Film Review - Parasite


Steadily building a career making unusual tales of survival, director Bong Joon-ho reached a new height of oddity with his last effort, the “super pig” adventure, “Okja.” Returning to reality, the helmer takes on class divide in Korea, with the haves attacked by the ingenuity of the have nots, with “Parasite” a wickedly clever chiller that provides a distinct reflection of a global society to come. However, Bong isn’t making an overtly political movie, using his sense of humor and appreciation for horror to come up with a crackerjack endeavor that’s packed with surprises. “Parasite” even rivals the superbly managed insanity of Bong’s “Snowpiercer,” trading the extremes of a dead Earth for the unnerving intimacy of a luxury home, finding a more humanized look at the damage people inflict on one another. Read the rest at

Film Review - 21 Bridges


Chadwick Boseman has spent the last few years playing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, doing his duty as T’Challa, king of Wakanda in “Black Panther” and the last two “Avengers” blockbusters. Typically drawn to playing powerful men, Boseman makes a move for the supercop genre with “21 Bridges,” which returns the actor to the realm of the real, at least this appears to be the original intent of the project. Screenwriters Adam Mervis and Matthew Michael Carnahan aim to deliver a gritty police actioner, using the confines of Manhattan as a playground for agonized characters and heavy violence. What ultimately makes it to the screen isn’t as defined, with the writing lunging for any cliché it can find, while Boseman is trying to summon the presence of Sidney Poitier with his performance, only to be stuck striking poses in an incredibly limp thriller. Read the rest at

Film Review - Synonyms


The only person to truly appreciate the wily ways of “Synonyms” is writer/director Nadav Lapid. He’s using a cinematic space to explore the inner turmoil of a character stuck between cultures, and Lapid also provides commentary on political and military behavior as it factors into the history and future of France and Israel. There’s much to study with “Synonyms,” but Lapid has no interest in a straightforward understanding of a polluted headspace. He’s making a performance art piece with star Tom Mercier, chasing every whim to make the effort as unpredictable as possible. In that respect, the feature is an incredible success. However, without any triggering emotional involvement or showing interest in storytelling, Lapid has basically turned his therapy sessions into a two-hour experimental film, and not one that encourages viewer response. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Mad Doctor of Market Street


1942's "The Mad Doctor of Market Street" doesn't remain at the titular location for very long. In fact, it doesn't really remain anywhere for an extended amount of time, with the first act making promises for horror and suspense the rest of the movie doesn't keep. Screenwriter Al Martin has a fine idea for encouraging chills with a tale of a deranged doctor (Lionel Atwill) who pushes his research on suspended animation into death, only to turn the feature into a chase that reaches a luxury ship bound for New Zealand. And then, even with a large setting to work with, the film eventually makes its way to a South Seas island. "The Mad Doctor of Market Street" is a restless picture, always in a hurry to trade decent ideas for bad ones. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Strange Case of Doctor Rx


While "The Strange Case of Doctor Rx" is included in the "Universal Horror Collection: Volume 2" set, there's very little to be frightened of while watching the picture. Perhaps the casting of Shemp Howard is enough to expose what the production is up to, but there's habitual lightness to the endeavor, which is always more interested in a laugh than a scream. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Mad Ghoul


And you thought college tuition was murder? 1943's "The Mad Ghoul" brings terror to a campus setting, examining the evil ways of a professor (George Zucco) who's harnessed the power of ancient gas, using the lethal substance to control one of his adoring students (David Bruce), forcing the zombified young man to kill to remain alive. "The Mad Ghoul" is something of a monster movie, playing with what are now common undead cliches, with director James Hogan working to locate the noir-ish angles of the material, adding style to a periodically lumbering chiller. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Murders in the Zoo


1933's "Murders in the Zoo" certainly wins points for its opening offering of horror, watching as the villain (played by Lionel Atwill) elects to deal with a man making a move on his young wife by binding his hands and sewing his mouth shut. In the pre-code industry, this is a fairly graphic introduction to the fear factor of "Murders in the Zoo," and while subsequent malevolence doesn't top such a sight, it's comforting to know director A. Edward Sutherland isn't messing around with the material, happy to deliver a few shocks to keep viewers on edge. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Leopard Man


Returning to the mystery and cinematic allure of big cats, producer Val Lewton takes command of 1943's "The Leopard Man," which involves a sleek, black predator and his reign of terror on a New Mexico community. However, the feature isn't an animal attack endeavor, with the screenplay using the central threat as a way to examine the burden of guilt and the coldness of community, using a serial killer story to hook audiences in before offering them unusual characterizations in a semi-motivated tale of investigation. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - They're Inside


As the marketplace gradually fills with home invasion thrillers, "They're Inside" initially seems like another installment of the masked maniacs subgenre, pitting hapless twentysomethings against the unnervingly composed might of creeps who've recently shopped at Dollar General to avoid being identified. Co-writer/director John-Paul Panelli isn't aiming for complete originality with the picture (especially on a visual level), but he's ultimately going for something Haneke-esque instead of rehashing "The Strangers." It's not a huge diversion from the norm, but it's something to disrupt expectations. Read the rest at

Film Review - Frozen II


Marketplace expectations were muted before the release of 2013’s “Frozen,” with Walt Disney Animation Studios trying to build on the success of 2010’s “Tangled” by ordering up another fairy tale musical, only with a more pronounced sense of family ties and empowerment. “Frozen” didn’t simply dominate the box office for weeks, it became a cornerstone of Disney entertainment, transformed into video games, theme park attractions, short films, toys and games, and, in 2018, a Broadway musical. The picture became an omnipresent event, with the anthem “Let It Go” becoming the most played song in the history of minivans. Now Disney wants another bite of the apple, delivering “Frozen II,” which doesn’t need to accomplish much to connect to its target demographic, but returning directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee aren’t interested in a cheery return visit to Arendelle, going darker with a sequel that’s trying to age-up with its audience. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood


After the release of 2018’s “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” documentary, it’s clear we’re in the midst of a “Fredaissance,” with renewed interest in the life and teachings of Fred Rogers returning to view. Solidifying such a welcome movement is “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” which isn’t a Mr. Rogers bio-pic, but a profound understanding of his mission to identify emotions and celebrate people. There’s no schmaltz here, as screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster approach the Rogers universe carefully, remaining respectful but honest about the PBS star, while showing precise attention to what turned him into a source of comfort for millions of viewers. There’s feeling flowing throughout “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” and there’s Tom Hanks, who ascends to new professional heights by playing Fred Rogers not as an icon, but a being of immense compassion and curiosity, avoiding caricature to absolutely nail the essence of a seemingly simple, but decidedly complex man. Read the rest at

Film Review - Charlie's Angels (2019)


“Charlie’s Angels” has been banging around pop culture for the last 43 years, and will probably continue for another century. There’s something about the mix of female spies and costuming potential that keeps producers coming back for more, and now the brand name returns to the big screen after a 16-year-long absence, with writer/director Elizabeth Banks trying to reignite the flames of fandom with…well, “Charlie’s Angels.” It’s a new world of big missions and bad men for the Angels to conquer, and Banks is an unlikely choice to guide a mid-budget actioner. She aims for expected style and attitude, but whiffs big time with the rest of the endeavor. Instead of a rousing bruiser that pays tribute to those who’ve Angel-ed before, the production offers a wooden empowerment experience with the kind of drab cinematic chaos one might expect from the helmer of “Pitch Perfect 2.” Read the rest at

Film Review - Line of Duty


Steven C. Miller hasn’t enjoyed the most creatively fertile career, recently managing a string of VOD projects with basically the same title (“Submerged,” “Marauders,” “Arsenal,” “First Kill”), while his last endeavor, 2018’s “Escape Plan 2: Hades,” was recently disowned by its star, Sylvester Stallone. Excitement isn’t really Miller’s specialty, but he does have an interest in violent encounters, finally connecting to a story in “Line of Duty” that demands a little more emphasis when it comes to bodily harm. Miller (not to be confused with colleague Brian A. Miller, who gifted the world “Vice,” “Backtrace,” and “Reprisal”) seems alert with “Line of Duty” (which, amazingly, doesn’t star Bruce Willis or Nicolas Cage), assembling a slightly energizing bruiser that’s heavy on the stunt work and blessedly limited in scope. It’s not a career rejuvenator, but it has a pulse, and that’s good enough to pass. Read the rest at

Film Review - Noelle


Now that 2003’s “Elf” has become a holiday classic and a merchandising behemoth, Disney has finally come around with their own version of the elf-out-of-water tale. With “Noelle,” writer/director Marc Lawrence is determined to follow the “Elf” structure, constructing a holiday odyssey where a marginalized member of the North Pole community is tasked with entering human society, experiencing all possible awkwardness and cultural collisions. Instead of Will Ferrell, Lawrence brings in Anna Kendrick, eager to use her chirpy personality to embody the Christmas spirit as it’s newly challenged by family fear and Phoenix heat. “Noelle” is harmless fluff, but it’s definitely no “Elf,” missing any sizable laughs and delightful mischief, with Lawrence missing opportunities to craft a blazing comedy, electing to make a bland one instead. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Good Liar


Whatever happens in “The Good Liar,” it always has the skill of master thespians Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren to support through anything the plot delivers. It turns out, the story delivers quite a bit, but the film waits patiently to unleash its bizarre turns of plot, with director Bill Condon providing a solid hour of character work and intriguing clues before he’s forced to truly attack the structure of Nicolas Searle’s book, adapted here by Jeffrey Hatcher. “The Good Liar” is about the gamesmanship of secrets, and the picture does an impressive job hiding its true form, taking things one way when it ultimately heads in a completely different direction. This curveball is too ambitious for the scope of the movie, but, again, there’s the magic of McKellen and Mirren, with the pair making the material absolutely soar at times, often more interesting than the feature they’re starring in. Read the rest at

Film Review - Lady and the Tramp (2019)


Disney’s interest in creating live-action remakes of animated classics isn’t dissipating any time soon, especially after last summer’s “Aladdin” and “The Lion King” do-over collected a fortune at the box office, inspiring the company to crank out more of these problematic productions. Their latest offering is “Lady and the Tramp,” which updates the beloved 1955 original, aiming to hook a modern audience with a CGI-enhanced event that basically replicates the previous feature, but loses troubling racial stereotypes and dynamic hand-drawn artistry. While it refuses to be anything more than a copy of what’s come before, “Lady and the Tramp” plays more like a “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” sequel, presenting a lifeless adventure that doesn’t take any chances or offer much personality. Read the rest at

Film Review - Radioflash


Writer/director Ben McPherson is trying to put his own stamp on the end of the world, with “Radioflash” examining the power of analog life when the digital universe ceases to exist. It’s not really a horror movie, but the helmer does try to inject some fright into the endeavor. It’s not exactly a thriller, but a few chases and heated showdowns remain. As a relationship picture, McPherson has something compelling with his overview of a family fighting to stay together during a troubling time. “Radioflash” wants to be a lot of things, but never really comes together, with McPherson overwhelmed by his subplots, struggling to find a story here worth following from start to finish. Read the rest at

Film Review - Scandalous: The True Story of the National Enquirer


While it’s been in the tabloid business since 1953, only now is a moviemaker brave enough to assemble a documentary on the ways of the National Enquirer. Mark Landsman (“Thunder Soul”) steps up to examine just how the publication came to be, tracking the rise of its influence and the depths of its reporting, presenting a film about unscrupulous behavior in a day and age when such a thing has become daily bread for us all. Mercifully, “Scandalous” comes prepared, with Landsman assembling an impressive roster of interviewees and visual evidence to help fill out what’s really a string of political and pop culture highlights, following the paper’s efforts to be valued as entertainment and as an example of journalistic integrity. The picture is a bit wobbly when it comes time to challenge these personalities, but Landsman constructs a reasonably smooth ride of outrageous events and professional exposure. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Mafu Cage


1978's "The Mafu Cage" began life as a play from writer Eric Westphal, offering tight characterization and a slow descent into madness that fits perfectly with the distance of theater, permitting audiences time and space to process the unfolding psychological mayhem. Director Karen Arthur's screen version of the work removes all dramatic buffers, pulling viewers into a world of mental illness and bodily harm, dealing with a story of imprisonment by turning the entire feature into a tight grip of claustrophobic events. "The Mafu Cage" is certainly different, with Arthur striving to create an avant-garde experience that's not easily defined or, at times, bearable. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Tamarind Seed


Maturing as a filmmaker after spending time with the "Pink Panther" series, Blake Edwards tries his luck with a spy genre with 1974's "The Tamarind Seed," which opens with a James Bond-style credit sequence from Maurice Binder and features a John Barry score, but doesn't do much more when it comes to digging into cinematic influences. Instead, Edwards puts his faith into stars Julie Andrews and Omar Sharif, who supply just enough star power to get this unexpectedly dry thriller out of neutral on multiple occasions. Read the rest at