Film Review - Clean


It’s a “John Wick” world, and while the animal loving assassin gears up for another chapter in 2023, there are other actors who want a piece of the action movie pie. For “Clean,” Adrien Brody emerges as a new man of action, crafting his own journey of violence, sharing screenwriting duties with director Paul Solet. Brody hunts for a gritter take on a ruined man confronted with the ugliness of the underworld, looking to cut to the bone with the material, which deals with agonized individuals working through guardianship issues. “Clean” isn’t a consistent film, spending its first half in a psychological abyss before bloodlust begins, and while the endeavor gives the star his juiciest role in quite some time, the picture remains an uneven study of a broken man trying to do the right thing, eventually pulled back into a world of hurt he’s been denying for years. Read the rest at

Film Review - Rifkin's Festival


For his 49th and likely final feature film, writer/director Woody Allen pays tribute to the movies that moved him with “Rifkin’s Festival.” It’s a typical offering of neuroses from the helmer, who takes his act to the San Sebastian Film Festival, creating a tale of lust, marriage, and cinema while taking in the sights of the event and surrounding Spanish experiences. Allen doesn’t push too hard with the picture, delivering the basics of wit and style, with the cast asked to do most of the heavy lifting as the threadbare story wanders around the run time. There are no laughs in “Rifkin’s Festival,” not even a chuckle, but Allen’s attention to the travelogue aspects of the production are appealing, offering a tourism video for Spain and its inherent beauty, also working in a few digs at the underwhelming nature of modern day film festivals. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Elvira's Haunted Hills


1988's "Elvira: Mistress of the Dark" was a goofy film, but it worked well with a lighter sense of humor, with star Cassandra Peterson attempting to create a big screen space for her television persona, wisely electing to surround the oddity of Elvira with conservative, condemning types. Some jokes landed successfully, and Peterson proved she could carry a movie as Elvira, playing up the icon's wackiness and good-natured sexuality. The business of Hollywood prevented Peterson from immediately following "Mistress of the Dark" with something else to maintain cinematic momentum. 2001's "Elvira's Haunted Hills" is meant to restore the marquee value of the eponymous character, but the feature has some trouble with funny business, watching Peterson and co-writer John Paragon deliver weak one-liners and feeble slapstick, while director Sam Irvin goes the cartoon route with material that needs a slightly more refined touch. It's always great to have Elvira around, but her second cinematic adventure is a noticeable step down in quality from the first one. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Blades


There have been many parodies and knockoffs of the 1975 blockbuster, "Jaws," with the brand name itself evolving from something terrifying to pure ridiculousness thanks to a steady downturn in sequel quality. 1989's "Blades" has the imagination to take the premise of an unstoppable killing machine to the open world of a golf course, with the top predator not a shark, but a bloodthirsty lawnmower. Because…why not? Director Thomas R. Rondinella (who co-scripts with William R. Pace) attempt to revive the "Jaws" formula, but they don't play it completely straight, slipping into lampoon territory with "Blades," showing some hesitation when it comes to the presentation of a serious killer lawnmower movie. Laughs are limited in the picture, but the setting allows for a different genre energy, adding some "Caddyshack"-style touches and broad daylight to deal with gruesome events and, well, golfing, blending tournament excitement with growing fears of a lawn care machine on the loose. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Resurrection


They made a kind of magic with 1986's "Highlander" and managed to physically survive the making of "Highlander II: The Quickening," but director Russell Mulcahy and star Christopher Lambert weren't done with each other just yet. For 1999's "Resurrection," Lambert and Mulcahy reteam for a serial killer thriller, using marketplace momentum created by 1995's "Seven" to unleash a similar tale of an urban nightmare that involves the discovery of mangled bodies and the battling of random rainstorms. There's a detective story included to maintain audience interest, but "Resurrection" is trying to generate a disturbing understanding of a dangerous mind and the cop determined to stop a highly orchestrated game of murder. The creative team arrives with enthusiasm, but the derivative elements of the endeavor mangle most of their plans for excitement. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Kid Candidate


Hayden Pedigo is a resident of Amarillo, Texas who wanted to express his sense of humor by making a short film about his run for a city council spot. Inspired by the works of Harmony Korine, Pedigo set out to generate a little absurdity, displaying his acting skills and love of weirdness. And then the video went viral, making him internet famous for a brief amount of time, but just long enough to help him transition from a joke candidate to a real one, beginning his political career by targeting a real city council election. Director Jasmine Stodel follows Hayden around for the documentary "Kid Candidate," tracking his progress from initial intent to election night, examining the taxing experience of a political run, especially one from a twentysomething man who refuses outside money and runs on a platform of progression in the middle of Texas. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - For Madmen Only


Director Heather Ross is trying find a way to make Del Close known to those outside the comedy world. She's upfront about her mission with the documentary "For Madmen Only," suggesting that anyone outside of comedy nerds probably doesn't have a clue who this man is, or understands his contribution to the funny business as we know it (and sometimes loathe it) today. Close is the father of modern improvision, with his "Harold" technique managing to break through and influence generations of comedians, with many of these people now in command of Hollywood entertainment. However, Close was no cheery individual proudly fashioning a new way of long-form improvisation. He was a man with dark sides to him, wrestling with mental illness as he attempted to "follow the fear," giving his sense of humor and stage exploration an atypical level of creative achievement. "For Madmen Only" attempts to understand Close as he was, studying his behavior and the rise of his career, eventually reaching a deity-like space in the comedy world. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - What Really Happened to Baby Jane?


Gay Girls Riding Club was a filmmaking group from the 1960s that wanted to have some fun in front of the camera, creating a series of shorts that spoofed melodramatic and action entertainment of the day, doing so with a cast of actors working in and out of drag. Director Ray Harrison provided creative leadership, working with shoestring budgets to deliver silent comedies (and at least one sound endeavor in "All About Alice"), deploying a large imagination for broad antics featuring a cast of engaged actors. Read the rest at

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