Blu-ray Review - Guns and Guts


Director Rene Cardona Jr. wants to make a western with 1974's "Guns and Guts," and he spends most the run time trying to reinforce just how much of a western he's making. There are shoot-outs and card games, town tensions and prostitutes, and the first act of the feature is almost exclusively devoted to watching the actors engage in repeated scenes of fisticuffs. The opening of "Guns and Guts" is often remarkable to behold, as it really feels like the helmer is going to stretch his genre fetishes over the entire production, making for a delightfully simple and amusingly violent viewing experience. Sadly, the picture loses its lust for knuckle sandwiches as something of a story kicks in, though Cardona Jr.'s sheer passion for the cowboy way is worth a sit. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hot Snake


1976's "Hot Snake" certainly has a way of making an immediate impression. The opening scene has the villain of the picture stopping the transport of a coffin containing a military official. The bad guy shoots the escorts and rips off the widow's top, soon shooting her and raping the corpse. Director Fernando Duran Rojas gets cold-blooded in a hurry with the endeavor, which maintains a certain level of merciless while detailing a bizarre story of revenge and desert survival. Of course, as with most low-budget offerings, padding is king, but "Hot Snake" contains a decent amount of atmosphere and weirdness to sustain the viewing experience, giving spaghetti western fans an adequate dose of the hard stuff as leathery men set out to kill one another. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Kiss Me, Monster


The Two Lips Detective Agency is back in 1969's "Kiss Me Monster," with the production picking up right where "Two Undercover Angels" left off. Director Jess Franco goes the back-to-back route to building a franchise, returning to Diane and Regina and their special way of conducting superspy activities, leading with their feminine charms. Once again, Franco isn't here to make something cohesive, he just wants it done, basically throwing whatever he can at the screen, with the final act reserved for exposition concerning a plot that isn't all that clear in the end. "Kiss Me Monster" has the obvious appeal of stars Janine Reynaud and Rosanna Yanni, who bring some bubbly fun and cheeky fierceness to their roles, but Franco is quick to disrupt any entertainment value, stumbling through a very Bond-ian tale of world domination and duplicitous characters. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Two Undercover Angels


The 1960s belonged to James Bond. The literary character became a box office behemoth, capturing audience attention with spy game adventures featuring a roguish character and his never-ending quest to save the world. Bond dominated pop culture (and continues to do so to this day), and the success of the franchise inspired countless "Euro spy" imitators, with producers scrambling to make their own cheeky tales of danger and sex, hoping to make an easy profit. Joining the list of productions is 1969's "Two Undercover Angels," allowing prolific filmmaker Jess Franco to participate in a waning trend, forcing him to consider style and tone, giving him a brief break from his usual run-and-gun directorial habits. Read the rest at

Film Review - Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules (2022)


Last year, Disney attempted to do something with the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” brand name, looking to reboot the world of author Jeff Kinney with an animated adaptation of the first book, which was previously explored in a live-action production from 2010. The cartoon wasn’t devoted to a complete translation of Kinney’s work, but it brought new comedic elasticity to the franchise, finding a way to bring the writing to life in a way flesh-and-blood actors couldn’t. Apparently, the movie was something of a success, with “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules” serving as a sequel, once again exploring the self-made misery of Greg Heffley and his eternal quest to be popular. There’s no leap in technology or increased budget for the follow-up, but Kinney (who scripts) tries to soften the harshness of his original writing, aiming to generate a more sincere understanding of brotherhood, bringing some heart to the endeavor. Read the rest at

Film Review - Violent Night


Director Tommy Wirkola has done the whole irreverence thing before. Many times in fact, with his career largely boosted by the unexpected success of his 2013 fairy tale actioner, “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.” “Violent Night” is looking to conjure a similar energy of violence, comedy, and fantasy, this time putting Santa Claus in a “Die Hard” scenario, with the jolly fat man taking on a team of killers trying to work their way into a high-tech safe. Screenwriters Pat Casey and Josh Miller have the gimmick, sending Santa into a bloodbath, and they have an endless appetite for shock value, creating entire sequences dedicated to the obliteration of villains. And that’s all “Violent Night” really has to share, burning through its single joke in a matter of minutes, with the rest of the picture devoted to underwhelming performances, crude visual effects, and a lack of creative humor, which is something to be expected from the duo that previously scripted “Dorm Daze” and “Dorm Daze 2.” Read the rest at

Film Review - Darby and the Dead


With a title like “Darby and the Dead,” expectations are put into place for a horror extravaganza. It comes with some surprise to learn that the screenplay (by Becca Greene) isn’t interested at all in summoning fears, instead going the “Mean Girl” route with this tale of a high schooler and her battle with popularity, also dealing with the deceased as a medium. It’s a bizarre mashing of subgenres, but teen cinema wins out in the picture, which is mostly interested in rehashing adolescent woes concerning relationships and self-esteem challenges, occasionally getting into issues with the other side. Two very bright performances from Riele Downs and Auli’i Cravalho offer plenty of charm and energy to the feature, but the sameness of “Darby and the Dead” prevents it from doing something interesting with life and death, with the story gradually sinking back into predictability after a lively opening act. Read the rest at

Film Review - Four Samosas


Writer/director Ravi Kapoor hopes to bring some fun to the screen with “Four Samosas,” offering a celebration of comedy, music, and South Asian culture with the little picture, which tries very hard to please. It’s a heist movie in a way, but mostly interested in silliness with broad characters, and the endeavor is clearly influenced by the works of Wes Anderson and Jared Hess, offering a dry, stylized approach to goofballery. “Four Samosas” doesn’t have enough creative gas to get to the finish line, but Kapoor is dedicated to delivering a charming story of friends going to extremes to solve their problems, including wounded hearts. And there’s a fresh, engaging cast here that’s ready to play with the material, offering bright performances and decent timing in this somewhat strange but likable study of mistakes and community peculiarities. Read the rest at

Film Review - Troll (2022)


As the world waits for another installment of the “Godzilla vs. Kong” series (due in 2024), superfans of giant monster movies are offered something to tide themselves over with “Troll,” a Norwegian production looking to merge some kaiju action with local folklore. There’s also a disaster film element to the endeavor, with director Roar Uthaug (who previously helmed the “Tomb Raider” reboot) returning to the genre after 2015’s “The Wave,” bringing more death and destruction to the citizens of Norway. Screenwriter Espen Aukan conjures a simple plan of mayhem featuring a building-sized troll on the loose, hammering out basic characterizations to carry the human perspective while Uthaug deals with visual effects and scenes of mayhem. “Troll” is meant to easily play all over the world, delivering broad strokes and big threats, and it connects as intended. It’s not quite up to supermonster standards, but the viewing experience is breezy while also utilizing local culture and fairy tale history to complicate a dire situation of survival. Read the rest at

Film Review - Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio


There was once a time when one had to wait years between adaptations of “Pinocchio,” with the author Carlo Collodi’s 1883 book a popular choice for producers looking to do something with world-famous public domain material. This year, mere months separate the releases, with Disney taking another swing at the concept with a September release directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Tom Hanks. It was more of a remake, giving the company’s 1940 animated endeavor a live-action update, but co-writer/co-director Guillermo del Toro is not interested in making the same movie as everyone else. He’s gone back to the darkness of Collodi’s imagination, reworking a story of magic and curiosity into a stop-motion animated study of pre-WWII Italy, with the eponymous wooden puppet facing the rise of fascism while also handling his dream of becoming a real boy. I’ve seen many takes on “Pinocchio” over the years, but this is the first version to feature a cameo by Mussolini, with del Toro, co-director Mark Gustafson, and co-writer Patrick McHale putting in the effort to make this version of “Pinocchio” their own. Read the rest at

Film Review - Christmas with the Campbells


In the onslaught of holiday-themed entertainment this year, there’s “Christmas with the Campbells,” which has the appearance of a typical Hallmark Channel distraction for viewers who can’t get enough of the yuletide spirit or remain incapacitated in front of a television due to the consumption of too much egg nog. However, it’s not just another anodyne offering of cheer and romance, but something approaching a mild parody of such small screen comfort food. Screenwriters Barbara Kymlicka, Dan Lagana, and Vince Vaughn (who co-produces with Peter Billingsley) hope to add a streak of naughtiness to the proceedings, getting rascally with this take on small town Christmas experiences and relationship tentativeness. “Christmas with the Campbells” is a little too permissive with improvisation and crudeness, but there are laughs to be found in this bizarre mix of earnestness and silliness, and the cast comes ready to play. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Ravage


1997's "Ravage" attempts to replicate the experience of watching a gritty Hollywood thriller with shot-on-video technology. It's an ambitious movie from co-writer/director Ronnie Sortor ("Sinistre"), who hopes to bring a little Michael Mann energy to what's basically a backyard bloodbath, arranging a loose revenge story to help inspire a steady display of shootouts and stunts, hoping to win viewers over with sheer violence. Sortor has the vision but not the execution with "Ravage," which can't outrun its amateur elements and limited resources. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Dead North


Specialists in fetish videos for a secretive mail-order audience, W.A.V.E. Productions doesn't necessarily want to be known as cheaply made entertainment for viewers with specific arousal needs. They hope to achieve some level of storytelling competency with their efforts, and director Gary Whitson (who founded the company) attempts to offer something approaching a chiller with 1991's "Dead North." There's a killer on the loose and a collection of couples and friends trying to enjoy themselves in the woods, but the slasher-y set-up doesn't actually represent the viewing experience. Whitson is more interested in constructing a soap opera featuring the ways of cheaters and seducers, doing so in the most painfully drawn-out manner possible with limiting shot-on-video production achievements. It's sold as something menacing, but "Dead North" quickly becomes a grand test of patience. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hearts Beat Loud


No matter what type of business "Hearts Beat Loud" does with Blu-ray sales, the film is guaranteed to find its audience one way or another. It's a sensitive endeavor about the communicative aspects of musicianship and songwriting, and it's similar to smaller movies like "Once" and "Sing Street," which also mixed troubled souls with the power of performance. The bonus here is that while constructed out of familiar working parts, "Hearts Beat Loud" is a lovely picture unafraid to touch on real emotions, using music to explore the fears of people on the precipice of enormous life changes. Co- writer/director Brett Haley has a terrific cast to help him achieve such tricky vulnerabilities, and for those who crave the musical arts, the feature delivers a rich sense of craftsmanship and passion behind the creation of songs. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Faults


Throughout his career, actor Leland Orser hasn't made much of an impression. He was hit with typecasting for a long time, always the go-to guy to play twitchy, screechy types on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He's been wallpaper as well, playing one of the background characters in the "Taken" trilogy. "Faults" is the first truly substantial Leland Orser performance I've seen, asking more of the man than other productions would, and he's up for the challenge, providing a riveting depiction of frayed respectability and financial desperation colliding with professional responsibility. "Faults" is lucky to have such an unusual presence, as the rest of Riley Stearns's directorial debut tends to deflate when he's not around. Read the rest at

Film Review - Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery


Attempting to steer away from the controversies that pursued his installment of the “Star Wars” saga, 2017’s “The Last Jedi,” writer/director Rian Johnson went to work on a smaller movie meant to return him to filmmaking basics, offering a murder mystery in 2019’s “Knives Out.” He collected a large cast and a twisty plot, but also retained much of his habitual impishness, aiming to be clever with an assortment of red herrings and quips, while star Daniel Craig happily took his position as a southern-fried master detective dealing with the deceptive ways of potential suspects. “Knives Out” had its limitations when it came to providing an entertaining ride, and it made a lot of money, inspiring Johnson and Craig to return to duty for “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” which reunites with Benoit Blanc and his dealings with untrustworthy types, only this time, Johnson is more relaxed, diluting the primary puzzle of the endeavor with stabs at humor that largely fall flat, and writing that doesn’t welcome audience participation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Strange World


Director Don Hall has been on an interesting creative winning streak, working his way around impressive Disney Animation achievements such as “Winnie the Pooh,” “Big Hero 6,” “Moana,” and “Raya and the Last Dragon.” He teams with writer/co-director Qui Nguyen for “Strange World,” which creates a journey to a special universe inspired by pulp magazines and fantasy novels, most notably the works of author Jules Verne. Hall and Nguyen manufacture a vivid viewing experience with “Strange World,” which features gorgeous animation and fascinating designs for otherworldly creatures and environments. It’s superb eye-candy, but there’s a lot more to Nguyen’s screenplay, which offers a graceful understanding of environmental issues and family relationships between adventure sequences that deliver impressive scale for big screen enjoyment. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bones and All


Director Luca Guadagnino made a big impression on the cinematic scene with 2017’s “Call Me By Your Name,” finding ways to make an atmospheric, often intensely intimate movie about love. He followed his greatest critical and commercial success with a remake of “Suspiria,” exploring extreme genre darkness with an artful and excessively long take on the Dario Argento masterpiece. For “Bones and All,” the helmer hopes to combine his last two pictures into one epic concerning the fragile hearts of cannibals trying to feed and find themselves as they cross the American Midwest. It’s an adaptation of a novel by Camille DeAngelis, with screenwriter David Kajganich challenged to create a sincere examination of romantic chemistry while still maintaining a firm understanding of the horror the main characters create. “Bones and All” is a mixed bag with an indulgent run time, but it does offer some potent grisliness and feelings, with Guadagnino looking to transform the material into something quite serious while it leans toward “Twilight”-ness at times. Read the rest at

Film Review - Devotion


“Devotion” is based on the true story of naval officer Jesse L. Brown, a black man who fought for his chance to join an aviation program, fulfilling his dream of flight. The feature is an adaptation of a 2017 book by Adam Makos, given a Hollywood makeover by screenwriters Jake Crane and Jonathan A. Stewart, who work to give a story of partnership and determination a certain slickness to help reach a wide audience. It’s a war film but also something tender, pulling some focus off Brown’s life story to understand his place in the military and his wingman relationship with Tom Hudner, mixing such intimacies with the horrors of the Korean War. “Devotion” doesn’t always choose subtlety, which diminishes some of its lasting impact, but it has its heart in the right place, aiming to share a study of honor and sacrifice from an underserved time in history. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fantasy Football


“Fantasy Football” offers one of the stranger concepts in recent memory, offering a tale about a teenager capable of controlling her father on the football field via a video game, giving him the NFL advantage of his life. There’s some type of magic happening in the feature, but the production isn’t focused on making logic issues work. It’s simply out to entertain with a healthy serving of oddity, and those who can mentally get around the premise and the many questions it inspires are offered a mild but reasonably charming family film. “Fantasy Football” doesn’t contain many surprises, but there’s a certain spirit to the endeavor that’s engaging, especially when it deals with gaming control and time management. Formula rules here, leaving the overall picture to predictability, but the weirdness of it all isn’t unappealing, just tiring as the effort moves into a labored third act. Read the rest at