Film Review - The Glorias


An artist to her core, director Julie Taymor seldom makes movies, but when she does she puts in a muscular effort to visualize the extremes of drama and music. Taymor hasn’t made a feature since 2010’s “The Tempest,” making “The Glorias” a rare event, and one she clearly doesn’t want to overwhelm with her usual gusto. It’s the bio-pic for author and feminist Gloria Steinem, with writers Taymor and Sarah Ruhl adapting the icon’s 2015 autobiography, “My Life on the Road,” trying to transform an extensive list of experiences into a single picture. It’s not an easy task for the pair, but they come up with inventive ways to connect four eras from Steinem’s life, celebrating her accomplishments and leadership while feeling the pain of her upbringing. It’s a long haul at 150 minutes, but “The Glorias” is immensely respectful of its subject, with Taymor muting her need for bombast to craft a loving portrait of a woman who changed the world. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ava


While primarily dealing with intense dramas and topical thrillers, Jessica Chastain has attempted to expand her range in recent years, taking on a few genre pictures to seek new creative challenges and beef up her box office draw. Last year, Chastain participated in “Dark Phoenix” and “It: Chapter Two,” and for 2020, she takes control of “Ava,” an actioner that also finds the actress in a co-producer role. Reminiscent of the Europa Corp heyday of slick bruisers with unlikely stars, “Ava” strives to deliver a stunt show with plenty of character layering to help give the brawling some substance. Chastain is a good fit for this style of steely aggression, and the film does well with family ties and professional paranoia, giving the titular assassin plenty to deal with while destroying enemies. However, not everything works in the endeavor, and when it hits the wrong note, the script (by Matthew Newton) threatens to ruin the whole viewing experience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Misbehaviour


The messy art of revolution and the origins of a movement are charted in “Misbehaviour,” which recounts the efforts of the Women’s Liberation Movement as they attempted to disrupt the Miss World 1970 beauty pageant. The screenplay by Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe is based on a true story from 50 years ago, but it plays into topics of equality and objectification that remain in play today, creating a fascinating look at attitudes and offenses. Director Philippa Lowthorpe (“Call the Midwife” and “The Crown”) maintains a period look and guides a number of strong performances, but the core experience of “Misbehaviour” is unrest, watching those who dream of a better, more just world setting their sights on a British television institution, and, wisely, the writing manages to understand both sides of the argument while still remaining supportive of a team of twentysomething women and their battle to bring equality to England. Read the rest at

Film Review - Kajillionaire


Writer/director Miranda July enjoys making very strange movies about universal issues concerning relationships, but she hasn’t been around in quite some time. She won cult appreciation with 2005’s “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” and pushed her eccentricities to the breaking point in 2011’s “The Future.” July is back with “Kajillionaire,” which is a more mainstream effort from the artist, who hasn’t shed her obsessions with idiosyncrasy, merely muting them to a certain degree with her latest offering, which examines the eternal struggle of family from the POV of a young woman who doesn’t understand her precipitous situation. “Kajillionaire” is unusual, which is the July way, but it’s certainly the most approachable offering in her limited filmography, with much to share on the camouflaged ways of familial abuse and the healing power of love. Read the rest at

Film Review - LX 2048

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A vision for dystopian misery is interrupted by a domestic drama in “LX 2048,” which invites audiences into the future to observe the next generation of marital strife. Writer/director Guy Moshe attempts some early razzle-dazzle with visual effects and low-budget design ideas, trying to sell the dangers of the day after tomorrow, imagining Earth as a polluted hellhole where life only really exists after the sun goes down, while humans have tapped into cloning to solve a few of their problems. Moshe has provocative ideas on the state of household divide due to technological advancement, and he brings in James D’Arcy to deliver the most emphatic performance of his career in the lead role. However, initial promise and some degree of expanse slowly diminishes as the movie unfolds, with “LX 2048” having trouble developing what appears to be a short story idea into a fulfilling feature. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Radio Flyer


Released in 2010, the book "You're the Director…You Figure It Out: The Life and Films of Richard Donner" provides real insight into the mind of the successful filmmaker. He's touched greatness on multiple occasions, guiding "Superman," "Lethal Weapon," and "The Goonies," and he's enjoyed his share of misfires, including box office disappointments "Inside Moves" and "Ladyhawke." The biography (written by James Christie) paints a specific portrait of Donner in the early 1990s, with the creative force hungry for a meaningful, dramatically ambitious hit after years overseeing blockbusters. "Radio Flyer" was meant to be such an opportunity. Handed control of the project after David Mickey Evans (who also scripted the high profile undertaking) wasn't delivering the goods as a first-time moviemaker, Donner was suddenly in command of a story that dared to merge the magical pursuits of childhood with the real-world horrors of abuse, dealing with a tonal challenge unlike anything he's encountered before. He poured his heart and soul into the endeavor, only to see it destroyed in test screenings, trashed by critics, and dumped by the studio. The loss floored Donner, but "Radio Flyer" has managed to acquire something of a fanbase, with those sensitive to the director's earnest intent able to embrace all the shortcomings of the picture, and celebrate its unnervingly accurate read of resilient juvenile energy. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - L.A. Wars


While "L.A. Wars" is technically a 1993 production, it mostly plays like something from 1985, when action movies created for the VHS market were really starting to take off, trying to create as financially responsible a ruckus as possible. For their introductory sequence, co-directors Tony Kandah and Martin Morris (who also script together) serve up a coke deal gone wrong, filling the screen with bullets and explosions, trying to sell the stuffing out of the title before viewers have fully settled in. It's that type of spunk that carries most of "L.A. Wars," which is exceedingly silly work, but determined to provide at least some level of non-stop excitement, keeping the endeavor stuffed with stunt work and steely characters, coming up with a low-budget ride that doesn't get by on I.Q. points, but offers a dead body for every star in the sky. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Dr. Jekyll's Dungeon of Death


The horrors of Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novella, "Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," are significantly diluted for 1978's "Dr. Jekyll's Dungeon of Death." The title suggests an ominous viewing experience, detailing absolute finality in a basement setting. However, what director James Wood is actually offering is a loose appreciation for the original text, mounting his own martial arts exhibition as the potential for frights is replaced by choreographed fights. This is one bizarre feature, seemingly slapped together over a few weekends, with Wood keeping to the bare minimum of story and screen tension while offering large parts of the run time to a local karate school. There's a dungeon and there's some death, but the real Dr. Jekyll-ness of it all doesn't factor into the final cut. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Severed Arm


1978's "Halloween" was a massive hit, turning the slasher genre into a trend that would spawn imitators for over a decade. Most hardcore horror fans generally look to 1974's "Black Christmas" as the feature that really got the ball rolling, delivering death one body at a time. What's interesting about "The Severed Arm" is how closely it plays to the conventions of the subgenre, coming out a year before "Black Christmas." It's an unheralded cinematic achievement, and a mark of distinction the production doesn't make the most of. Yes, there's a shadowy killer on the loose, stalking its victims slowly, delivering grisly exterminations with a sharp instrument. And that's it for thrills and chills in the movie, with co-writer/director Tom Alderman a bit more concerned about reaching a sellable run time than really dialing up the fright factor of this somewhat odd/somewhat familiar endeavor. Read the rest at

Film Review - Antebellum


The massive success of 2017’s “Get Out” has cleared the way for filmmakers to explore racial tensions using genre storytelling. This allows the audience to participate in the tale as it weaves around fantastical turns, giving them a ride before hitting them with doses of reality. Jordan Peele found a way to give his lesson some big thrills, continuing his odyssey in the similar 2019 effort, “Us.” Screenwriter/directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz have the same idea with “Antebellum,” which surveys the horrors of slavery and its continued presence in 21st century America. It’s an unexpectedly grim feature, and one with surprises viewers will either tolerate or reject in full. If Peele and M. Night Shyamalan had a baby, it would be “Antebellum,” which is at its most successful when toying with reality, providing a puzzle to solve while reinforcing the lasting wounds of an unforgiving nation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Lost Girls and Love Hotels


“Lost Girls and Love Hotels” is an adaptation of a 2006 book by Catherine Hanrahan, and while it initially appears to be a salacious account of secretive Japanese sexuality as it pertains to the titular housing, it’s actually a much darker understanding of obsession and depression. There’s definitely kink play featured in the movie, but Hanrahan (who also scripts) is more invested in her characters, following a woman as she succumbs to grim thoughts while embarking on an emotional connection to a forbidden man. There’s plenty of atmosphere in the effort, with director William Olsson making the trek to shoot in Japan, and there’s beguiling shapelessness to the endeavor as well, helping the production to capture blurred headspaces with elements of mystery and compelling displays of self-destructive behavior. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Devil All the Time


To help bring to life a tale of rural American horrors tied to all levels of faith, co-writer/director Antonio Campos (“Afterschool,” “Christine”) gathers a cast of European and Australian talent to help fill out the ranks of corrupt and threatened characters. It’s a different approach when dealing with such regionally specific torment, but this isn’t a straightforward account of evildoing. An adaptation of a 2011 Donald Ray Pollock novel, “The Devil All the Time” offers a knotted timeline as it manages a community of thinly related and connected people confronted by their demons, with Campos looking to keep the audience on their toes while he experiments with the shock of violence to capture attention. While lengthy (138 minutes) and fond of stillness, the feature connects when necessary, offering an immersive tour of mental illness with a few pulpy touches. Read the rest at

Film Review - Enola Holmes


There seems to be an endless appetite for movies and shows about Sherlock Holmes. He’s a perennial character, with the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle creation offering an intellectual game of sleuthing, merging the thrill of the hunt with room for audience participation. While Sherlock has a part in “Enola Holmes,” the film’s really here to introduce a new sibling full of deductive reasoning, adapting a tale from author Nancy Springer’s YA book series. Attempting to make something appealing for a teen audience, screenwriter Jack Thorne (“Wonder,” “His Dark Materials”) delivers a spunkier take on the family business of solving crimes, with “Enola Holmes” aiming for emotional ties and empowerment glow with this whodunit, which is more of a whereshego. It’s a different style of caper for Sherlock’s little sister, putting a lot of pressure on star Millie Bobby Brown to carry the charm and the narrative focus of the picture. Read the rest at

Film Review - Blackbird


“Blackbird” takes on the topic of euthanasia, offering a family drama about a matriarch who’s planning to end it all after a weekend of personal time and group activities, finally stopping developing health issues. Of course such a reunion isn’t easy to watch, but the subject is an important one, and director Roger Michell (“Notting Hill,” “Hyde Park on Hudson”) tries to protect some of the ideas and feelings involved with the event while maintaining dramatic focus. The movie isn’t a grand offering of emotional volatility, but it remains a tearjerker, and one capably handled by the cast, who deliver deeply felt performances. It doesn’t exactly brighten the day, but the sadness of “Blackbird” is compelling, visiting universal issues of dysfunction and communication as the story highlights difficult areas of personal engagement, especially when a level of finality is introduced. Read the rest at

Film Review - H is for Happiness


“H is for Happiness” is an adaptation of the book “My Life as an Alphabet” by Peter Jonsberg, and it’s a bit of a miracle that an American production company didn’t get its hands on the material for a film adaptation. It’s slightly quirky work with some level of melodrama, but the picture is an Australian undertaking, thus achieving a bit more oddity to offset the formulaic elements of the plot. There’s genuine weirdness running through “H is for Happiness,” and that’s a good thing, with director John Sheedy making his feature-length debut with true test of tonal balance, setting out to visualize Jonsberg’s world of unhappy people and one girl’s push to solve their problems, without overdosing on cutesiness or heartache. The helmer gets the movie most of the way there, offering a charming understanding of positive thinking from a juvenile point of view. Read the rest at

Film Review - Alone (2020)


“Alone” is a remake of a 2011 Swedish chiller (titled “Gone”) about a woman traveling across the country getting into trouble with a mysterious and malevolent driver on the open road. Original screenwriter Mattias Olsson returns to duty for the Americanized version, sticking close to the recipe that made the original picture a prime candidate for an English-language do-over. Director John Hyams aims to bathe the endeavor in mood, which becomes a necessity, as “Alone” isn’t big on incident, keeping the helmer attentive to small details and daily business while striving to find some level of suspense to keep the viewing experience passably unsettling. There’s not a lot to the feature, and it shows in the final cut, with Hyams stretching to fill the run time, losing valuable tension along the way. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Secrets We Keep


Once again, actress Noomi Rapace is sent in to portray a physically and psychologically tortured character, this time taking the lead role in “The Secrets We Keep,” which has her playing a woman confronted by the agony of her World War II past. The part plays right to Rapace’s professional capabilities, giving her a chance to deliver the gut-rot emotionality she’s known for, with director Yuval Adler (“Bethlehem,” “The Operative”) making sure to emphasize the character’s pain as much as possible. If only the entirety of “The Secrets We Keep” was as invested in the moment as Rapace, with Adler riding the line between promising chiller and a filmed play with the endeavor, which is big on conversations, preferring dry patches of conversation instead of creating something more intimidating, which it definitely has the potential to do. Adler lingers instead of delivers with the effort, which could use a great deal more anguish and a lot more movement. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Blood Games


1990's "Blood Games" offers one of the more peculiar set-ups for a thriller I've ever encountered. While the material eventually settles into formula, depicting a forest battle between backwoods predators and female prey, the path to such a showdown makes its first stop at a rural baseball game, with the visitors a team of scantily clad ladies that drive around the country, battling local opponents. It's an underworld of sports betting with a side of Hooters-style teasing that gently launches the feature, giving director Tanya Rosenberg multiple opportunities to arrange sexploitation shots and examine the horrors of uncontrollable men. It's so weird, and yet, it's actually a fantastic way to commence "Blood Games," earning viewer interest with the unexpected before Rosenberg gives in to the predictability of genre demands. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Patty Hearst


The saga of Patricia Hearst and her 1974 kidnapping has been explored in numerous media offerings, with journalists and dramatists drawn to the story's overt strangeness and ties to the Hearst legacy. For 1988's "Patty Hearst," screenwriter Nicholas Kazan goes straight to the source, adapting Hearst's 1982 autobiography, "Every Secret Thing." Director Paul Schrader takes the opportunity to probe into the mind of a kidnapped woman brought to her breaking point, examining days of imprisonment that eventually led to the birth of an unlikely "urban guerilla." Admittedly, the sheer oddity of the event is enough to fill a run time, but Schrader and Kazan struggle to locate the urgency of Hearst's transformation, getting lost in style without pinpointing compelling motivations, providing very little insight beyond what Hearst shares in her book. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Immortalizer


Jordan Peele's "Get Out" received critical accolades, Oscar gold, and a sizable box office haul with its homage to "The Twilight Zone" episode, "The Trade-Ins." Imagine another pass at the premise, only without the social and racial commentary, the sleek cinematography, and the gradual rise of sinister business. 1989's "The Immortalizer" has rampaging mutants, it's that kind of movie, but it's interesting to examine another take on the premise of the old looking to be young again via surgery, with brain-swapping mischief offered more of a low-budget horror event from director Joel Bender, the man who gave the world "Gas Pump Girls." There's nothing subtle about "The Immortalizer," which largely gets by on scenes of wild behavior and mild chases, while Bender's periodic visits to the gore zone give the picture a kick when it needs it. It's not the maniac creation it could've been, but it has its moments, especially when the production embraces its sick side. Read the rest at