Blu-ray Review - Party Girl


1995's "Party Girl" wasn't a box office success, but it managed to slip into "cool film" territory, making its debut at the Sundance Film Festival and raising the profile of star Parker Posey, who was in the midst of creating an acting career for herself. Co-writers Harry Birckmayer and Daisy von Scherler Mayer (who also directs) endeavor to use the actress's singular screen energy to power a look at a twentysomething character in New York City confronted with the waywardness of her life, creating a dramedy that awkwardly goes from slight wackiness to insignificant heart. "Party Girl" gets by with its NYC energy and club music soundtrack, providing a vivid snapshot of the scene as it was in the mid-90s, but it's not a terribly compelling character study, with the writing often unsure how seriously to take the main character and her seemingly insincere ways. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Highwaymen


It's easy to see how a film like 2004's "Highwaymen" made it through the development stage. The screenplay by Craig Mitchell and Hans Bauer offers a serial killer story in a post-"Seven" industry, and one with ghastly details and a mood of dread, dealing with an unusual murderer and his highly specific interest in making victims suffer. It's also car-based action from director Robert Harmon, who delighted many with his initial take on vehicular mayhem in 1986's "The Hitcher," returning to the world of revving engines and evildoing on the open road. The package is promising, but something went wrong in the execution. "Highwaymen" offers a premise that takes some effort to accept, following the mission of one man trying to stop a crazed, mangled individual using his car to slaughter innocents. It's pure ridiculousness sold with complete seriousness by Harmon, with the feature stuck between absurdity and solemnity, lacking a cast capable of selling the odd tonality of it all. The helmer delivers some car-smashing action and tries to make sense of screwy predators and prey, but the endeavor doesn't rage hard enough to provide a B-movie ride, stuck with heavy amounts of exposition to deliver and a cartoony antagonist to sell as an actual threat. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Wicked Die Slow


During his interview on this Blu-ray release, co-writer/actor Jeff Kanew (who directed "Revenge of the Nerds" and "Troop Beverly Hills") credits his absolute love for Sergio Leone's 1966 epic, "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," as the prime inspiration behind 1968's "The Wicked Die Slow." However, Kanew had no access to a budget and limited filmmaking experience, trying to replicate the ways of the sun-baked, Italian-born spaghetti western in rural New Jersey during the autumn season. It's a bad idea from conception, but co-writers Kanew and Gary Allen have their motivation, working with director William K. Hennigar to stumble through this patience-testing collection of real-time events and gratuitous violence, sold without a moment of style or tension. It's meant to celebrate the western genre, but nobody seems to have a clue what they're doing, making a backyard production that's unusually hostile to female characters and genuinely seems to hate viewers. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Christmas with the Campbells


In the onslaught of holiday-themed entertainment that arrives every year, there's now "Christmas with the Campbells," which has the appearance of a typical Hallmark Channel distraction for viewers who can't get enough of the yuletide spirit or remain incapacitated in front of a television due to the consumption of too much egg nog. However, it's not just another anodyne offering of cheer and romance, but something approaching a mild parody of such small screen comfort food. Screenwriters Barbara Kymlicka, Dan Lagana, and Vince Vaughn (who co-produces with Peter Billingsley) hope to add a streak of naughtiness to the proceedings, getting rascally with this take on small town Christmas experiences and relationship tentativeness. "Christmas with the Campbells" is a little too permissive with improvisation and crudeness, but there are laughs to be found in this bizarre mix of earnestness and silliness, and the cast comes ready to play. Read the rest at

Film Review - Saw X


“Saw” was released nearly 20 years ago, and sequels offered an annual celebration of death for quite some time. It became an event series for horror fans, who refused to ditch the franchise, even when it repeatedly played with retconning and logic-bending to take an idea for a single film and stretch it out over nine films. “Saw X” is the tenth chapter of the saga, with the production determined to win fans back after recent revivals of the brand name (including 2017’s “Jigsaw” and 2021’s “Spiral”) were met with a shoulder shrug. Director Kevin Greutert returns to duty after time on “Saw VI” and “Saw: The Final Chapter,” and he’s working with something the production has never managed to offer before: a somewhat interesting script (by Peter Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg). Blood, guts, and loud suffering returns to “Saw X,” but also moments of basic humanity and motivation, giving lead Tobin Bell a little more to do than glare and growl, while the revenge plot definitely drives an involving study of pain, building a much more potent “Saw.” Read the rest at

Film Review - The Creator


Director Gareth Edwards has only made a few films, and they’ve been very good, but none of them have been truly great. It’s this closeness to excellence that’s been difficult to watch, with Edwards managing to create interesting tales of large-scale problems in “Monsters,” 2014’s “Godzilla,” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (he actually had plenty of help on the latter effort). He generates incredible visuals and has a passion for genre storytelling, but the helmer usually manages to underwhelm at all the wrong moments. “The Creator” is another mild success for Edwards (who co-scripts with Chris Weitz), manufacturing a future world of runaway artificial intelligence, and how some seek to work with it, while others strive to destroy it. It’s a timely study of machines, with “The Creator” pulling from a long list of sci-fi classics to build its world, and Edwards has an endless appetite for scenes of destruction. It’s the rest of the picture that’s a little less inviting, as the production stumbles with a few clunky performances and a general commitment to repetition that takes the grandeur out of the epic Edwards is looking to make. Read the rest at

Film Review - Flora and Son


For most of his filmmaking career, writer/director John Carney has been obsessed with music. It’s become a focal point for nearly everything he’s done, with songs often becoming a lead character, usually guiding people in and out of love. He’s made “Once,” “Sing Street,” and “Begin Again,” and now “Flora and Son,” which also tracks the healing power of music as it finds its way into the hearts and minds of emotionally wounded people. In many ways, Carney is repeating himself with his latest endeavor, but peaceful feelings are welcome in the picture, which reaches intended intimacy and atmosphere, also becoming a showcase for lead Eve Hewson, who delivers an outstanding performance of prime itchiness and concern, handed a shot to really show her stuff as Carney crafts a gentle study of relationships soothed by musical expression. It’s nothing radical, but the feature is suitably heartening. Read the rest at

Film Review - Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie


2001’s “Paw Patrol: The Movie” was an attempt by the producers to bring the popular animation franchise from T.V. to the big screen, giving kids raised on the adventures of these rescue dogs and their indefatigable dedication to helping those in need a proper cinematic extravaganza. Such a business move was complicated by a general release during miserable pandemic times with hesitant ticket-buyers, but “The Movie” did well, reinforcing the popularity of the brand name and the promise of feature-length storytelling to come. Two years later, “Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie” hopes to keep momentum going, with the heroes of Adventure City back to take on evil, newly armed with superhero powers but still interested in a slightly more explosive take on family entertainment, with action sequences once again capturing attention while the script for this follow-up is a little less thrilling. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Kill Room


The worlds of art and crime connect in “The Kill Room,” which is largely being promoted as a reunion for stars Uma Thurman and Samuel L. Jackson, who last acted together in 1994’s “Pulp Fiction.” A lot of time has passed since the release of the Quentin Tarantino film, but not everything has changed, as “The Kill Room” has Thurman portraying a rattled woman turning to drugs and dangerous men to keep herself distracted, while Jackson once again inhabits the part of an easily agitated, profane man caught up in a criminal situation that slips out of control. Slightly fatigued Tarantino-isms are certainly present in the screenplay by Jonathan Jacobson, intended or not, but the story launches with compelling oddity, highlighting the strange ways of art appreciation and manipulation, which is far more interesting than underworld entanglements that come to claim the effort’s second half. Read the rest at

Film Review - Nowhere


The Spanish production “Nowhere” is certainly not a film for those who are easily troubled by onscreen horrors. It’s a survival feature, primarily remaining on a single character as she battles to stay alive while trapped in a shipping container that’s been dumped into the middle of the ocean, left only with some supplies and her inner drive to live. It’s primarily a single-space study of endurance, with lead Anna Castillo pretty much the only actor in the endeavor, tasked with sustaining suspense as she portrays a desperate person stuck in an impossible situation. “Nowhere” doesn’t have a grand political statement to make about the refugee experience, with director Albert Pinto more about a growing sense of despair silenced by ways of empowerment, looking to take viewers on a rough ride of danger and panicky problem solving. Read the rest at

Film Review - Warrior Strong


It’s been a very strange experience to watch Andrew Dice Clay take on more dramatic parts over the last decade. The profane comedian, one of the more controversial people in the entertainment business during the late 1980s and early’90s, Clay is not typically known for his seriousness, generally pursuing funny business with previous acting work. “Warrior Strong” adds to the thespian rebuilding of Clay, who returns after parts in “Blue Jasmine” and “A Star is Born” to participate in a sports underdog picture, which is unlike anything he’s done before. And Clay is appealing in the feature, which doesn’t take many chances in the screenwriting department, but the movie has its heart in the right place, hoping to bring some feelgood storytelling to family audiences trying to find something suitable. It’s a nice turn for the once and future Diceman, who’s joined by a lively supporting cast aiming to make formula palatable in this study of high school basketball leadership. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Re-Education of Molly Singer


The state of the R-rated comedy in 2023 is fairly dire, with various releases looking to charm viewers with displays of crude humor and profanity, which is often an unwelcome substitute for actual considered dialogue. “The Re-Education of Molly Singer” is another misfire for the year, with the picture also going the raunchy route to deliver a good time for audiences, only the screenplay by Todd M. Friedman and Kevin Haskin doesn’t have much to offer besides a slightly promising concept for silliness, following a thirtysomething woman’s return to college after making a mess of her life. Something could be done with the idea, but the writing doesn’t go anywhere with it, while director Andy Palmer (“Camp Cold Brook”) switches to autopilot, putting little thought into the comedic potential of the feature (which was shot over two years ago), creating a dispiriting viewing experience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Head Count


Co-writer/directors Ben and Jacob Burghart make their feature-length helming debut with “Head Count,” which is an expansion of their 2014 short film. The original work only ran four minutes in length, requiring the siblings to dream a little bigger with their production, and they try to do some things with style and dark humor with the endeavor, which makes it to 75 minutes (sans end credits) before tapping out. It’s a Coen Brother-esque viewing experience, with some quirks and violence to manage, but missing from the effort is a sense of momentum. “Head Count” steps forward with a can’t miss premise, only to repeatedly lose focus with characterization that doesn’t connect as intended, and the writing plays too much with time, aiming to be clever and twisty instead of simply remaining compelling. Read the rest at

Film Review - Reptile


“Reptile” is really all about Benicio Del Toro. The celebrated actor stars in the feature, but he also co-produces and co-scripts, taking some control over a picture that’s largely meant to celebrate his acting abilities. It’s a police procedural thriller with some mystery blended into the tale, and Del Toro gives the part as much as he’s capable of with a deeply internalized take on a haunted cop struggling with the details of his latest case. Music video helmer Grant Singer makes his narrative directorial debut with the endeavor, and he’s trying to be mysterious with the movie, which concentrates on police brotherhood developments and growing unease concerning a murder case. “Reptile” looks to be more measured with its chills, willing to go deep into character, but such dedication to drama doesn’t translate to a riveting sit, with long stretches of the effort going still instead of profound. Read the rest at

UHD 4K Review - Midnight Run


Few filmmakers enjoyed a wilder career ride in the 1980s than Martin Brest. In 1982, the helmer was set to follow-up his 1979 offering, "Going in Style," with "WarGames," guiding the project through development and the beginning of principal photography. A few weeks into the shoot, Brest was fired, with his vision for the picture not matching up with producer and studio expectations. This would be a career-ending situation for most, but Brest endured such public humiliation, eventually securing work on "Beverly Hills Cop," which already went through pre-production woes and tonal hesitation. Under Brest's command, "Beverly Hills Cop" found its creative footing, becoming the highest-grossing movie of 1984, a year with an insane amount of hits. Brest went from being canned to becoming king in a matter of years, with all eyes on his follow-up project. 1988's "Midnight Run" wasn't nearly the hot release many expected it to become, but it capably sustained Brest's ability to manage action and comedy, aiming to do something dense yet approachable with the screenplay by George Gallo (who's been milking this credit for the last 35 years). There are hearty laughs and some thrills and chills in the effort, and Brest certainly has an advantage with his cast, with Robert De Niro refreshingly itchy and Charles Grodin capably dry as they take the lead roles, offering an appealingly strange take on buddy comedy chemistry while supporting players all find their grooves in this assembly of angry people and road trip antagonisms. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hung Jury


1994's "Hung Jury" takes a long time to reach whatever passes for a plot here, and there's some hope that writer/director Gary Whitson is going to try for an Agatha Christie-type of viewing experience involving a collection of characters and a murderer on the loose. Or perhaps a game of "Clue," with personalities colliding as danger draws near. The man behind W.A.V.E. Productions, Whitson doesn't really go for anything distinct with the endeavor, which asks a lot of viewers with an extended run time and only a marginal interest in story. Instead, the W.A.V.E.-iness of the picture dominates, as the helmer is less concerned about building suspenseful points of pressure, instead more interested in the fetish potential of the shot-on-video effort, which is loaded with extended scenes of bondage, suffering, and weirdly tame sexploitation additions, making the 114-minute-long journey punishing for those who aren't watching this feature for highly specific thrills. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Debbie Does Demons


Writer/director Donald Farmer has been making movies for quite some time (including "Red Lips," "Catnado," and "Chainsaw Cheerleader"), but practice doesn't always make perfect. He's a filmmaker aiming to deliver no-budget exploitation fare, and he successfully achieves his goal with "Debbie Does Demons," but actual creative effort isn't present here. Instead of polish and pace, the endeavor is a low-tech exercise in horror comedy, with amateur actors and dire technical achievements working together to make a screen mess for Farmer, who seems to be delighted with the results. I doubt most viewers will share his enthusiasm, with the backyard production a difficult sit, as the helmer doesn't have any grasp of storytelling or editing, while padding is an unofficial star of the effort, finding Farmer clawing his way to a 74-minute-long run time. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Young Bodies Heal Quickly


2014's "Young Bodies Heal Quickly" is meant to be a cinematic experience from writer/director Andrew T. Betzer, who blends elements of Terrence Malick, Harmony Korine, and many more artful filmmakers for this study of human behavior and low impulse control. There's a thin slice of story to snack on, with the rest of the picture devoted to Betzer's interests in imagery and exaggeration, offering a wandering endeavor that's occasionally stimulated by oddity and carried by lovely cinematography from Sean Price Williams ("Good Time," "Her Smell," "Tesla"). Read the rest at

Film Review - Bottoms


One of the great surprises of the 2021 film year was the release of “Shiva Baby.” A claustrophobic dark comedy about snowballing mistakes and confrontations at a funeral gathering, the picture was hilarious and horrifying, announcing great talents in the making with writer/director Emma Seligman and star Rachel Sennott. “Bottoms” is the follow-up project for the pair, who reunite for something far less insidious, going broad with this satire of teen horndog cinema, taking on the staples of undersexed adolescents and their schemes to attract the attention of their crushes. “Bottoms” hopes to be a wild ride of silliness and strangeness, with Seligman (who co-scripts with Sennott) eager to put on a show of character liberation and pants John Hughes entertainment. When it goes wild, the feature is fun, showcasing imagination for relationship woes and craziness with violence and heartache. Seligman and Sennott don’t take their premise the whole way, leading to some disappointment, but they have something here that’s quite different at times, and uproarious when it wants to be. Read the rest at

Film Review - No One Will Save You


Writer/director Brian Duffield made an impressive helming debut with 2020’s “Spontaneous,” which explored human intimacy in the midst of exploding bodies, making for a highly unusual and absorbing viewing experience. He’s back on more familiar ground with “No One Will Save You,” which is an alien invasion story, going where many filmmakers have gone before as Earth is visited by strange beings most curious about the ways of human response. Facing formula, Duffield shifts course, crafting a bizarre survival story that employs almost no dialogue, hunting for a more primal feature that’s mostly built out of reactions from lead Kaitlyn Dever. “No One Will Save You” is slow-burn and protective of its mysteries, but the reward for such patience is a visually striking and periodically exciting chiller that heads in unusual directions, shaking off predictability early as the story finds ways to thrill and touch on the human condition. Read the rest at