Blu-ray Review - The Black Room


Writer/co-director Norman Thaddeus Vane has the general idea for a vampire movie with 1982's "The Black Room." Instead of creating creatures of the night, the writer turns these monsters into landlords who prey on the undersexed needs of their tenants, taking their dignity and their blood in the process. "The Black Room" isn't particularly sharp, but it has a germ of an idea that could be developed into something uniquely sinister. Vane and co- director Elly Kenner don't have the budget or the patience to create a compellingly bleak look at the breakdown of marital communication, going with a film that's lost somewhere between its desire to be an erotic thriller of some sort and its need to conjure frights for paying audiences. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Sexmission


The future is female in 1984's "Sexmission." It's a Polish production from writer/director Juliusz Machulski, who looks for a way to examine gender roles and power plays while trying to remain slightly cheeky with the endeavor. The helmer delivers a periodically clever understanding of relationships and genre additions, out to craft a B-movie with a brain as the material pokes at the Polish experience in the 1980s and takes on the evergreen tension between males and females, depicted here in all forms of extremity. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hypnotic


Co-writers Max Borenstein and Robert Rodriguez (who also directs) hope to tap into the joys of pulp sci-fi novels with "Hypnotic," which is their version of a Philip K. Dick story, mixed with elements of "Scanners," "The Matrix," and Christopher Nolan productions. It's a noir-ish take on mind-bending happenings, and it initially appears to play directly to Rodriguez's strengths of slightly silly but kinetic entertainment, giving audiences a ride into a specialized unreality with a detective on the hunt for his missing daughter, discovering a hidden world of mind control. What's actually presented here is far more sedate, as the writing pays closer attention to the mystery it's trying to piece together than the thrills and spills it should provide. "Hypnotic" is strangely inert in many ways, occasionally showing signs of life when the movie locks into thriller mode, but these moments are sadly few and far between. Read the rest at

Film Review - Trigger Warning


The general cooling of Jessica Alba’s acting career is perhaps best exemplified in “Trigger Warning” (which was shot nearly three years ago). The actress is fitted for a one-woman-army role, tasked with portraying a believable, military-trained killing machine in the endeavor, giving her the “John Wick” treatment for viewers who’ve had their fill of these movies in recent years. The writing sets up a simple examination of good vs. evil in the American southwest, and it hands indie director Mouly Surya her first big studio picture. All that really needs to happen here is competent hellraising from a questionable source of fury, but “Trigger Warning” often stumbles, especially with poor writing and lackluster performances. Alba commits to the physical needs of the part, but she’s somewhat lost in a film that hopes to summon the spirit of Chuck Norris, but only gets as far as Joe Don Baker. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Exorcism (2024)


“The Exorcism” has quite a production history, with the project originally filmed in 2019 under the guidance of co-writer/director Joshua John Miller, a former child actor (“Teen Witch,” “River’s Edge,” and “Near Dark”) making his first movie since his helming debut, which was released in 1999. The project hit plenty of roadblocks, including difficulties with the COVID-19 pandemic, and reshoots occurred four years later, hinting at major changes to the material long after its original interpretation. And now “The Exorcism” is in theaters, finally offered to the public, and audiences are treated to a story that definitely doesn’t unfold with confidence. Something happened to the feature over the years, and the final cut reflects such indecision, with Miller and co-writer M.A. Fortin heading in an interesting direction with their screenplay, while the picture itself feels like a crude reworking of a deeper idea, slathered with horror formula to make it palatable to the mass audience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fancy Dance


Co-writer/director Erica Tremblay is a documentarian turning to a more dramatic endeavor with “Fancy Dance.” She explores the experience of Native American concerns and reservation life, with specific interest in a missing persons case and its connection to a cultural event and family issues. A minor mystery brews in the screenplay (co-written by Miciana Alise), which delivers a compelling examination of growing despair as characters hunt for answers. However, the big draw of “Fancy Dance” is its human side, with Tremblay striving to maintain focus on all the fragile feelings in play. There’s not a major sweep of suspense in the film, but the picture does have its moments of investigation and confession, and a talented cast is more than capable of bringing the material to life, even during its clumsiest scenes. Read the rest at

Film Review - Thelma (2024)


As a 94-year-old actress, June Squibb has been working for decades, but she’s only really enjoyed a breakthrough in her career over the last ten years, caught stealing scenes in Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska.” Typically the bright spot of any movie she appears in, Squibb finally receives her own starring vehicle in “Thelma,” which is similar in story to last winter’s “The Beekeeper,” finding a fresher way to detail a revenge tale, getting there through outstanding writing and directing from Josh Margolin, who makes his debut with the endeavor. The helmer doesn’t go the action way with the picture, preferring to sink into character and some levels of comedic chaos, and Squibb doesn’t miss a step in the lead role, clearly having a ball portraying a driven grandmother looking to reclaim money stolen from her by scammers. “Thelma” is fresh, heartening, and hilarious, with Margolin skillfully making a feature that’s wildly entertaining but also softer when necessary, offering a touch of reality to go with all the craziness. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Bikeriders


Jeff Nichols hasn’t made a feature since 2016’s “Loving,” and he returns to screens with an unusual study of family in “The Bikeriders,” which continues his career mission to explore various kinds of relationships and cultures. It’s an adaptation of a photo book by Danny Lyon, who collected pictures and interviews from those involved with a motorcycle club, seeking to understand what life was like inside such a volatile organization. Nichols (who also scripts) follows this lead, creating a film of moments, memories, and connections, eschewing plot to explore camaraderie and forms of respect. “The Bikeriders” is loaded with atmosphere and stacked with a cast of brooding male talent, and the helmer works hard to keep viewers in this haze of brotherhood as it evolves from something almost pure to a more organized display of criminal activity. It’s not always a hypnotic movie, but there are moments where the endeavor feels lived-in, capturing a time in American life. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Present (2024)


The director of “How to Be Single” and “Love, Rosie,” Christian Ditter has explored the ways of dating and romance, and now he turns his attention to the challenges of family life with “The Present.” It’s a “Groundhog Day”-style effort from screenwriter Jay Martel (“Get Hard”), who creates a time-travel tale about the prevention of divorce and all the strange roadblocks encountered during this race to preserve normalcy. Martel’s story supplies a germ of an idea involving the anxiety of kids who don’t want to see their parents break up, but Ditter isn’t ready to go deep with the endeavor. He makes a Disney Channel-type of viewing experience instead, going broad and borderline obnoxious with this feature, which establishes adult concerns but offers childish antics. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny


There's a full-length documentary on the release of 2008's "Tenacious D: The Complete Master Works 2" that's essential viewing. It examines the period of fame for the musical duo, with Jack Black and Kyle Gass struggling to deal with an imbalance in media attention, especially as the build up to the release of 2006's "Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny" starts to form. Especially illuminating is the excitement surrounding the movie, with cameras at the premiere, catching New Line Cinema execs sharing their joy with the picture's earning potential, laying the groundwork for a potential sequel. And then "The Pick of Destiny" was unleashed on America…and nobody came. It's one of the great box office mysteries of the decade, with the cult popularity of the group unable to cross over to mainstream success, turning the feature into secret handshake cinema. The film itself didn't deserve such a cruel fate, with director Liam Lynch masterminding a wild ride of music and comedic mayhem for Tenacious D, finding the joyful silliness of the band while celebrating their exceptional musical power. It's such a fun endeavor, triumphantly selling Black and Gass's wonderful way with stupidity and rock authority. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - The Horrible Dr. Hitchcock


There's some level of bravery to "The Horrible Dr. Hitchcock," with the 1962 production trying to explore the ways of necrophilia without triggering utter disgust from viewers and censors of the day. Director Riccardo Freda doesn't shy away from the central display of inhuman lust, but he's not making an offering of underground cinema here, going gothic with the endeavor, which is more of an atmospheric viewing experience than a suspenseful one. "The Horrible Dr. Hitchcock" moves slowly, absurdly so at times, but there's style to keep the audience interested in the weird cravings of a doctor and his specific carnal appetites, preferring his partners to be lifeless. There's some eeriness to the feature, and perversion, helping to support the movie when it shows a general reluctance to march ahead as a wild display of madness. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Eileen


In 2016, director William Oldroyd made a strong impression with "Lady Macbeth," transforming a Russian novella into a riveting sit, and one that offered an amazing lead turn from Florence Pugh, helping to launch her visibility. After a seven-year break, Oldroyd is back with "Eileen," which presents another adaptation challenge, bringing Ottessa Moshfegh's 2015 book to the screen, with the author co-scripting with Luke Goebel. The filmmakers have quite a story to share with viewers, cutting into the fantasies and brutal realities of the eponymous character – a young woman facing a stagnant life of casual abuse, with her essence enlivened by the arrival of a psychologist looking for friendship, or maybe something more. "Eileen" takes its time to set mood and deal with the ways of the complex characters, and Oldroyd delivers compelling atmosphere to support the journey, also handling potent performances from stars Thomasin McKenzie and Anne Hathaway. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Gay USA


1977's "Gay USA" is a documentary that initially presents itself as a study of Pride Parade activity across the country, with cameras visiting celebrations in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and San Diego. However, director Arthur J. Bressan Jr. ("Buddies") has much more in mind for the picture, which seeks to appreciate the state of the LGBTQIA+ community during this moment in time, sending interviewers into the crowds to better understand personal stories and deep feelings. "Gay USA" is a remarkable document of a time and place, with a heartfelt approach to reinforcing the solidarity of Pride Parades and what they mean to individuals used to living in a state of fear and confusion brought on by community violence, hateful organizations, and power-hungry leaders. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Imaginary


“The Imaginary” comes from Studio Ponoc, a company established by Yoshiaki Nishimura, who was a producer at Studio Ghibli. It’s their first feature-length endeavor since 2017’s “Mary and the Witch’s Flower,” and they remain in a fantasy realm with the picture, which investigates a community of imaginary friends and their battles to understand their purpose, facing an evil presence determined to feast on them. Similarities to the recent “IF” are impossible to miss, but director Yoshiyuki Momose makes a more fanciful experience with “The Imaginary,” which aims for screen immersion with its offering of wild characters, fantasy environments, and exceptional animation. It’s not always a riveting study of heroes and villains, but the production aims for details with the effort, holding attention with a significant creative achievement that makes full use of the art form. Read the rest at

Film Review - Brats (2024)


In 2021, Andrew McCarthy authored the book, “Brat: An ‘80s Story,” which examined his formative years and experience as an actor, building on a foundation of education and professional drive to rise as a major face in Hollywood, which was in the midst of mining the youth market. McCarthy became a star, and he also became part of the “Brat Pack,” with journalist David Blum electing to depict a collection of young thespians in an unflattering way to help define a moment in time. McCarthy’s been dealing with the branding for decades, and now he's taken his fight to the screen, directing “Brats,” which sets out to understand what happened to an assortment of movie professionals who were suddenly turned into media stars at a tender age. This turbulent experience remains at the heart of the documentary, but McCarthy isn’t always interested in studying it, occasionally biting off more than he can chew as he attempts to go abyssal into cultural analysis, which allows the film to wander away from its most appealing offerings of reflection from those who were there. Read the rest at

Film Review - Latency


Writer/director James Croke doesn’t have much in the way of a budget for “Latency,” going the modest route for this chiller, which highlights the dangers of technology and the influence of anxiety disorders. There are plenty of ideas in the writing to investigate, and with only two characters and a single location, expectations are put in place for a heartier examination of personality and behavior, while Croke is clearly paying tribute to the cinema of David Cronenberg at times. Unfortunately, the helmer has his ambitions, but the execution of “Latency” is underwhelming. There’s little tension to enjoy as the main player in a game of unreality deals with a disruption to her brain, and Croke isn’t too confident when it comes to scares, preferring to hit viewers with loud noises instead of nailing them with more interesting acts of terror. Read the rest at

Film Review - Inside Out 2


Pixar Animation Studios has taken a few hits in the press lately, with the company facing some financial turmoil as parent organization Disney figures out what to do with the animation giant. Their output has been mostly impressive over the last five years, creating a few original gems along the way (“Luca,” “Soul”), but now Pixar returns to the source of one of their greatest financial and critical successes with “Inside Out 2.” There’s a cynical response ready for such a follow-up to one of 2015’s best movies, but screenwriters Meg LeFauve and Dave Holstein offer a careful continuation meant to expand on the world of Riley and her turbulent emotions. The character is now a teenager with a lot of room to grow, and “Inside Out 2” does just that, developing the inner world of feelings with a more advanced state of distress, and director Kelsey Mann (making his directorial debut) oversees a gorgeously animated adventure that returns to behavioral discoveries with heart and humor. Read the rest at

Film Review - Tuesday (2024)


Writer/director Daina Oniunas-Pusic offers quite the first impression with “Tuesday,” her feature-length helming debut. She doesn’t make it easy for herself, taking on the subject of death, and even the process of it in an askew way, going the magical realism route with this study of a mother working extremely hard to deny the imminent passing of her terminally ill daughter, challenged by Death itself, who emerges in the form of a macaw. There’s a devastating side to the material, but Oniunas-Pusic isn’t all that interested in crafting a tearjerker, going to much stranger places with the endeavor, which is never short on surprises. “Tuesday” hits the heart, how could it not? But there’s a rich sense of inspired filmmaking driving the effort, with Oniunas-Pusic overseeing outstanding performances and imaginative storytelling with this often stunning exploration of life and loss. Read the rest at

Film Review - Big City Greens the Movie: Spacecation


“Big City Greens” made its Disney Channel debut in 2018, and quickly became a hit for the company, who gave the show greater exposure on the Disney+ streaming service, establishing a loyal fan base for the series. Created by The Houghton Brothers (Chris and Shane), “Big City Greens” is the rare animated offering that organically merges crazy slapstick antics with a real sense of heart, always finding fresh ways to explore the Green Family and their urban and rural experiences. And now the program goes big, with “” offering a 90-minute-long adventure with beloved characters, which is quite a development when episodes usually run around 11 minutes. The Houghton Brothers, co-writers, and director Anna O’Brian maintain their usual speed with the feature, delivering a hilarious odyssey into major trouble for the characters, losing none of the charm and mischief of the original series. Read the rest at

Film Review - Cora Bora


Director Hannah Pearl Utt impressed with her last endeavor, 2019’s “Before You Know It,” blending interests in comedy with something more sincere when dealing with character yearnings and foibles. Utt returns to a similar dramedy landscape with “Cora Bora,” following the misadventures of a young woman attempting to handle herself with care, only to end up in impossible situations of longing and awkwardness as she tries to reconnect with her past. The picture also offers a starring opportunity for actress Megan Stalter, who’s been particularly good about stealing scenes in recent efforts (including “Sometimes I Think About Dying” and “Please Don’t Destroy: The Treasure of Foggy Mountain”), and she’s terrific here, handling the turns found in the screenplay (by Rhianon Jones), which tracks a bumpy road of maturation. “Cora Bora” is a little lumpy at times with pace, and a few supporting characters seem superfluous to the odyssey, but the feature remains involving and empathetic, detailing a specific stretch of emotional unrest. Read the rest at