Film Review - The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

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I suspect something happened to Guy Ritchie after he completed work on 2019’s “Aladdin.” The Disney remake went on to become the highest grossing picture of his career, but Ritchie’s attitude and work ethic changed greatly after its release. He’s been on a tear recently, completing four movies in the last five years, and they’ve all been strong, enjoyable offerings, finding intended beats of humor and heart. “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” is Ritchie’s latest film, providing a fictionalized take on “Operation Postmaster,” a World War II event involving a secret mission to destroy Nazi U-boat supplies. Ritchie doesn’t go the History Channel route with the effort, choosing to resurrect a jaunty, hyper-violent “Inglourious Basterds”-style vibe to the feature, which delivers outstanding pace for the most part, and does well with its casting choices. “Ungentlemanly Warfare” is Ritchie playing to his strengths, but he’s alert here, bringing a spaghetti western atmosphere to a WWII endeavor, making for an energetic, enthralling ride. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Sasquatch Sunset

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David and Nathan Zellner make very strange movies. That’s what they’re known for, trying to bend and twist indie cinema expectations with their oddball takes on genres and performances. Over the last decade, they’ve made “Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter” and “Damsel,” and now they attempt to pull off perhaps their most divisive idea with “Sasquatch Sunset,” which is literally 90 minutes of watching a family of creatures navigate the world around them and the storms of behavior within. There is no dialogue, just grunting, and human characters are nowhere to be found, with the siblings concentrating on this semi-remake of “Bambi,” only here the seasons change and life goes on for bigfoots on the move in the big, beautiful world. There’s no recommending “Sasquatch Sunset,” with warnings more appropriate, as the Zellners really go for it here, trying to make something almost absurd with the picture, giving those willing to strap in a ride of strangeness that doesn’t come around much these days. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Blood for Dust

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In 2017, writer David Ebeltoft and director Rod Blackhurst collaborated on “Here Alone,” a zombie story with an incredibly sluggish pace, sucking all the tension out of the picture. The men reunite for “Blood for Dust,” which also seems hesitant to invest in any kind of heightened rhythm capable of embracing thriller cinema, but the duo are in much better shape this time around. They have an interesting story to share about mistakes and survival, detailing the concern of a man who can’t seem to keep out of criminal activity while on a quest to make some money the honest way. “Blood for Dust” serves up a collection of hard men and blazing guns, which certainly isn’t an original take on desperation, but the writing generates some decent complications for the characters, and Blackhurst manages to snap the feature out of its thousand-yard stare on occasion, hitting a few pockets of suspense. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment

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Hopes were high for 1984's "Police Academy" to do some business, but nobody could've predicted its massive success. The little comedy managed to enchant audiences for months, ending up as the sixth highest-grossing feature of the year (sandwiched between "The Karate Kid" and "Footloose"), putting producer Paul Maslansky in a position to launch a potential franchise with a superb chance for low-budget profitability. Instead of mulling over his creative directions, Maslansky slammed "Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment" into production, with the picture arriving in theaters a mere 53 weeks after the original offering of cadet mischief. Setting the tone for future sequels, "Their First Assignment" isn't concerned with plot and it doesn't do much with character, moving forward with pranks, stunts, and general tomfoolery with a new PG-13 rating and a desire to bring in a wider audience for the brand name. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Police Academy

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1984's "Police Academy" is not a film that was pulled out of thin air. The monster successes of 1978's "Animal House" and 1981's "Stripes" certainly inspired the feature, with co-writer/director Hugh Wilson in charge of creating a wily, wacky, crude "institutional" comedy for the masses, pitting social rejects and mild people against an establishment trying to mold them into authority figures. The formula is there, and Wilson isn't challenging it, but he does manage to make a refreshingly light endeavor that's purely out to charm viewers with an enormous amount of screen shenanigans. The first bite of the "Police Academy" apple is appealing and amusing, launching with a freewheeling attitude and surprisingly excellent casting, with the ensemble contributing quirks and craziness to give the picture a wonderful sense of community. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


4K UHD Review - Mark of the Devil

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The terror of witch trials in 18th-century Austria provides atmosphere for 1970's "Mark of the Devil," which examines the horror of weaponized accusations and frightening torture methods used to extract confessions. The production looks to sell itself as a fact-based study of history, but viewers will quickly realize the movie is merely exploitation, with a heavy emphasis on human suffering and exposed bodies. Co-writer/director Michael Armstrong isn't shy about focusing on agony, but there's some effort to put a story together, dealing with the drama of lustful people and their battle with political and religious order, which makes for an acceptable soap opera. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Christmas Martian

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1971's "The Christmas Martian" isn't really a holiday film, but something wackier and stranger. The Canadian production is the first of an ongoing series, with the "Tales for All" franchise looking to provide family entertainment, and the producers really go for a younger demographic with the initial endeavor, which provides 65 minutes of pure Great White North adventures and slapstick featuring an alien visitor clad in netting who's stuck on Earth. "The Christmas Martian" gets tiresome fairly quickly, but there's a spunky moviemaking spirit on display that could work for some viewers. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead (2024)

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1991’s “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead” didn’t do much damage at the box office during its summer run, but home video was very kind to the teen comedy. A cult following developed, creating a sort of secret handshake cinema event with movie quotes, but little was done with the brand name over the decades. The team at BET have finally cracked the seal on a remake, supplying an update of the now 33-year-old picture (ouch), largely retaining the plot of the original endeavor while adding a more modern take on humor. The ’91 film wasn’t fantastic, but it offered some edgy touches and a few strong performances. The do-over doesn’t even reach those modest achievements, with writer Chuck Hayward (TV’s “Dear White People”) and director Wade Allain-Marcus (“Die in a Gunfight”) delivering a largely lifeless and laugh-free viewing experience, failing to improve on the earlier feature. I wasn’t permitted to screen “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead” for review this week, and now I understand why. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Challengers

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Director Luca Guadagnino is preoccupied with making sensual, violently charged features, recently on display in 2022’s “Bones and All,” where he sought to create screen poetry with a wild world of young love and cannibalism. There’s a change of setting for “Challengers,” but the material (scripted by Justin Kuritzkes) largely remains with ravenous characters out to devour and destroy one another, doing so in the realm of tennis players and their vicious insecurities. The endeavor is all flesh and fears, and Guadagnino is absolutely determined to draw out a relatively simple study of obsession for as long as possible, even when it hurts the movie. “Challengers” has some valuable ideas to share on the state of relationships and the crushing weight of sporting performance, but the helmer has little feel for dramatic rhythm with the effort, often slipping into soap opera mode when he’s not crafting perhaps the most overdirected picture since Michael Bay’s “Ambulance.” Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Woody Woodpecker Goes to Camp

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2017’s “Woody Woodpecker” attempted to bring the cartoon creation into the real world with a CGI character messing with human activity. The picture didn’t receive much of a theatrical release, and it was awful, with co-writer/director Alex Zamm working hard to create a crude family movie that generally seemed to misunderstand the animated pleasures of the original Walter Lantz creation. “Woody Woodpecker Goes to Camp” also deals with bathroom humor, but there isn’t a scene like one found in the original film where Woody farts out his own theme song. That’s progress, and “Goes to Camp” is generally much better and more in command of Lantz-style entertainment than its predecessor. Director Jon Rosenbaum (“Cop and a Half: New Recruit,” “Benchwarmers 2: Breaking Balls”) doesn’t radically alter the concept of these new Woody Woodpecker adventures, but he’s somewhat in tune with slapstick mayhem and storytelling, making for a sit that’s easier on the senses and more likely to delight young viewers. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Arcadian

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Nicolas Cage is usually the most dominant element of any feature he appears in. That’s just his natural speed, and it’s served him well, especially in recent years where he’s been tasked with making low-budget films as appealing as possible. For “Arcadian,” Cage remains as committed to the endeavor as possible, but he’s asked to play a parental figure, and one on a mission to keep his children safe from an apocalyptic situation. There’s a real feeling of fatherly concern in the picture, which Cage plays superbly, but “Arcadian” is more than just a vehicle for the star. Writer Michael Nilon creates a small-scale but suspenseful survival story, approaching the expectations for a monster movie from interesting perspectives. And director Benjamin Brewer contributes a dark understanding of threat in a rural setting, maintaining a compelling balance between genre achievements and more heartfelt moments among troubled characters. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Sweet Dreams

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As an actor, Johnny Knoxville hasn’t really achieved much in the way of professional respect. He’s been in a lot of T.V. shows and movies, but he’ll be forever known as the star of “Jackass,” with some of his best acting coming from opportunities to sell the questionable danger of certain pranks. Knoxville finds a meatier role in “Sweet Dreams,” which is a blend of an underdog sports comedy and a study of sober living challenges. Writer/director Lije Sarki doesn’t have grand plans for the picture, electing to work with smaller emotional moments and softball action, gathering a cast of comedians to help find the humor in just about anything. There’s little dramatic muscle to “Sweet Dreams,” but it does provide a few clear-eyed moments of reflection from what’s possibly some type of autobiographical point of view, and Knoxville nails select scenes of confession, showing range and realism in his best performance to date. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The Greatest Hits

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There’s an effort made in “The Greatest Hits” to do something a little different with the concept of the time travel movie. Writer/director Ned Benson (the little-seen “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby”) tries to balance the ways of fantasy and the bitterness of reality in the feature, which follows a woman’s drive to disrupt tragedy through the magical powers of music. “The Greatest Hits” takes love and loss very seriously, with Benson creating a melancholy film about desperation and healing. There’s a level of unreality to the endeavor, but the production does much better remaining in the realm of the real, exploring the mourning process and all the mental messiness involved with such a journey. The helmer gets lost when trying to present weirdness to the audience, but powerful feelings are in play throughout the picture, and lead Lucy Boynton does a commendable job capturing the slow drip of an emotional breakdown. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Civil War

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Marketing for “Civil War” is trying to sell a movie writer/director Alex Garland didn’t make. Trailers and T.V. spots display a more distinct understanding of American conflict and leadership, but Garland (“Ex Machina,” “Annihilation”) focuses on those sent in to capture the horrors of combat instead, highlighting the contributions and self-control issues of photojournalists during a divided time in the country’s history. “Civil War” doesn’t paint a larger portrait of disputes and it’s not too concerned with resolution. It’s more about the strangeness of the experience, with Garland clearly lifting from “Apocalypse Now” to inspire his own take on the madness of warfare. Striking imagery is periodically displayed in the feature, along with steady performances from the cast, finding Garland intermittently inspired to take this story somewhere at times, seeking to depict a special mindset that’s challenged by the growing insanity of a broken nation. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Puffin Rock and the New Friends

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“Puffin Rock” was an animated television show that aired in 2015. The program was aimed at preschool audiences, looking to bring a little gentleness and animal activity to impressionable viewers. It was also created by Cartoon Saloon, the Irish studio responsible for magnificent films such as “Song of the Sea,” “The Breadwinner,” and “Wolfwalkers.” “Puffin Rock” has stayed in circulation and popularity due to its quality, and Cartoon Saloon revisits the series with a feature-length adventure, “Puffin Rock and the New Friends,” which is meant to reunite with familiar faces and establish new characters. The picture isn’t created to launch a major cinematic event, holding true to the tone of the original series with some upgrades in animation and a bit more suspense when it comes to storytelling. Perhaps the target demographic for the movie remains small, but anyone can genuinely enjoy “Puffin Rock and the New Friends,” which provides a brightly animated and honeyed voiced journey with charming characters and vibrant environments. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Irena’s Vow

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“Irena’s Vow” shares the story of Irene Gut Opdyke, who faced the intensity of World War II as a Polish orphan, soon coming into contact with Nazi leadership and desperate Jews as Europe was thrown into chaos. As events from WWII go, moviegoers have seen quite a few of these tales (including last month’s “One Life”), but director Louise Archambault (“The Bad Seed Returns”) finds a special sensitivity to the feature, which isn’t an epic about saving lives. It’s more of a survival film with some emotional ties, and the helmer manages to locate suspense while presenting a reminder of history’s darkness. “Irena’s Vow” is carefully handled and capably performed, with star Sophie Nelisse articulating the panic and concern of Irene’s experience, which found the young woman trying to pull off the impossible, protecting the innocent right under the nose of the Nazis. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - LeRoy, Texas

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A movie like “LeRoy, Texas” isn’t going to win any awards for originality. Writer/director Shane Atkinson (making his feature-length helming debut) returns viewers to the south, meeting dim characters stuck in a series of misunderstandings and betrayals, and there’s a suitcase full of money that’s gone missing, and everybody is interested in claiming it. Add in a body count and some exaggerated personalities, and Atkinson is pouring his filmmaking foundation in Coen Brothers land. Plot-wise, there’s not a lot to get excited about here, as the writing winds through story turns and crazy encounters without much in the way of inspiration. What’s more appealing are performances, finding the cast providing just enough commitment to make this tale of crime and heartbreak snappy at times, with some meaningful moments of understanding. “LeRoy, Texas” isn’t a rocket ride of bad behavior, but Atkinson handles select moments with suspense and silliness, wisely counting on the actors to do something compelling with his endeavor. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The Long Game

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In 2021, there was “Blue Miracle,” with co-writer/director Julio Quintana overseeing an underdog story about sport fishing involving Latin characters and a supporting performance from Dennis Quaid. For 2024’s “The Long Game,” Quintana returns with basically the same movie, only this time he’s following the true story of the San Felipe High School Golf Team and their battles against competition and racism in Texas during the 1950s. And it also features a supporting performance from Dennis Quaid. “The Long Game” finds inspiration from a 2010 book by Humberto G. Garcia, and also dozens of sporting journey endeavors, with Quintana focused on making a picture that’s easily digestible while also touching on troubling times for post-war America and its relationship with bigotry. Surprises are minimal in the effort, but it does offer a heartfelt message on perseverance, attempting to provide viewers with a study of endurance while also highlighting golf achievements from young men facing adversity as they seek acceptance. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Damaged

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“Damaged” is a serial killer story, using the familiar approach of an obsessed cop on the case of a madman to inspire a few thrills to go with the usual in law enforcement investigation formula. Screenwriters Paul Aniello, Gianni Capaldi, and Koji Steven Sakai have an ending in mind with the material, but the journey to the final 15 minutes of the picture is quite tedious at times. Director Tery McDonough is a veteran of television (working on productions such as “Killing Eve,” “Better Call Saul,” and “Suits”), and he brings that sensibility to “Damaged,” which often plays like an extended episode of a T.V. program. There’s flatness here that’s dispiriting to watch, and early promise for a more emotionally complex chiller is left unrealized. There’s talent with the cast, but one gets the feeling professional interest in anything here was limited at best, creating an unquestionably somber but lifeless viewing experience. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com