Blu-ray Review - Body and Soul


Receiving a career boost with his work on 1979's "Penitentiary," Leon Isaac Kennedy keeps the boxing gloves on for 1981's "Body and Soul," which returns the actor to the ring to portray another underdog battling his own demons. However, instead of toplining a scrappy B-movie, Kennedy tries to bend this production into something with more mainstream appeal, also scripting this loose remake of a 1947 Robert Rossen picture. With a blazing, triumphant score and story that concerns the efforts of a man to better himself and his life, it's clear Kennedy was hunting for another "Rocky"-style success. "Body and Soul" isn't as friendly as the Sylvester Stallone smash, offering harder behavioral edges and a strange sense of honor. The boxing is there, complete with a supporting turn from Muhammed Ali, but Kennedy doesn't crack the challenge of likability, giving his feature a distractingly weird assessment of nobility. Read the rest at

Film Review - Borat Subsequent Moviefilm


In 2006, 20th Century Fox worked extremely hard to make “Borat” something special in the marketplace. They screened the feature like crazy and kept star/creator Sacha Baron Cohen on a relentless publicity tour, laboring to sell an odd character from a cult television show to the masses. The blood, sweat, and tears actually worked, with “Borat” generating enormous word-of-mouth praise and substantial pre-release curiosity, ultimately making a fortune for the studio and turning Cohen into a star, despite his preference for being a chameleon-like performer. Borat impressions were plentiful, DVD sales were astronomical, and Cohen tried his best to burn off his newfound fame with a more pointed exercise in shock value: 2009’s “Bruno.” Now, 14 years later, Cohen returns to his most famous creation (sorry Ali G) for “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” with the most famous Kazakhstan reporter returning to duty to achieve a better understanding of 2020 and all the chaos it’s provided. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Witches (2020)


This isn’t the first trip to the screen for Roald Dahl’s 1983 book, “The Witches.” In 1990, director Nicolas Roeg and co-producer Jim Henson had their way with the source material, combing nutty Euro filmmaking sensibilities with glorious Henson-y practical magic for their take on evildoing inside a luxury hotel, with mice making life difficult for dangerous witches. It was a very strange adaptation of a very strange book, and now 30 years later director Robert Zemeckis and co-writer Guillermo del Toro try their luck with a second adaptation, and one that’s strictly CGI-heavy in execution. While the thrill of puppetry and makeup effects is gone, the new version of “The Witches” doesn’t take it easy when it comes to the demented activities found in Dahl’s work, and while the endeavor is more adrenalized with chases and near-misses, it remains an entertaining sit for brave young audiences. Read the rest at

Film Review - Synchronic


Directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead won accolades for their tiny 2017 effort, “The Endless,” which the helmers pushed through the system with a DIY attitude, even taking the starring roles. The partners graduate to a more pressurized professional situation with “Synchronic,” a production that offers a little more money for the pair to work with, while luring stars Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan into the main roles. They also return to their brain-bleeding interests in psychedelic cinema, this time exploring the miracle of time travel as found in the formula of a dangerous synthetic drug. “Synchronic” tries to be a visual feast, and it’s most successful there, offering the audience a threatening ride through the bowels of New Orleans and the dangers of the past, with Benson and Moorhead more assured with camerawork than storytelling as the picture periodically loses its way. Read the rest at

Film Review - Friendsgiving


Holiday movies emerge every year, all questing to be the one chosen for classic status, becoming a perennial choice for viewers in the mood to conjure seasonal feelings via the magic of filmmaking. “Friendsgiving” fails to become anything of note, but it does offer a Thanksgiving atmosphere filled with lots of characters, dysfunction, and slowly eroding patience. Writer/director Nicol Paone goes the improvisational route for her helming debut, and it’s not the best choice, permitting the feature to go slack while it hunts for jokes, abandoning a prime opportunity to sort through emotional baggage and the various anxieties that come with large social gatherings. I’m sure “Friendsgiving” was a hoot to make, putting a collection of actors together to see what sticks, but the fun factor of this production is alarmingly low. Read the rest at

Film Review - Rebecca (2020)


“Rebecca” is an adaptation of a 1938 novel by Daphne du Maurier, but real ownership of the material tends to belong to Alfred Hitchcock. In 1940, the director delivered a premiere interpretation of the book, finding style and suspense with a movie that went on to collect an Oscar for Best Picture and cement itself as one of the helmer’s finest efforts. Of course, others have had their way with du Maurier’s story, with “Rebecca” enjoying life on stage, television, in song, and the tale has even been expanded in literary sequels. There’s no shortage of visions when it comes this psychological study, which returns to screens courtesy of director Ben Wheatley, who’s not known for his subtle ways with refined horror. If there’s a reason to revisit “Rebecca,” it’s lost in the new version, which puts on a fine display of technical achievements, but offers little life behind the routine of suspicion and torment. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Mechanic (1972)


Entering the 1970s, a decade that would see his star power rise to its greatest level, Charles Bronson wanted to do one thing, and he did it exceedingly well. 1972's "The Mechanic" contributes greatly to his reputation as an actor of few words and less facial reactions, taking such restraint to the extreme with an opening sequence that doesn't include any dialogue for the first 16 minutes of the movie. The material (scripted by Lewis John Carlito, who went on to direct "The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea") is unnervingly suited to Bronson's thespian abilities, offering him a chance to act hard, kill people, and remain as perfectly still as possible. "The Mechanic" is a peculiar picture, but it does have defined highlights of intimidation and action, while the procedural aspects of the feature are fascinating, presenting a cooler overview of the assassin workday while director Michael Winner (who struck gold with Bronson in 1974's "Death Wish") fiddles with editorial and scoring dials to give a straightforward story some intrusive avant-garde touches. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Kiss of the Vampire


Trying to keep their success with all things Dracula going, Hammer Films aims for a slightly different tale of monstrous menace with 1963's "The Kiss of the Vampire." Instead of mounting another take a single force of evil, the production heads into a more psychological direction for this period chiller, taking the slow road to the command of innocents, keeping more explosive genre elements to the final moments of the movie. Hammer isn't shy about using filler to get their run times where they need to be, and "The Kiss of the Vampire" certainly isn't a pulse-pounder. It does retain some eeriness courtesy of director Don Sharp, who guides a capable cast through compelling mysteries and unnerving acts of submission, coming up with an engaging genre offering that actually works best when dealing with silent horrors. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Spider


Keeping up his interest in large things destroying little things, director Bert I. Gordon tries to top his work on "The Amazing Colossal Man" with 1958's "The Spider" ("Earth vs. The Spider" is the title on the print), chasing moviemaking trends for giant terrors with his offering of a massive arachnid making a mess of a mountain community. It's not a slick special effects display, but the crudeness of Gordon's vision is nearly enough to keep the viewing experience engaging, watching the actors do battle with oversized props and spider photography as they try to get a monsterpalooza going. It's the filler that isn't nearly as welcome, as Gordon has difficulty reaching a paltry 73-minute run time, throttling enjoyable nonsense as the feature wheezes to a close. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Torpedo U-235


"Torpedo U-235" is Belgium's attempt to create a Hollywood-style war story that's big on sweeping action and intense performances. More precisely, co-writer/director Sven Huybrechts wants his own "Inglourious Basterds," crafting a violent, history-bending WWII adventure that thrives on attitude and confrontation. It's a lively endeavor, with a distinct mission to please potential viewers with an assortment of dangerous doings and submarine movie formula, attempting to light up the screen with a much lower budget than any blockbuster would accept. Read the rest at

Film Review - Honest Thief


The Liam Neeson Thriller managed a short break over the last year, with the actor flexing some dramatic muscles again in offerings such as “Ordinary Love” and “Made in Italy.” And he was terrific in those pictures, showcasing renewed interest in playing human beings in various stages of reflection and distress. Neeson returns to paycheck duties for “Honest Thief,” putting him back behind the wheel of a mild actioner involving stolen money, rotten FBI agents, and true love, giving his core demographic a periodically exciting and highly implausible ride. Screenwriters Steve Allrich and Mark Williams (who also directs) try to reinforce the personalities involved in the maze of motivations, and the effort is appealing, adding some spirit to an otherwise generic but easily digestible endeavor. Read the rest at

Film Review - Love and Monsters


Brian Duffield (who recently served as writer/director of “Spontaneous”) and Matthew Robinson are credited as screenwriters on “Love and Monsters,” but the project has the feel of a graphic novel adaption. The features merges heartsickness felt by the lead character with his quest to cross a dangerous land populated with mutated creatures, using the power of love as the wind in his sails as he endures all types of challenges to his personal safety. The screenplay doesn’t actually have a literary origin, which might’ve come in handy, as “Love and Monsters” eventually loses its way when trying to give audiences a satisfying ending. Thankfully, the first half of the effort does a successful job managing tonal changes and visualizing threat, with director Michael Matthews getting the adventure up on its feet with personality and lively enemy attacks, offing just enough enthusiasm to sustain the viewing experience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Evil Eye


“Welcome to the Blumhouse” makes another attempt to turn Blumhouse Productions into a household name for horror. Partnering with Amazon Studios, Blumhouse delivers four films for streaming distribution, looking to clear out a few older titles from the company closet. The fourth offering of the series is “Evil Eye,” another television endeavor that deals with low-wattage scariness, delivering more of a heightened melodrama with a distinct cultural fingerprint. With such an ominous title, one might expect plenty of hellraising in “Evil Eye,” but the picture isn’t interested in overkill, dealing with familial issues that play into ideas on parental concern and Indian mysticism. Directors Elan and Rajeev Dassani aren’t here to pound on viewers, electing to guide a more restrained, slow-burn look at motherly paranoia, filling the effort with superb performances. Read the rest at

Film Review - Nocturne


“Welcome to the Blumhouse” makes another attempt to turn Blumhouse Productions into a household name for horror. Partnering with Amazon Studios, Blumhouse delivers four films for streaming distribution, looking to clear out a few older titles from the company closet. The third title out of the gate is “Nocturne,” a television movie that attempts to make classical piano playing not exactly terrifying, but at least unnerving. Writer/director Zu Quirke (making her feature-length debut) channels the unease of Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” for “Nocturne,” creating a competition picture that deals mostly with hallucinatory imagery and sisterly bitterness, stuffing in some Deal with the Devil business to keep up with genre demands. It’s not an especially striking effort from Quirke, but she has a decent command of evil influence to keep the endeavor reasonably alert. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Opening Act


“The Opening Act” comes from writer/director Steve Byrne, a longtime stand-up comedian. Ready to put his early experiences on film, Byrne concocts a small-scale ode the pains of the profession with the feature, calling in every favor possible to fill the endeavor with familiar faces from the scene. Such a lived-in quality helps “The Opening Act” greatly, with Byrne keeping to simple goals of character and mishaps, striving to give the viewer a larger understanding of what the stand-up comedy system is like for a newcomer who hasn’t found their voice yet. Stage time is plentiful in the effort, as are laughs, but the real appeal of the movie is its love for awkward situations, with Byrne creating a positive story about failure. Read the rest at

Film Review - Shithouse


“Shithouse” is Cooper Raiff’s debut feature as a writer/director/actor, going the triple threat route to secure as much creative control as possible. He has a lot to learn about editing, characterization, and the power of a good, approachable title that welcomes interest from a wide range of potential viewers. However, for his first at-bat, Raiff does understand unsettled feelings when it comes to a young person’s initial encounter with adulthood, with all the fear and worry that goes along with the journey, especially on a college campus. “Shithouse” (oof) might initially seem coarse and unpleasant, but Raiff is quick to establish a lived-in sensitivity to the endeavor, finding a semi-original take on loneliness and human connection that gives the effort deeper feeling as the story develops. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Devil Has a Name


Edward James Olmos is a respected actor who’s enjoyed a lengthy career in the industry, winning tremendous praise and a few awards for his efforts. As a director, he made a splash with 1992’s “American Me,” a controversial look at gang life in Los Angeles, which gifted him attention and mild box office, but follow-ups were sparse. Olmos turned in a few television productions over the years, but nothing quite recaptured the electricity of “American Me.” Back on the big screen, Olmos steers “The Devil Has a Name,” which examines the state of pollution and corporate intimidation in California, underlining the true power of greed. It’s a noble endeavor with something to share about corruption and environmental ruin, but Olmos doesn’t connect in full with the screenplay (credited to Robert McEveety), shooting for a quirky take on legal and planetary horror when the subject matter deserves a more sobering approach. Read the rest at

Film Review - Alone (2020)


It’s a bit risky to debut a pandemic horror movie in the midst of an actual pandemic, but it appears the producers of “Alone” (not to be confused with the other “Alone,” released a few weeks ago) are probably counting on morbid curiosity to fuel VOD purchases. It’s not a feature rooted in reality, with screenwriter Matt Naylor taking the material into genre territory, inspired by films such as “28 Days Later” and Zack Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead” remake. It’s a zombie movie more than a viral outbreak thriller, and after a shaky introduction from director Johnny Martin (“Hangman,” “Delirium”) that highlights awkward acting and trendy editorial ideas, the feature actually finds an appealing balance of human concern and monster attacks, becoming the rare endeavor that actually improves as it goes. There’s very little real-world illness in “Alone,” and while its release timing is suspect, the finished product is more than happy to be junk food for the masses. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea


It's always a tricky proposition to translate the work of Japanese author Yukio Mishima, and writer/director Lewis John Carlino has his hands full with "The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea." The 1976 production moves the action from Japan to England, trying to bring Mishima's interests in honor, obsession, and anger with it, doing a credible job keeping the tale's uneasiness alive while juggling some strangely polar-opposite performances. "The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea" deals with heavy eroticism and profound psychological issues, and it remains a specialized viewing experience for those interested in a disturbing picture, but one that also does a fine job connecting the behavioral dots, while Carlino's commitment to the story's impossibly bleak ending is astounding. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Trauma


"Trauma" has been classified by the experts as a giallo, but it's a stretch to keep it in the subgenre. Sure, there's something of a mystery going on during the feature, and hellraising is committed by a black-gloved killer wielding a straight razor. Elements are there, but the screenplay is more influenced by Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho," going the slasher route with its tale of a remote inn and the strange person who runs it. Perhaps this distance from strict giallo-ing is good for director Leon Klimovsky, who gets far enough with strange interactions and sexploitation interests here. "Trauma" isn't a nail-biter, but it holds together as an odd knock-off. Read the rest at