Blu-ray Review - Sworn to Justice


From 1985 to 1995, martial arts star Cynthia Rothrock received many opportunities to showcase her fight skills, appearing in a great number of movies happy to toss the actress into dangerous situations. She battles baddies with the best of them, but 1996's "Sworn to Justice" tries to highlight other sides of her personality, giving Rothrock a chance to deal with slightly more dramatic situations, and there's a sensual side to the feature, giving the lead a rare challenge to sell bedroom activity. There's a lot going on in "Sworn to Justice," with screenwriter Robert Easter tasked with creating a coherent film with ideas that often don't blend together, offering swings into fantasy and comedy that seem awfully strange in a revenge story. As usual, Rothrock is the main reason to stick with the wild tonality of the endeavor, and while she can't always master deep emotional expression, she's dynamic when it comes time to destroy villains, delivering lively escapism. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - The Invisible Maniac


Writer/director Adam Rifkin had a dream, working to bring "The Dark Backward" to screens. However, he also needed work as a young filmmaker, and part of his learning process involved the creation of 1990's "The Invisible Maniac," which was written and produced in a matter of weeks. It's a low- budget quickie from Rifkin (billed here as "Rif Coogan"), and his creative mission here is to play with the mad scientist genre and photograph as many nude actresses as possible. Even with limited creative goals, "The Invisible Maniac" isn't quite the romp it should be, as Rifkin has a real problem with filler, noticeably sweating to get the movie up to a sellable run time, which results in some serious drag in a feature that wants to be a rip-roaring ride of violence and sexploitation. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - A Walk to Remember


1999's "Message in a Bottle" proved there was an audience for an adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks's novel, inspiring the producers to try again with 2002's "A Walk to Remember." While "Message in a Bottle" was aimed at adult audiences, the second Sparks production hopes to appeal to a much younger demographic, with screenwriter Karen Janszen delivering an ultra-soft take on a burgeoning relationship between a reckless high school student and a pure-hearted girl dealing with a terminal illness. "A Walk to Remember" is basically a television production that found its way to the big screen, with director Adam Shankman ("The Pacifier") trying to make the most vanilla picture possible, never demanding much of his actors or the material. He's crafting a simple tearjerker, rarely going above and beyond to make something truly meaningful with Sparks's tale of final wishes and transformative encounters. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves


The role-playing game “Dungeons & Dragons” has been around for nearly 50 years, and Hollywood has certainly tried to capitalize on the popularity of the brand name over the decades. Perhaps the most notable was a charming, violent Saturday morning cartoon that began a two-year run in 1983, and the most notorious offering was a 2000 feature, which merged mid-budget extravaganza with the comedy stylings of Marlon Wayans. Hoping to reestablish a new cinematic realm for the tabletop experience is “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves,” with co-writers/directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein aiming to bring a more respectful adaptation to the screen while still playing in a big-budget sandbox that requires some level of accessibility for the mass audience. “Honor Among Thieves” is at its best in adventure mode, with the helmers delivering visual gymnastics and plenty of fantasy components, but the pair often favor their funny bone, which isn’t nearly as enjoyable as wild encounters with strange creatures and perilous environments. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Lost King


“The Lost King” hopes to illuminate an otherwise forgotten bit of recent British history, sharing the story of Philippa Langley and her quest to locate the remains of Richard III, endeavoring to dig through rumor and research to achieve a seemingly impossible goal. It’s a fascinating tale of obsession, handed a smooth dramatic ride by screenwriters Jeff Pope and Steve Coogan (adapting Langley’s book, “The Search for Richard III”), who strive to focus on the woman’s journey through the darkness of doubt and rejection, forced to rely on belief to achieve desired results. Director Stephen Frears (“Dangerous Liaisons,” “Philomena”) helps to keep the feature on the move, settling on a semi-Hitchcockian tone for the picture, which is both unexpected and most welcome. “The Lost King” has ideas to share on inequality and historical inaccuracy, and the writing successfully balances the human drive of the story with the details of the hunt. Read the rest at

Film Review - Last Sentinel


If the story of the “Last Sentinel” was the basis for an episode of television, it could work, dealing with a short run time and more focus on achieving a certain level of suspense with fewer dramatic moves. However, this is not T.V., but a movie from writer Malachi Smyth and director Tanel Toom, and they’re not in a hurry to generate any sort of nail-biting viewing experience with an endeavor that inexplicably runs for nearly two hours. The material has some ambition to detail the habitual cycles of destruction found in humanity, and there’s some interest in replicating a chain-of-command thriller, where duty and survival are forced to battle it out. “Last Sentinel” is a confusing picture, showing no interest in screen movement despite taking on a plot that has the potential for a more active sense of danger, leaving the audience with very little to rile up the senses as one comatose scene after another fills up a painfully overlong run time. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - Road House


In the 1980s, actor Patrick Swayze was climbing the career ladder, enjoying supporting roles in minor hits and misses. When 1987's "Dirty Dancing" became a surprise smash success and cultural phenomenon, Swayze suddenly had career opportunities, presenting Hollywood with a chance to define a new leading man. In 1989, Swayze locked into hero mode, gravitating toward tough guy parts in "Next of Kin" and "Road House," with the latter specifically built to take advantage of his physicality, good looks, and more sensitive screen appeal. And it works, rather wonderfully, finding Swayze in his element as cooler supreme Dalton, a philosophical destroyer of bodies and breaker of hearts who takes on villains with surgical skill, trying to remain "nice, until it's time to not be nice." There's goofiness galore, but director Rowdy Herrington commits to a certain brawler vibe to the picture, giving it a special screen energy, and there's always Swayze, perfectly cast here as a man of action, helping to keep the feature superbly entertaining and different than the competition, making something unique with Dalton. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Creature from Black Lake


1976's "Creature from Black Lake" provides yet another look at the pursuit of a Bigfoot-type monster in the middle of nowhere. It's a popular topic for moviemakers, especially in the 1970s, when tales of sasquatch were all the rage, handed in a boost in popularity with a success of 1972's "The Legend of Boggy Creek." Writer Jim McCullough Jr. goes one step beyond the replication of a hit film, striving to merge two hit films with the work, which also hopes to summon some "Jaws"-style suspense, especially in the final act. Director Joy N. Houck Jr. ("The Night of the Strangler") isn't known for his flashy style, but there's some effort made to keep "Creature from Black Lake" at least reasonably distinct, with a cinematic look to the picture helping the viewing experience immensely. And the screenplay is unusual in the way it pays attention to characters and relationships, generating a firm appreciation of motivation with a first hour that's largely devoted to community exploration and mild detective work. Weirdly, the feature actually becomes less interesting when the monster is around, making the endeavor unusual as drive-in fodder, emerging with decent personality and bonding time. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - Freeway


Matthew Bright's career as a writer/director only lasted for four movies, and during this run, the helmer made sure to make his mark by offering askew takes on the human experience, often pumping up the endeavors with shock value to secure viewer attention. His first effort is 1996's "Freeway," with Bright trying to rework the story of "Little Red Riding Hood" into a streetwise tale of survival and revenge, with Reese Witherspoon portraying a particularly nasty fairy tale heroine, while Kiefer Sutherland becomes a perverted, serial killer "wolf." Bright's fondness for extremity is immediately understood, giving "Freeway" a funky sense of threat, but some, including the filmmakers, have identified the picture as a dark comedy, though it's quite difficult to find anything funny about this overview of suffering and mental illness. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Mindfield


Project MKUltra provides the inspiration for 1989's "Mindfield," which explores secret government efforts to control test subjects with "induced amnesia," with plans to utilize such chemical experimentation to best strengthen interrogations and inspire violence. The screenplay by Tom Berry, George Mihalka, and William Deverell (who adapts his own novel) is careful not to get too close to the source of such corruption, creating a dramatic path for the picture, which follows a Montreal cop struggling with his past as he hunts for killers across the city. It's chilly work from director Jean- Claude Lord, who's not committed to making a procedural thriller or explore the scientific manipulation in full, ending up somewhere in the middle, trying to make sense of character connections and motivations. "Mindfield" is well-acted and select scenes of hostility work as intended, but the overall endeavor is a bit scattered, with many ideas and characters competing for screen time, coming up short as a conspiracy thriller. Read the rest at

Film Review - Shazam! Fury of the Gods


2019’s “Shazam!” was an attempt by the DC Cinematic Universe to open the door for more fringe players in the superhero game, building up the brand with fresher faces used for cinematic adventuring. The picture wasn’t exactly a screaming success, but it managed to inspire a sequel, with “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” arriving four years later, ready to return to the might of Billy Batson and his transformation into the powerful Champion, Shazam. Returning screenwriter Henry Gayden (now joined by Chris Morgan, from the “Fast & Furious” franchise) and director David F. Sandberg are certainly enthusiastic about a second go-around with cutesy heroes and Greek myth-inspired villainy, but there’s nothing really different about “Fury of the Gods,” which suffers from the same tonal issues as the original feature, and Sandberg cranks up the noise to make an epic, relying on visual effects, not story, to wow viewers in this bland follow-up. Read the rest at

Film Review - John Wick: Chapter 4


2014’s “John Wick” was a relatively simple affair. It was a revenge picture with clear antagonists and a straightforward mission of payback, using extreme violence and brutal style to reinvent the action movie in a genuinely thrilling manner, using just about 95 minutes to get the job done. Lean and mean. “John Wick: Chapter 4” is anything but lean, asking audiences to be patient with its gargantuan 165-minute-long run time, with the character set on a globetrotting mission of fury, still managing to survive all sorts of physical attacks. The new sequel is definitely mean, with returning director Chad Stahelski absolutely determined to top himself with this new wave of furious stunt work and extended choreography, once again putting star Keanu Reeves through the paces as John returns to power in this exhausting endeavor, which still retains many cinematic highs, but good heavens, does it ever need a few more passes in the editing room. Read the rest at

Film Review - Boston Strangler


2007’s “Zodiac” is largely considered to be one of the great films about an investigation into the horrific acts committed by a serial killer. Director David Fincher summoned an incredible mood for the movie, playing to his strengths with style and storytelling patience, striving to conjure real suspense with the workings of newspaper journalism. “Boston Strangler” has the same idea, with writer/director Matt Ruskin setting a Fincher-esque tone with the feature, which examines the drive of two female reporters in the 1960s to make sense of a murderer in Massachusetts who targets vulnerable women, sending messages to the public with the discovery of each victim. “Boston Strangler” has a special feeling of dread, and the first half of the picture captures the intensity of analysis and suspicion, with stars Keira Knightley and Carrie Coon offering appealingly steely work as the two brilliant minds looking to crack a particularly gruesome case. Read the rest at

Film Review - Inside


If there must be a movie about a man stuck inside a lavish apartment with no hope of ever escaping, slowly going crazy as the days pass and resources dry up, it should star Willem Dafoe. “Inside” scratches a lot of itches in this regard, giving the iconic actor a fresh shot at depicting extreme boredom as it gradually melts into madness, delivering a performance that not only has to support the entire endeavor, but manages to as well. It’s a strange project from director Vasilis Katsoupis and writer Ben Hopkins, who attempt to rethink the prison picture, only here the confines are cavernous, putting Dafoe’s character in the middle of luxury living in New York City. “Inside” is something of a survival story as well, but the production mostly remains on the frayed ends of sanity, generating a highly specific viewing experience for more adventurous filmgoers, but fans of Dafoe get the full show when it comes to the actor’s love of playing psychologically shredded people. Read the rest at

Film Review - Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game


“Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game” is an unusual story about an unlikely hero, at least for those who enjoy arcade time, especially in New York City. The picture tells the story of Roger Sharpe, an obsessive fan of pinball who worked to overturn an NYC ban of the game in 1976, pulled into a legal fight to prove that pinball wasn’t just for gambling. Writer/directors Austin and Meredith Bragg look to spotlight a strange story of fandom and determination, offering a faux docudrama approach to generate a special spirit for the production, which touches on the allure of pinball and the ups and downs of Sharpe’s love life. “The Man Who Saved the Game” has its low-budget limitations, but it works as a study of a life pulled in unexpected directions, with lead Mike Faist (who was very impressive in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story”) providing an enjoyable performance as the unlikely instrument of change. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Magician’s Elephant


“The Magician’s Elephant” is an adaptation of a 2009 Kate DiCamillo novel, with screenwriter Martin Hynes out to rework the author’s ways with magic for an animated movie. It’s a fantasy feature, but one aiming to hit the heart with some force, following the trials of a young boy searching for a way to make contact with an elephant that’s been mysteriously pulled into a remote kingdom, desperate to return the confused creature to its home, also hunting for the location of his missing sister. As with most literary-based endeavors, there are plenty of characters and motivations to go around, with director Wendy Rogers doing a satisfactory job of tonal management and family film ambiance, giving the effort a few nice pops of action during the material’s ultimate quest to be endearing. Read the rest at

Film Review - Supercell


1995’s “Twister” was an enormous hit, becoming the second highest-grossing feature of the year, delivering screen voltage to viewers with its tale of reckless storm chasers and the tornados they hunt across the Midwest. While plans materialized time and again over the decades, a sequel never arrived (Hollywood is currently trying again), leaving the door open for other pictures to explore this world of adrenaline and science addicts. Again, nothing of note was created, giving co-writer/director Herbert James Winterstern a shot to add to the nature-gone-mad subgenre with “Supercell,” which returns to the open land of America and the threat posed by brewing storms. Some expectations are in place for another “Twister,” but Winterstern doesn’t head in that creative direction, eschewing a pulse-pounder for something more character-based and sensitive, breaking up the study of a young man trying to connect with his late father with periodic brushes with danger. Read the rest at

Film Review - Moving On


Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin apparently enjoy working together. Especially in recent years, with the “9 to 5” co-stars dealing with the demands of a television series in “Grace and Frankie,” and the pair recently disrupted Super Bowl happenings in the comedy “80 for Brady.” Fonda and Tomlin return to the screen with “Moving On,” joining writer/director Paul Weitz (“About a Boy,” “Little Fockers”) for a tale of getting older and angrier, detailing a friendship that confronts a deeply disturbing incident from their past. “Moving On” as a few light-ish moments to maintain some friendliness, but Weitz mostly goes dark and occasionally heavy with the feature, which is much more of a drama than the film’s marketing suggests. As to be expected, Fonda and Tomlin are compelling and emotional, but Weitz can’t master the murky tone of the endeavor. Read the rest at

Film Review - Wildflower


“Wildflower” has a lot on its plate. The screenplay by Jana Savage examines a particularly overwhelmed teenager fighting to handle all that’s asked of her, facing demands from her education, a new love, a best friend, and her intellectually disabled parents. The writer generates a series of volatile scenes, with the main character’s arc following her stressful experiences, studying her response to such responsibility. There’s something interesting about such a lifestyle, but “Wildflower” doesn’t handle chaos carefully, dipping into melodrama at times, limiting the emotional potential of such an unusual odyssey involving an especially abrasive character. Director Matt Smukler doesn’t aim for subtlety with the feature, which frequently comes across as a television movie, unable to manage the various moods Savage pursues, creating a rocky and unfulfilling viewing experience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Money Shot: The Pornhub Story


As a brand, Pornhub has come a long way, with the company working to keep itself as the top destination for adult entertainment videos, offering a staggering database of visual offerings for consumers to pore through, reaching all corners of sexual interests. It seemed harmless enough for a few years, but times have changed, and the inner workings of the site have been exposed to all, with a turn in 2020 triggering the company’s downfall in some aspects of business and reputation. Director Suzanne Hillinger examines just what happened to the Canadian corporation, endeavoring to grasp the separate concepts of sex trafficking and sex worker in “Money Shot: The Pornhub Story,” which takes an unusual look at the business of pornography, especially in the internet age, when everything is available to users, but few care to deal with the prospect of controlling it in some way, preferring to strictly profit from it instead. Read the rest at