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

Blu-ray Review - Queen of Earth


Writer/director Alex Ross Perry doesn't make easy movies. For 2014's "Listen Up Philip," he submitted one of the most unpleasant lead characters of the film year. For "Queen of Earth," he explores the abyss of mental illness. He's not the cheery type, but Perry has a way of making these dramatic explorations worthwhile, with periodic blips of profundity. Carried by a wonderfully ragged lead performance from Elisabeth Moss, "Queen of Earth" steps away from a clinical understanding of depression to go semi-Polanski, treating the fractured experience of a complete unraveling with a full immersion into paranoia and hopelessness, emerging with a secure study of friendship and phobia that feels organically communicated yet sharply cinematic. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - King on Screen


Since the release of "Carrie" in 1976, adaptations of Stephen King novels and short stories have become almost a regular event. Such tales of horror and heartbreak have become catnip to filmmakers, especially those raised on the author's work in print form, finally receiving a chance to do something with King's vast imagination. "King on Screen" is a documentary about the writer and his experiences with filmed entertainment, and while he doesn't appear in interview form, King's presence is felt throughout the endeavor, which seeks to identify just what about his writing often results in cinematic magic. Director Daphne Baiwir doesn't provide a comprehensive examination of the subject, but she chooses her topics wisely, delivering an interesting ride back into King Country, sitting down with many of the men responsible for translating these pages into occasionally terrific movies. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Skateboard


1978's "Skateboard" (a.k.a. "Skateboard: The Movie") is a production trying to capitalize on a trend. The world of skateboarding is explored here, with co-writer/director George Gage bringing viewers to Los Angeles, where the kids are showing off their moves on four wheels, while a desperate man with an enormous debt hopes to exploit such talent for his own financial gain. "Skateboard" is a quickie production, offering a threadbare plot and sketchily drawn characters, but it's not meant to be much more than a showcase for the sport, captured here during its 1970s heyday, with subculture superstar Tony Alva claiming a supporting role. Skateboarding footage is key here, adding a sense of excitement and showmanship to the endeavor, which noticeably struggles with anything that isn't about following sporting accomplishments. It's not the most electric offering of drama, with Gage and co-writer Richard A. Wolf (the future king of television, Dick Wolf, making his professional debut) struggling to pour some foundation for a feature that's best with pure physical activity. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Showdown at the Grand


Writer/director Orson Oblowitz has a deep love for film exhibition, pouring his heart into the creation of "Showdown at the Grand," which investigates the days of an indie theater operator getting in touch with his big screen fantasies as his life is threatened by an evil land developer. It's a passion for the old ways that keeps the endeavor inviting, but Oblowitz doesn't have much in the way of a budget, getting stuck with limited coin as he stages an action movie about action movies and all the daydreams they inspire. "Showdown at the Grand" isn't a pulse-pounding thriller, but it scores with its love of the game, showing respect for the weird ways of theater owners and their dedication to a business that doesn't always love them back. It's a loose viewing experience, but Oblowitz has his moments, presenting a bruised valentine to the escape movie theaters provide. Read the rest at

Film Review - Poolman


Chris Pine has been hammering out an acting career for the last two decades, but he takes on more creative power with “Poolman,” credited as the writer and director, as well as claiming leading man duties. Perhaps it classifies as a vanity project, with Pine making himself the center of attention in this Southern California detective story, portraying a man who lives in his own world suddenly facing the corruption and violence of the real world. It could be promising as a psychological study of a shut-in lightly fried by his Los Angeles experience, but Pine wants to make a comedy, merging noir and silliness for this mild mystery. Unfortunately, while the creator has tremendous enthusiasm for the material (co-written by Ian Gotler), such brightness of spirit can’t lift a mostly comatose endeavor. “Poolman” just isn’t the good time Pine wants it to be, though support from seasoned actors do help the cause. Read the rest at

Film Review - Not Another Church Movie


Madea made her cinematic debut in 2005’s “Diary of a Mad Black Woman.” It was the beginning of something for creator Tyler Perry, who has spent the last 19 years building a media empire on the back of his most popular creation. It’s amazing that there hasn’t been many Madea parodies in circulation, but perhaps broad comedy can’t match Perry’s cartoon character. Writer/co-director Johnny Mack takes a shot at the king with “Not Another Church Movie,” which attempts to give the “Airplane!” treatment to Perry’s oeuvre, going wild and wacky with all the elements of storytelling the filmmaker has been abusing for most of his career. “Not Another Church Movie” is extremely late to the party, and it’s quite the amateurish production, with Mack determined to generate a no-budget pantsing of material that’s already self-aware. And yet, while Mack’s picture is downright horrible at times, it’s still funnier than most of Perry’s offerings. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mother of the Bride (2024)


“Mother of the Bride” is written by Robin Bernheim Burger, a longtime industry player who’s worked on many television and movie projects, recently scripting “The Princess Switch,” “The Princess Switch: Switched Again,” and “The Princess Switch 3.” Bernheim Burger remains in her churn-em-out comfort zone with her latest endeavor, which explores a destination wedding filled with all sorts of unresolved feelings and slapstick antics, laboring to summon a sitcom-like atmosphere for the film, which has no interest in stimulating its audience. “Mother of the Bride” is meant to be comfy sweater cinema for streaming audiences, and this generic quality isn’t challenged by director Mark Waters (“He’s All That,” “Bad Santa 2”), who delivers a highly routine study of misunderstandings and communication problems while the production enjoys paradise. I’m sure the cast and crew of the picture had a ball making the feature, but sitting through it is surprisingly difficult at times. Read the rest at

Film Review - Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes


The story of Caesar and his critical position in the arc of a revolution was completed in 2017’s “War for the Planet of the Apes.” It was a fitting conclusion to a new trilogy of tremendous visual achievements and gripping storytelling, smartly reworking the concept of “Planet of the Apes” for a fresh generation of moviegoers. However, true closure has been an illusion, with Disney looking to keep a good thing going, reviving the series with “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes,” which is a continuation of the Caesar saga set “many generations” after the character’s exit. The feature is perhaps unnecessary, but it certainly isn’t a quickie, offering outstanding visual effects and mo-cap performance work to bring the animal characters to life. The cinematic appeal of “Kingdom” is plentiful, but director Wes Ball struggles with the tempo and gravity of the film, which has its moments of power, but clearly battles with pacing issues as the longest chapter of the entire “Planet of the Apes” franchise. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Last Stop in Yuma County


With “The Last Stop in Yuma County,” writer/director/editor Francis Galluppi presents a slow-burn story of crime and conversation in the blazing heat of Arizona. It’s the feature-length helming debut for Galluppi and it’s quite the tale of suspense in a single location. The screenplay provides a varied cast of characters stuck in a hostage situation, using the inherent tension of the showdown to create numerous opportunities for confrontations and peril. While it has some overt Quentin Tarantino-esque touches, the endeavor has a terrific sense of escalation and a bit of a mean streak, with Galluppi not afraid to get a little ugly with the nasty business of violence and untested criminals. “The Last Stop in Yuma County” is sharp and straightforward, with Galluppi trimming most of the fat to deliver surges of screen tension and flavorful performances in this excellent picture. Read the rest at