Film Review - The Farewell


“The Farewell” was initially included as a segment on the radio show, “This American Life.” It’s easy to see why, as the story includes a somewhat strange premise coated in the honey of idiosyncratic human behavior, offering a few mild twists and turns to keep listeners glued to their speakers, wrapped up in the details of this offering of pure culture. Turning her tale into a feature proves to be a bit more difficult for writer/director Lulu Wang, who’s tasked with taking intimate thoughts and turning them into screen dramatics, trusting actors to carry feelings previously held deep within. “The Farewell” isn’t quite the emotional ride it initially promises to be, but Wang isn’t committed to making a tearjerker, showing more interest in the ways of Chinese life and the pains of an outsider who once belonged. It’s a searching picture, not a spongy one, with Wang impressively detailing culture shock with a cast of capable performers. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Supervized


29 years ago, director Steve Barron guided the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the big screen for their very first live-action feature. The film was part of the initial wave of darker comic book adaptations after the monster success of 1989’s “Batman,” with the helmer tapping into superhero mania with his own idiosyncratic take on sewer-based heroism. In 2019, Barron returns to the heaviness of caped crusaders with “Supervized,” which takes a look at problems brewing within a retirement community created specifically for humans with special powers. Youthful violence and tomfoolery has been replaced with cantankerous characters and diminished abilities, with Barron working hard to make “Supervized” into something energetic and satirical. The movie gets out of control far too easily, but the weirdness of it all is reasonably compelling, watching Barron return to the genre that secured his career, locating a different corner of comic book destruction to explore. Read the rest at

Film Review - Iron Sky: The Coming Race


There was a time and place for 2012’s “Iron Sky.” It was a nutty creation from director Timo Vuorensola, who mounted an elaborate fantasy with limited coin, placing focus on visual effects and a farcical plot that had Earthly forces encountering the wrath of Moon Nazis, leading to all-out war. It was cheeky, making fun of easy targets with help from its alternate timeline plot, and the helmer also enjoyed a chance to pants taboo subjects, including power plays from a space bound Third Reich. “Iron Sky” wasn’t sharp but it was amusing, a showy trifle made for cult movie appreciation. There was no need for a sequel, but nobody explained that to Vuorensola, who returns with “Iron Sky: The Coming Race,” which attempts to double down on absurdity and CGI while lacking a crucial sense of surprise. The follow-up is noisy and unfunny, still pawing at the same obvious political targets while expanding its capacity for mayhem, hoping to wow viewers instead of tickle them with relentless absurdity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Three Peaks


“Three Peaks” is a film that requires a tremendous amount of patience from the viewer. It’s a slow-burn affair, populated with only three characters working around a remote setting, dealing indirectly with potent but ill-defined issues of guardianship and family. Writer/director Jan Zabeil takes the long storytelling road, but unlike many of his contemporaries, he’s actually going somewhere with the material, locating a way to surprise the audience as domestic unrest turns into a fight for survival. “Three Peaks” doesn’t find physical peril until the final act, with Zabeil more interested in brewing tension and disappointments, leading with domestic disturbances before heading into a more extreme conflicts that take advantage of natural dangers in the middle of nowhere. Read the rest at

Film Review - Into the Ashes


Writer/director Aaron Harvey has a lot of competition in the marketplace for his revenge thriller, "Into the Ashes.” Tales of men folding inwards after suffering through tragedy or facing dire circumstances are popular these days, with the efforts trying to tap into the messiness of wounded masculinity and lost purpose, examining family ties and gender roles with a heaping helping of violence to secure some sense of finality. “Into the Ashes” goes by the same playbook, with Harvey arranging big screen hostility with bloody results, only to pull back some when it comes time to assess the true motivation for vengeance. This slight deviation from the norm helps to support a picture that’s not particularly packed with incident, as the helmer is more interested in the big stew of choices and mistakes, not simple fury. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Manitou


"The Manitou" is based on a 1976 book by Graham Masterson, giving the screenwriters some guidance when exploring a completely bizarre premise. For some, the prospect of making a movie about a growth developing on the back of a woman that turns about to be the reincarnated spirit of a malicious Native American shaman would be daunting, perhaps impossible. Co-writer/director William Girdler shows no such hesitation with the project, moving full steam ahead with the wacky story, happily forgetting that perhaps Masterton's imagination was best left on the page. "The Manitou" is an extremely serious take on extremely silly matters of spiritual danger, with Girdler doing his best to transform an odd point of stress and doom into a functional horror feature, and one with a trend-chasing sci-fi finale. The helmer strives to juggle such tonal changes, but the sheer effort to bend his weirdness into cinematic shape proves to be too difficult for Girdler to manage. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Bucktown


In 1975's "Bucktown," director Arthur Marks gives star Fred Williamson room to do exactly his thing, which is to project attitude, remain cat nip for the ladies, and suck down a few of his trademark cigars. There's no algebra here, with the star settling easily into the hero role, portraying a tough black guy putting himself up against the might of law enforcement, which is staffed by racist white boobs. "Bucktown" does try to avoid the norm by contorting the story's vision of villainy, but the basics are prized by Marks, who keeps up the action and posing as he makes a sturdy, exciting entry in the Blaxploitation subgenre. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Superstition


1982's "Superstition" (also released under the title, "The Witch") heads into some bizarre directions with its tale of a household haunting. The screenplay (credited to Galen Thompson) seems to be aiming for simplicity, using an appreciation for formula to set-up a showdown between humans and a particularly nasty witch, finding a way to tap into industry trends of the day as chills turn into gore, giving the production a slasher-style tilt. During the ride, the material takes some oddball detours with ill-defined characters and limited sleuthing, but the primary push of the macabre is handled capably by director James W. Roberson, who strives to delivering the basics of genre entertainment when overall cinematic construction is faulty. "Superstition" is engaging, mostly due to its velocity and graphic content, with Roberson wisely inching away from logic as the material takes on more personalities than it can handle. Time periods as well. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - What Keeps You Alive


To help explore "What Keeps You Alive," I have to expose a bit of its plot, which, for some, is situated in spoiler territory. I have no interest in ruining the picture for others, so here's a mini-review: it's terrific. It's a wicked, somewhat surprising chiller from writer/director Colin Minihan, who impressed mightily with "It Stains the Sands Red" a few years back, now newly energized to offer another slice of horror cinema that's genuinely frightening at times, also doing much with very little money. Minihan's got a special vision for "What Keep You Alive," and his execution is confident, perhaps too much so at times. In short, it's an impressive feature, and one that will likely delight those in the mood for something merciless and feral. If you're sensitive to story information, this is a good place to stop reading. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Then Came You


Teen melodramas are big business these days, with Netflix finding ratings gold with tales of sad but snappy kids in problematic relationships, trying make sense of the world they're inheriting. "Then Came You" joins the pack, presenting two characters handed the challenge of cancer survival to help complicate their still-forming lives, trying to capture the essence of youth while dealing with the crushing realities of mortality. Writer Fergal Rock isn't breaking fresh ground with "Then Came You," but he's not trying to avoid formula either, presenting a clichéd take on friendship, longing, and loss, trusting the warmth and quirk of the endeavor will be enough to capture interest in the characters. He needs more than familiarity to get by, as the movie never rises above mediocrity, unwilling to put in the effort to make something special out of working parts already on view in dozens of other films. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Fleshpot on 42nd Street


1973's "Fleshpot on 42nd Street" offers a sympathetic view of an unsympathetic character, asking audiences to go on a journey with an unpleasant woman as she experiences struggle for some level of normalcy and safety. In other hands, perhaps the movie could do something with the basic set- up of a lost soul trying to survive in the big city, but "Fleshpot on 42nd Street" is an Andy Milligan picture, with the prolific helmer (of such films as "Bloodthirsty Butchers," "Torture Dungeon," and "The Man with Two Heads") mostly interested in creating an awful environment for awful people, trying to touch bottom when it comes to depicting human behavior while still tending to hardcore material, some of it violent in nature. Read the rest at

Film Review - Crawl


We’ve been inundated with shark films in recent years, with the fish a top predator for movie studios trying to frighten audiences with something more than just another slasher offering. Rarely is there a killer alligator endeavor, giving director Alexandre Aja a chance to do something against the trend with “Crawl,” which takes viewers into the middle of a hurricane that sets the scene for a deadly battle between human and reptile. Aja’s been in this situation before, helming the delightful 2010 remake of “Piranha,” and he’s returned without a campy approach, treating the central survival tale with some degree of seriousness, while his gifts for water-based suspense and creeping terror remain intact. “Crawl” isn’t light or particularly revolutionary, but it’s short, slick, and offers plenty of satisfying scares. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Point Blank


While the title “Point Blank” conjures images of Lee Marvin in cold-stare mode during the 1967 adaptation of Donald E. Westlake’s “The Hunter,” the feature is actually a remake of a 2010 French thriller, which attempted to make a big screen mess with characters unprepared for action. Director Joe Lynch is certainly used to generating cinematic chaos, previously helming the misfire “Everly” and 2017’s more successful “Mayhem,” returning to the world of battered human beings with “Point Blank,” which plays to his interests in ultraviolence. However, instead of a thrill ride, Lynch is put in charge of a story with a few turns and attempts at characterization, showing visible restraint as he strives to insert as much freewheeling activity as possible in a picture that weaves somewhat erratically from frantic activity to sobering realities. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Lion King (2019)


For their third remake of an animated classic in 2019 (following “Dumbo” and “Aladdin”), Disney returns to 1994’s “The Lion King,” which, at the time, collected a massive box office haul for the studio, resulting in sequels, theme park attractions, T.V. shows, and even a triumphant Broadway musical. The company has never abandoned Simba and Co., but the time has come to turn traditional animation into CGI to help wow a new generation of young fans and delight their nostalgic guardians. To help the cause, Disney returns to director John Favreau, who managed to do something special with 2016’s “The Jungle Book,” but the same level of tonal and visual experimentation doesn’t return with “The Lion King.” While not a shot-for-shot remake, Favreau and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson deliver a beat-for-beat reworking that’s meant to wow with dazzling visual effects, generating an entire animal kingdom with nothing but celebrity voices and computer power. The story? It’s basically the same, with the production avoiding any major changes to avoid upsetting the faithful, taking very few risks with a valuable brand name. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sword of Trust


Writer/director Lynn Shelton adds “Sword of Trust” to her impressive filmography. Gifted a curiosity about human behavior and the strange quirks of relationships, Shelton doesn’t stray far from her interests with her latest endeavor, but she always finds a compelling way to understand how characters work. “Sword of Trust” (co-scripted with Mike O’Brien) is a bit more comedic than her previous interests, heading into pure silliness on occasion, but the turns aren’t jarring and the feature is very funny, consistently so. Shelton gathers in an impressive cast for this study of secrets and lies, also making use of her Alabama locations, delivering a feel for the surroundings as she assembles a tour of idiosyncrasies and gullibility. Read the rest at

Film Review - Darlin'


When considering all the unlikely sequels that’ve made their way through production, it’s hard to imagine many were craving a follow-up to 2011’s “The Woman” (which was a sequel itself, picking up where 2009’s “Offspring” left off). The Lucky McKee picture wasn’t unsettling or thought-provoking, it was just bad, offering crude, repetitive ultraviolence as a way to keep viewers awake, with McKee unable to master tone or performance, too busy whiffing on the theme of dehumanization. “The Woman” went away eight years ago, but star Pollyanna McIntosh isn’t ready to give up the titular role, returning not only as an actress for the feature, but also claiming writing and directing duties. There’s plenty of room for improvement here, and “Darlin’” takes advantage of pronounced shortcomings. While she doesn’t have any big ideas, McIntosh has determination to expand this universe one more time, reviving all the feral female energy the series is known for, but wisely picking and choosing her gore zone visits with more care than McKee. Read the rest at

Film Review - Trespassers


It’s hard out there for a home invasion thriller. There’s a lot of competition for the horror hound’s dollar, and the subgenre has been exhausted. “Trespassers” (previously known as “Hell Is Where the Home Is”) has something interesting brewing underneath its ultraviolence, with director Orson Oblowitz trying to inject as much visual variation as possible while working with very little money, and screenwriter Corey Deshon has a germ of an idea to help subvert expectations, which is more exciting than any offering of bodily harm. “Trespassers” doesn’t remain in the realm of promise for long enough, soon switching over to a formulaic understanding of terror from masked men. It’s certainly inspired at times, but not particularly brave. Read the rest at

Film Review - Summer Night


Joseph Cross has been an actor since he was a child, appearing in pictures such as “Jack Frost,” “Running with Scissors,” and “Wide Awake.” After a lengthy career in front of the camera, Cross elects to go behind one for “Summer Night,” realizing a screenplay by Jordan Jolliff. The helmer doesn’t put too much pressure on himself for his directorial debut, with “Summer Night” presenting a loose tangle of personalities searching for clarity and commitment in small town California, creating a film more about The Hang than truly pressurized confrontations between friends and lovers. We’ve seen this type of feature before, but Cross provides decent performances and a sense of nightlife to give the endeavor some atmosphere, and there’s effort to battle cliché by simply being vague with the details, trusting in the folksy rock vibe of the movie to keep it afloat. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Dominique


After achieving some level of box office popularity with his work on 1976's "Logan's Run," director Michael Anderson quickly moved on the next big thing, hoping to sustain career momentum. That feature was 1977's "Orca," a "Jaws" clone that tried and failed to cash-in on moviegoer hunger for deadly aquatic creatures. Such a fumble inspired Anderson to retreat, commencing work on 1979's "Dominique," which is as far from the future and the ocean as possible, offering a horror tale set inside a single English estate. Reducing pressure to perform at blockbuster levels, Anderson takes his sweet time with the material (an adaptation of a short story by Harold Lawlor), but he manages to find his groove here, keeping actors grounded and frights enigmatic to best preserve the eerie mood of a possible haunting. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - The Suckling


It's amazing that 1989's "The Suckling" isn't a Troma film. For whatever reason, the tiny studio that lives to release garbage/cult cinema passed on or perhaps wasn't even offered the feature for release, which seems like a distribution crime. Writer/director Francis Teri appears to have the Troma mood in mind for this endeavor, which explores the rampage of an aborted fetus infected with toxic waste, growing into a monster that sets out to kill everyone inside an abortion clinic/brothel. While I'm sure such a premise seems like bottom-shelf gold for some audiences, Teri, making his directorial debut, is way out of his depth with "The Suckling," which looks cheap and plays dumb, trusting in the little shock value it has to keep viewers entertained. The effort never had a shot at being fun, but exciting and amusing were on the table, and Teri doesn't bother to get the material to a place of B-movie insanity. Read the rest at