Film Review - The King's Daughter


In the era of COVID-19, movie release delays have become common. Studios are sniffing around for dates capable of delivering desired box office returns, holding on to valuable pictures until the timing is right. For “The King’s Daughter,” the situation is a lot more complicated, as the feature was originally shot in 2014, spending the last eight years in limbo after jumping around various studios, looking for a company brave enough to finally send it in front of audiences. The day has finally arrived for “The King’s Daughter,” which brings Vonda McIntyre’s 1997 novel to the big screen, presenting material that originally beat out “A Game of Thrones” for a literary prize. Unfortunately, the project has been handed to Sean McNamara, the director of “Cats & Dogs: Paws Unite!” and “Bratz,” and he’s not the kind of helmer who can do much with ambitious fantasy material. The best he can do is offer Pierce Brosnan as a French king and some iffy CGI, basically aiming the endeavor at sleepover crowds looking for an easily digestible take on love, empowerment, and mermaid vivisection. Read the rest at

Film Review - WarHunt


Co-writer/director Mauro Borrelli attempts to blend genre elements concerning witchcraft with meaty World War II action in “WarHunt.” The approach appears to mimic the pages of a graphic novel, where the real and unreal are permitted to coexist, as Borrelli introduces some macabre additions to boost the men-on-a-mission formula, giving the production a few surges of compelling violence. While the film deals with various versions of evil, both political and mythical, the real enemy to “WarHunt” is its limited budget, which prevents Borrelli from really indulging the extremes of the story, or offer the viewer more than basic forest locations, mixed with a few sets. The endeavor isn’t a washout, just hobbled by a lack of funds, keeping drama and action somewhat stagnant when this feels like a premise capable of absolutely rampaging with more generous financing. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Tiger Rising


“The Tiger Rising” is an adaptation of a 2001 children’s book by Kate DiCamillo, who delivered 116 pages of dramatic development and characterization, focusing on the plight of two 10-year-old kids and their shared emotional frustrations. The film version tries to stretch the material into 100 minutes of soft melodrama, aiming to make an old-fashioned family movie with elements of sadness and fantasy, presenting an adventure from a child’s POV. “The Tiger Rising” means well enough, but writer/director Ray Giarratana grows too comfortable with the endeavor’s leisurely pace and broad performances, trusting in simple messages of friendship and forgiveness to carry the effort when DiCamillo’s source material clearly needs a more refined approach to bring it to life. Read the rest at

Film Review - Redeeming Love


“Redeeming Love” is a faith-based movie from an evangelical Christian production company, and the material includes several scenes of sexuality and sexual violence. I have questions, you’ll have questions, and some of the answers are found in Francine Rivers’s 1991 novel, which is adapted for the screen by the author and D.J. Caruso (who also directs). Rivers has created a tale of one woman’s experiences with tragedy, studying how it leaves her dead inside until the right man comes along to show her the path of love. The picture is extremely strange, looking to sell acts of submission and superiority as some type of warm union between opposites, and Rivers has a vicious side, with horrible things happening to the characters, which doesn’t exactly encourage the warm fuzzies the feature hopes to end on. “Redeeming Love” has production polish, but not a great sense of what kind of story it wants to tell, and what kind of audience it’s hoping to reach. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Last Thing Mary Saw


“The Last Thing Mary Saw” has unfortunate timing. There’s clearly a drive to create an atmospheric film about religious oppression and supernatural events, with first-time moviemaker Edoardo Vitaletti putting primary emphasis on the slow creep of doom. He works with a small budget and limited lighting to arrange a creep-out capable of reaching its intended audience, offering small bites of horror for the most patient viewers. Vitaletti has good intentions, but he’s a little behind the curve with “The Last Thing Mary Saw,” beaten to the punch by dozens of similar endeavors that share the same tone and imagination for screen tension. Not helping the cause is the effort’s glacial pacing, which is meant to conjure a special sense of agitation, but doesn’t get the feature where it needs to be in terms of unease, keeping the picture in neutral as horrible things happen to characters, and it’s difficult to work up the interest in their punishment. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Demons 2


It didn't take long for producer Dario Argento and director Lamberto Bava to cash-in on the unexpected success of 1985's "Demons." Released eleven months later, "Demons 2" is out to sustain genre momentum, with the production basically creating a remake of the first picture, which ended on a grim, apocalyptic note. Such tonal bravery is gently pushed aside for round two, which moves the central conflict between man and monster from a movie theater to an apartment building, with television the grand conductor of evil this time around. "Demons 2" endeavors to offer a busier sense of screen activity, but not necessarily a more gruesome one, with Bava pulling back on demonic grotesqueries to play with a more sustained creature threat, dipping into puppetry to secure a "Gremlins" vibe. The production works hard to create a big screen mess, but a double dip into this world of media zombification and viral outbreaks isn't quite as enchanting as the last effort. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Demons


Director Lamberto Bava and producer Dario Argento look to raise a little hell with 1985's "Demons," using the sanctity of a single-screen movie palace to construct a mysterious monster uprising. It's an Italian production created during a fertile creative period in the local industry, inspiring Bava and Argento (who also collaborated on the screenplay with Franco Ferrini and Dardano Sacchetti) to dream up interesting ways to destroy bodies without spending too much time in the outside world. Atmosphere is plentiful in "Demons," which doesn't burden itself in the plot department, sticking with a simple premise of evil on the loose, taking it to interesting extremes. Bava aims to create a genre thrill ride with the feature, and he's mostly successful, delivering numerous gross-outs and violent encounters, keeping up the pace with chases throughout the building, often sold with a driving heavy metal soundtrack. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Shallow Grave


1987's "Shallow Grave" follows marketplace demands by putting a collection of young women in the line of fire, tracking their mad dash for survival as a predatory man is suddenly inspired to end their lives. The premise is nothing new, remaining withing the parameters of slasher cinema, but writer George Fernandez and director Richard Styles aim to add a little sinister business to the material, giving it more of an edge while it manages the deaths of multiple characters. "Shallow Grave" has some issues with pacing, but when it digs into nasty business, it produces decent suspense sequences and a pleasingly dark finale, helping the project to stand out from the competition. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Little Vampire


"Little Vampire" is inspired by a book series created by Angela Sommer-Bodenburg, who wrote about a friendship between a human boy and his monster pal. The source material is changed somewhat for the film adaptation, with director Joann Sfar aiming to transform the idea into a comedy with a slight horror approach. For the French production, Michel is an orphan looking for something more than life with his grandparents, coming into contact with the Vampire, who was once a human as well 300 years ago, now rebelling against a protective curse that's kept him 10 years old for centuries. In the mix are the Vampire's monster buddies, a skeleton pirate and the woman who loves him, and a villain with a head shaped like a crescent moon. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Coppelia


As a ballet, "Coppelia" dates back to 1870, where it achieved enormous success on the stage. It was adapted into a 1900 short film by Georges Melies, who worked his own cinematic magic on the material, which was initially taken from an E.T.A. Hoffmann short story. For 2021, the Dutch National Ballet is called in to update the tale with digital twist, offering an exploration of heroes and villains, low self-esteem, and young love with help from CG-animation. It's a brightly colored, highly acted version of "Coppelia" for specialized audiences, but the display of dance is quite enchanting, with talented professionals challenged to merge with unreal elements of temptation to revive the story for a new audience. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Wild Tigers I Have Known


2006's "Wild Tigers I Have Known" is abstract, interpretive cinema similar to the work found in Gus Van Sant's forays into art-house flexing and the depths of depression during the time period. Short filmmaker Cam Archer makes his feature-length debut here, and the fingerprint of performance art is pushed deeply into the skin of the picture. "Wild Tigers I Have Known" is difficult to watch, yet undeniably hypnotic. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Debbie Does Dallas Part II


Riffing on the pop culture rise of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, 1978's "Debbie Does Dallas" didn't have to do much to become an adult film sensation, as long as star Bambi Woods maintained some presence in the feature while wearing an NFL-adjacent uniform. The movie was an enormous hit, giving Woods (who tried out to be an actual Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader) a major boost to her acting career. A sequel was inevitable, and eventually arrived in 1981, with "Debbie Does Dallas Part II" trying to keep a good thing going, though the follow-up weirdly drops the cheerleader storyline, keeping things episodic with Debbie and her journey of sexual curiosity. Read the rest at

TV Review - El Deafo


“El Deafo” is an adaptation of a 2014 graphic novel by Cece Bell, who turned to the page to detail moments from her early life in the 1970s, where she dealt with the hardships of hearing loss. The book won accolades for its imagination and treatment of a delicate issue, and Bell now brings her story to television, with a three-episode animated series that seeks to support the author’s tender tale of traumatic experiences and empowerment. “El Deafo” was an incredible young adult literary achievement, and director Gilly Fogg and writer Will McRobb do everything they can to preserve Bell’s POV, including a creative use of sound to generate a specific listening experience for viewers, presenting an immersive understanding of hearing issues and a gentle overview of growing pains. “El Deafo” is simply wonderful. Read the rest at

Film Review - Parallel Mothers


Writer/director Pedro Almodovar reclaimed his artistic supremacy with 2019’s “Pain and Glory,” which reunited the helmer with frequent collaborator Antonio Banderas, working on a personal story concerning mortality. It was a gem, and now he’s back with another of his favorite performers, Penelope Cruz, for “Parallel Mothers,” with the pair returning to the turbulent ways of a Almodovar melodrama, this time examining the sacrifices of parenthood and the cruelty of history. The picture isn’t a puzzle, but it contains a significant amount of turns and challenging ideas on the nature of motherhood, blended with a feminine POV the helmer adores. “Parallel Mothers” enjoys depicting matters of the heart, but the material heads into some strange directions at times, keeping viewers glued to the wild developments Almodovar has prepared for his latest foray into the depths of doubt. Read the rest at

Film Review - Riverdance: The Animated Adventure


Just over 25 years ago, the show “Riverdance” premiered. It brought the world of Irish dancing to the world, with touring companies traveling around the globe, delighting audiences eager to experience the thrill of synchronized movement and the power of culture. And what better way to celebrate the stage extravaganza than to release an animated movie about fantasy deer with magical antlers who populate Irish rivers, becoming prey for a mythical predator who becomes real when a lighthouse goes dark. And there’s dancing too. “Riverdance: The Animated Adventure” is one of the weirdest family films I’ve seen in some time, but the oddity doesn’t always translate into ideal entertainment. There’s some fun to be had with the strangeness of it all, but the production doesn’t know what to do with itself at times, reaching a 73-minute runtime in mostly disappointing ways. Read the rest at

Film Review - Scream (2022)


When “Scream” debuted in 1996, little was expected of it. It was horror counterprogramming for the holiday season, eventually making its way to a sizable box office take while inspiring a trend in self-aware chillers featuring disposable teen characters. It launched a line of sequels that gradually lost audience interest (the last appearing in 2011), and eventually found its way to a television series that lasted three seasons on MTV and VH1. The franchise tires were soon deflated, the cash cow was milked dry, but now there’s another “Scream,” which is titled “Scream,” because that’s what studios do when they want to repackage material for a new generation. And this is exactly the approach of the new “Scream,” which takes the original’s fixation on genre movie rules and formula and updates it for the “re-quel” world of today. Screenwriters James Vanderbilt (“Independence Day: Resurgence,” “White House Down”) and Guy Busick (“Ready or Not”) take the concept of remakes quite seriously, mounting what’s basically a do-over of the original Wes Craven film, leaning into déjà vu to best appeal to longtime fans and newcomers to the stalking routine of the Ghostface killer. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hotel Transylvania: Transformania


It was inevitable that another “Hotel Transylvania” sequel would be made. The last one, 2018’s “Summer Vacation,” managed to become the franchise’s biggest grossing and best reviewed installment, finally finding a semi-inspired way to deal with director Genndy Tartakovsky’s often manic vision for cartoon chaos. What’s surprising about “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” is the absence of Tartakovsky, who elected to step down from helming duties, taking a co-writing credit instead. Also missing is star Adam Sandler, who weirdly retreats from the easiest gig of his career, allowing voice actor Brian Hull to take over as Dracula. Some elements have changed for the fourth chapter of the horror-themed series, but slapstick remains in full force for “Transformania,” which works extremely hard to match the energy of previous offerings, though the absence of key players is felt. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sex Appeal


Screenwriter Tate Hanyok is out to challenge the teen sex comedy with “Sex Appeal.” It’s a movie for a new age of body and sex positivity, getting away from male-oriented adventures into lustful situations. Hanyok’s had enough of these perspectives, electing to create a female-centric study of carnal exploration, with emphasis on the journey of virginity featuring a character who’s prioritized academic achievements over an examination of pleasure. Hanyok has fun with the premise, delivering a mostly amusing endeavor that’s occasionally broad to help relax inherent tensions concerning the plot. She also offers a commendable female POV, helping to freshen up the teen horndog subgenre, updating its interests. “Sex Appeal” eventually battles a breakout of two different films competing for attention, but that effort to doing something different is commendable, and the picture remains quite entertaining. Read the rest at

Film Review - Borrego


Writer/director Jesse Harris wants to do something significant with “Borrego,” but there are two different films fighting for attention here. The feature is bookended with text detailing the harsh world of pharmaceutical drugs, where introductory doses of powerful painkillers can often lead to personal ruin, sending users on a journey they’re not prepared for. And then there’s the rest of the endeavor, which details various characters involved in a botched plan to fly drugs over the Mexican border into California, leading to violent events involving confused people. “Borrego” has an interesting start, but Harris isn’t necessarily making an anti-drug picture, trying to manage thriller mode for a film that’s more about silent study than tense confrontations. Read the rest at

Film Review - Shattered


Screenwriter David Loughery has enjoyed a career resurgence over the last decade, going from studio work in the 1990s (“Tom and Huck,” “Money Train”) to low-budget thrillers that require extraordinarily little production effort, often set in a single location. He’s written “Fatale” and “The Intruder,” creating his own formula for cheap chills, and he’s back with “Shattered,” which doesn’t deviate from his to-do list of suspense moves. Mixing eroticism with a home invasion tale, Loughery does exactly what he normally does with the material, providing an unimaginative but affordable take on troubles for an innocent character faced with the actions of evildoers. Director Luis Prieto (“Kidnap”) doesn’t help the cause, stuck trying to manage dreary writing and weak performances, unable to get the picture going with any shock value or basic dramatic engagement. Read the rest at