very uneven tone, caught up in a strange desire to make a heartwarming study of lost childhood imagination, burying it under layers of cloying screenwriting. Krasinski’s heart seems to be in the right place, but his execution misses the mark, stuck trying to marry a movie about the exploits of colorful imaginary friends and their occasional goofball antics with a story concerning a 12-year-old girl’s anxiety over losing her father to heart surgery after already watching her mother succumb to cancer. It’s hard to understand what Krasinski is going for with this endeavor. Read the rest at

Film Review - Back to Black


Musician bio-pics have always been around, but when 2018’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” went on to make nearly a billion dollars at the box office, they became a priority for producers looking to serve audiences hungry to revisit the sonic highs and dramatic lows of the subjects. With the saga of Amy Winehouse, there just isn’t much in the way of happiness when dealing with a self-destructive woman who shared her vocal gifts with the world, ending up dead at 27 years of age, unable to conquer her many addictions. “Back to Black” offers parts of the Winehouse story, with the estate-approved endeavor looking to provide a much softer comprehension of mental illness and a more distinct portrait of predatory influences. Screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh (a vet of musical movies, previously scripting “Control” and “Nowhere Boy”) doesn’t have it easy with “Back to Black,” which feels too sanitized to really comprehend Winehouse’s journey. However, the hits do flow in the picture, and perhaps that’s all the fanbase wants from this underwhelming effort. Read the rest at

Film Review - You Can't Run Forever


J.K. Simmons has played evil characters before, but he finds a particular mean streak to explore in “You Can’t Run Forever.” The production is a family affair of sorts, with Simmons’s wife, Michelle Schumacher, co-scripting (with Carolyn Carpenter) and directing the endeavor; their daughter, Olivia, claims a supporting role; and son Joe is the composer for the project. It’s Simmons all around here, and the gang conjures a survival thriller of sorts, with the actor portraying a seemingly average man experiencing a psychotic break, electing to pursue a young girl through the woods, feeling alive as he sets out to murder innocent people. The role plays to Simmons’s strengths as an intense performer, and the writing cooks up some nasty business for him to work with. As an overall study of suspense, “You Can’t Run Forever” starts to fall apart at the midway point, when it becomes clear Schumacher isn’t interested in making a tightly edited nightmare, allowing the feature to go limp. Read the rest at

Film Review - Babes


The experience of motherhood and friendship is examined in “Babes.” It’s not a serious study of the complexity of such a relationship, but mostly a goofy comedy co-scripted and co-starring Ilana Glazer, who works very hard (with collaborator Josh Rabinowitz) to keep the material at arm’s length from a more sincere take on the journey of pregnancy. Actress Pamela Adlon (perhaps best known as the voice of Bobby on “King of the Hill”) makes her feature-length directorial debut with the endeavor, and while she gives the movie a little jazzy pixie dust during its opening act, she soon submits to the tired approach of modern comedies, filling the effort with lengthy improvisational duels and lame ideas for silliness. “Babes” eventually succumbs to formula, and while the picture begins with some mischief and insight into the fogged mind of post-partum frustrations, it ultimately becomes a weak Judd Apatow-style viewing experience. Read the rest at

Film Review - I Saw the T.V. Glow


“I Saw the T.V. Glow” offers viewers a trip into the unknown. Writer/director Jane Schoenbrun goes the surreal route with the feature, asking the audience to ride along with a story that holds very little dramatic potency, as the production is largely supported by its visuals, which burn across time, swim through madness, and visit the ways of television programming found in the 1990s. Schoenbrun aims to baffle with the endeavor, trusting in the lure of dreamlike imagery and nightmare visitations as she details the journey of a young man who exists in a state of fear, finding a connection to someone also dealing with the weight of the world. They locate an outlet in fantasy entertainment, while Schoenbrun escalates the film’s mysteriousness along the way, reaching a potential point of divisiveness where ticket-buyers are either going to feast on the interpretive elements of the picture, or politely reject the helmer’s attempt to become the new David Lynch. Read the rest at