Film Review - The Princess


What’s left to be said about Diana, Princess of Wales? Since her death in 1997, she’s been the subject of countless news reports, books, and all sorts of media endeavors. Recently, the life and times of Diana were turned into a high-profile feature (2021’s “Spencer”), and the difficult realities of her life were transformed into a Broadway-ready theatrical event in “Diana: The Musical.” Her story has been dissected in every possible way, feeding what appears to be an endless appetite to revisit the details of her time as a member of the Royal Family, and her eventual departure from such British order, becoming a pop culture figure. “The Princess” is a documentary that tracks Diana’s days from her time as a teenager to her death in Paris, but director Ed Perkins seems aware of the fatigue such a saga could potentially trigger, aiming to explore the decades strictly through film and video of Diana, with media reports serving as commentary. There are no stuffy interviews with “experts,” and no crude recreations, just the footage itself, superbly edited by Jinx Godfrey and Daniel Lapira, who assemble a rich understanding of public turbulence and internalized emotion, allowing the highlights and horror of Diana’s experience to lead the way. Read the rest at

Film Review - Emily the Criminal


“Emily the Criminal” is out to capture this particular moment in time. In an age of financial instability and fear, here comes writer/director John Patton Ford with a tale of one woman’s quest to free herself from the bondage of debt, student debt to be specific. It’s a topic that’s commanded attention and debate over the last few years, and Ford is trying to make such a personal struggle easily understood for audiences, using an underworld journey to best identify the pressures of payments in an age of growing poverty. Ford is on to something different with “Emily the Criminal,” which has a crisp understanding of frustrations and anger tied to the loan business, providing a universal sense of stress, which makes for powerful cinema. The rest of the feature isn’t that well-observed, with Ford turning to formula to connect the dots with his character study, which doesn’t bring much texture to the viewing experience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fall (2022)


“Fall” is an exploitation movie that has a deep desire to be taken seriously as an offering of drama and suspense. Co-writers Jonathan Frank and Scott Mann (who also directs) come up with a decent exercise in thriller cinema, sending two twentysomething women up a T.V. tower for a social media adventure, soon stranding the pair on top of the rusted structure, leaving them to deal with all sorts of challenges to their safety. It’s a simple recipe for cheap thrills, but those expecting a cool 75-minute-long ride of danger and disaster are instead offered 107 minutes of iffy screenwriting choices and melodrama. There’s not nearly enough tension to support the limited scope of “Fall,” which sets up a dire situation of endurance in an unusual location, but doesn’t have a large enough imagination to really bring it to life, content to slog through banal interpersonal issues and predictable near misses. Read the rest at

Film Review - Rogue Agent


“Rogue Agent” is a very generic title for a highly specific story about a sociopath and his intense efforts to destroy the minds of his female victims. For some, the name Robert Freegard might trigger faint memories of headline news (there was even a Netflix series about his misdeeds), but I’m sure most viewers probably haven’t heard of the man, giving screenwriters Michael Bonner, Adam Patterson, and Declan Lawn (the latter two accept directorial duties) a chance to surprise their audience with a lengthy exploration of Freegard’s case. “Rogue Agent” has the structure of a twisted thriller, and one with a heavy psychological component that allows for some extended displays of sinister behavior. Patterson and Lawn don’t meet the potential of the story, preferring a more glacial take on developing evil, but they achieve a level of unease crucial to the tale, and they have Gemma Arterton, who delivers a fine performance as the lover who decides to try and break Freegard’s criminal activities. Read the rest at

Film Review - WifeLike


“WifeLike” plays like an episode of a limited series, bringing viewers into a futureworld of on-demand spouses that’s plagued with issues concerning disposability, freedom, and control. There’s enough exposition to power at least eight episodes, and the ending sets up a conflict for the next season. It’s low-budget sci-fi with a few provocative ideas, but writer/director James Bird goes the big screen route with “WifeLike,” and the picture often doesn’t stand up to cinematic standards. Bird aims to make a thriller with the material, working to sweeten mystery and survival elements, but he’s also saddled with explaining large concepts of dreamscape visitation and some basic world-building for this nation of robotic women and the men who seek to possess them. Excitement isn’t valued by the helmer, who creates a flat, uneventful look at what initially seems like a promising idea for genre activity. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Games of Survival


For his directorial debut, Armand Gazarian attempts to participate in the home video gold rush of the 1980s, assembling "Games of Survival" (titled "Game of Survival" on the Blu-ray packaging), which presents low-fi action for evenings of VHS rental roulette. Gazarian doesn't come armed with a major budget, locations, and actors, getting by on the bare minimum of technical achievements, electing to shoot the endeavor on 8mm, giving it the general atmosphere of a student production. "Games of Survival" doesn't aim high when it comes to dramatic engagement, but Gazarian is looking to land a basic actioner with sci-fi touches, trying his hardest to make some B-movie magic with grungy cinematography and modest fight choreography. There's a mild sense of appealing lunacy in play, but there's nothing here that's too challenging for genre fans. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Ilya Muromets


1956's "Ilya Muromets" was intended to be a major moviegoing event for Russian audiences, with director Aleksandr Ptushko throwing everything he had into the creation of the Cinemascope epic, which is inspired by "Russian heroic folk tales." The feature wasn't welcomed with open arms in America, soon recut and retitled by Roger Corman (presenting the more eye-catching "The Sword and the Dragon"), who aimed to transform the endeavor into a matinee distraction. And a copy of the picture eventually found its way to the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" gang, who riffed the re- edit in a particularly amusing 1994 episode of the show. "Ilya Muromets" has now returned, restored by Mosfilm, who hope to present the effort the way it was originally seen by Russian viewers, reinforcing the amazing scope of the feature as Ptushko's imagination is celebrated throughout the viewing experience, with the helmer striving to bring fantasy to life. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - No Resistance


1994's "No Resistance" offers a look at Houston in the future, where gangs are plentiful, the economy is in disarray, and a man with a portable computer can infiltrate and manipulate any system he's paid to invade. So, basically, this is Houston, 1997, but for co-writer/director Tim Tomson, "No Resistance" is his chance to play with the world of cyberpunk, doing so with a shot-on-video thriller that looks to present heated confrontations and online warfare with a no-budget production effort, forcing Tomson to get as creative as possible with his limited resources. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - My Best Part


Nicolas Maury has been acting for a few decades now, perhaps best known to international audiences from his turn in 2018's "Knife + Heart." Creating an acting opportunity for himself, Maury co-writes and directs 2020's "My Best Part," which puts him front and center in a drama about a long- suffering actor trying to take some type of control of his seemingly spiraling life. A thespian showcase is exactly what "My Best Part" is, allowing Maury to stretch as a screen presence, bringing in French film industry legend Nathalie Baye for support as he undertakes a character study with elements of dark humor and drama, questing to generate an appreciation for an emotionally wounded man and his many experiences with rejection and depression. Read the rest at

Film Review - Easter Sunday


August is a strange month to release “Easter Sunday,” but it’s easy to recognize a studio punt with the project, which is meant to turn comedian Jo Koy into a leading man. He’s not a seasoned film actor, and this much is evident in the picture, which finds Koy struggling to become charming in a completely laugh-free viewing experience. “Easter Sunday” aims to say something about the chaos of family life, and doing so with a Filipino-American focus, hoping to use the culture and its broad personalities to prop up a DOA endeavor directed by Jay Chandrasekhar, who has a rough track record when it comes to making funny movies (offerings include “The Dukes of Hazard,” “Super Troopers,” and “The Babymakers”). Wacky behaviors can’t save the effort, which doesn’t do anything fresh with humor, and it’s a terrible holiday feature, failing to find the warmth of a domestic gathering, putting a lot of pressure on Koy to make anything here appealing. Read the rest at

Film Review - Prey (2022)


1987’s “Predator” is an action cinema classic, merging worlds of violent excess and sci-fi cinema into a tightly constructed ride of survival, dripping with testosterone. Producers have attempted to match it for over 30 years, and while a few follow-ups have been fine, the original Schwarzenegger-ian magic hasn’t been recaptured. That was supposed to change with 2018’s “The Predator,” but the big-budget reworking was a major creative whiff, failing to restore excitement and surprise to the franchise, almost coming close to killing the brand name with its ineptitude. Four years later, and now there’s “Prey,” which is a prequel to “Predator,” with screenwriter Patrick Aison taking the adventure back to 1719, introducing Native American characters as targets for an alien hunter that refuses to back down from a fight. “Prey” has the novelty of its setting, which is a refreshing change of pace, and director Dan Trachtenberg (“10 Cloverfield Lane”) oversees some effective suspense sequences. It’s not an especially different take on the central human vs. hunter concept, but it’s definitely an improvement over “The Predator.” Read the rest at

Film Review - Bullet Train


Director David Leitch has built a career out of hardcore action movies, dealing directly with elaborate choreography and bloody messes in films such as “Atomic Blonde,” “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” and his biggest hit, 2018’s “Deadpool 2.” For “Bullet Train,” Leitch isn’t interested in taking any creative detours with this adaptation of a Japanese novel, preferring to Americanize the material with plenty of bruising, slicing, and blunt force trauma, recycling the “Deadpool” formula of irreverent comedy and hard-R brutality, as the features are basically the same, even down to the actors involved. However, “Deadpool 2” had a defined sense of humor and some interesting ways with action. “Bullet Train” is a graceless, unfunny endeavor that’s hell-bent on being the most aggressive picture of the year. Leitch puts his faith in the “more is more” way of thinking, content to bash viewers over the head with the cartoonish ways of the material, trying to sell a joke that doesn’t have a punchline. Read the rest at

Film Review - I Love My Dad


While it carries a friendly title, “I Love My Dad” is a dark comedy about parental extremes, with writer/director/star James Morosini taking viewers on quite a ride with the material, which is shaped from a true story. The helmer spotlights the bad instincts and big heart of a father who doesn’t understand right from wrong, generating an exploration of askew guardianship from a desperate man doing anything, I mean anything, to spend some time relearning how to engage with his emotionally fragile son. “I Love My Dad” hits a few farcical highs and some profoundly emotional lows, and while Morosini doesn’t always maintain command of the feature’s tone, he takes some interesting storytelling risks with the picture, which results in some major laughs and plenty of wincing along the way, making for one of the stranger films of 2022. Read the rest at

Film Review - They/Them


In 1980, actor Kevin Bacon was a cast member of the hit slasher film, “Friday the 13th.” The picture helped to change the industry, inspiring countless knockoffs and a passionate fanbase, but Bacon has never celebrated his participation in the endeavor, possibly troubled to be associated with an unsavory feature. For “They/Them,” Bacon finally returns to the deep woods for this effort, which places him in a camp setting where a killer is on the loose, hacking up victims. It’s cause for celebration for some, but writer/director John Logan isn’t making a horror movie with “They/Them,” more interested in a study of young people dealing with the turbulence of their lives. Macabre events periodically occur, but Bacon isn’t back to basics here, playing a supporting part in a heartfelt examination of confusion and shame, but it’s a lousy genre offering. Read the rest at

Film Review - Luck (2022)


Skydance Animation is the latest company created to get in on the profitable ways of family entertainment. Their debut feature is “Luck,” and the company hopes to acquire some of the good stuff with the hiring of John Lassiter, the once mighty Pixar Animation honcho who left the company for controversial reasons. Lassiter is here to help secure a hit for the studio, with the man who helped develop “Cars” and “Toy Story” staying strictly within his comfort level with “Luck,” which takes zero creative chances during its run time. It’s also one of the most exposition-packed animated pictures in recent memory, with director Peggy Holmes (“The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning”) desperately overseeing an often absurdly elaborate exercise in world building that’s meant to be explored in additional media, should the initial outing reach its audience. Such an outcome seems unlikely, leaving viewers with the burden of keeping up with the laborious screenplay, which is mostly tell and very little show. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Coca-Cola Kid


After making a name for himself with artier endeavors in the 1960s and '70s, director Dusan Makavejev aimed to establish a career for himself in the 1980s, settling down with slightly more accessible fare, including the 1981 dark comedy, "Montenegro." 1985's "The Coca-Cola Kid" was the second of Makavejev's offerings in the decade, presenting the helmer with more defined steps toward a mainstream hit, dealing with known actors and the exotic, idiosyncratic ways of Australia, which provides the picture with a special energy during a time of growing trendiness. "The Coca-Cola Kid" is based on short stories written by Frank Moorehouse (who also provides the screenplay), and the picture retains such narrative limitations, putting Makavejev in charge of conjuring a sense of playfulness for the movie while it struggles with a general disinterest in storytelling authority. Amusing interactions and a pleasing sense of location is in play here, keeping the effort buoyant enough to pass, and Makavejev retains much of his visual and tonal impishness, trying to twist the feature into something odd when the plot threatens to keep the whole thing a conventional fish-out-of-water study, with slight romantic comedy additions. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Studio 666


Leave it to a rock band to make the most entertaining horror comedy in recent memory. Foo Fighters have been around in one form or another for nearly 30 years, but there's something about a pandemic that inspires strange ideas. For frontman Dave Grohl, the downtime presented a chance to develop an idea for a demonic possession story, with screenwriters Jeff Buhler and Rebecca Hughes hired to flesh out the concept of a band experiencing a developing nightmare while attempting to record their latest album inside a haunted house. There's a single setting but lots of ideas for bodily harm in "Studio 666," which updates the concept of a "band movie" for genre fans, asking members of Foo Fighters to play slightly cartoonish versions of themselves while the tale delivers blasts of ultraviolence and moments of silliness. "Studio 666" is tremendous fun, and while it's aimed at the fanbase, there are gore zone delights for all. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Mr. Jones


"Mr. Jones" presents the story of journalist Gareth Jones, who not only managed to make his way into the Soviet Union during the early years of conflict before World War II, he witnessed the ravages of the Holodomor in Ukraine, exposed to the horrors of a man-made famine utilized by Joseph Stalin to destroy the country, using its riches as "gold" to demonstrate power to the rest of the world. Such a dire tale of political exposure isn't an easy sell, but in director Agnieszka Holland's hands, the feature becomes a riveting study of reporting and corruption that mirrors the world's struggles and horrors of today. "Mr. Jones" maintains a steady pace and sense of dramatic urgency throughout, giving Holland one of her most effective movies in years, and one smartly designed by screenwriter Andrea Chalupa (making a fine debut), who encourages suspense while delivering a powerful message on the value of the press. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Buster Keaton Rides Again


In 1964, legendary screen comedian Buster Keaton was hired to make "The Railrodder," a silent short used to showcase the natural beauty and personality of Canada. Director Gerald Potterton (who would go on to helm 1981's "Heavy Metal") was put in charge of assembling the picture, teaming with Keaton, who was 69 years old, embarking on the creation of his 87th movie. Hoping to capture this moment in film history, director John Spotton was brought on to make a documentary, "Buster Keaton Rides Again," about the production experience, observing Keaton at his most unguarded as the icon toured the country, trying to perfect gags for "The Railrodder." Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Little Hours


Writer/director Jeff Baena has made a positive impression during his emerging career, pulling off a horror comedy with "Life After Beth," and achieving a cinematic miracle with "Joshy," a movie about male bonding that wasn't basted in ugliness. "The Little Hours" proves to be his greatest tonal challenge yet, mounting a comedy that's not always pursuing laughs, and its target is repression found in organized religion. It's a gamble from Baena, likely alienating a great number of potential viewers right out of the gate, but he mostly sticks the landing, finding ways to scrape out the blasphemy by playing it all so broadly, making a film that certainly has the potential to reach farcical highs, but pulls back a bit too often, perhaps afraid to really dive into the weirdness of the material. Read the rest at