Film Review - Orphan: First Kill


The math on “Orphan: First Kill” is a little odd. The original feature was released in 2009, with star Isabelle Fuhrman a child actress hired to play a nine-year-old girl with a taste for murder who was actually a 33-year-old proportional dwarf. Now there’s a prequel, with Fuhrman a 25-year-old woman tasked with playing a vicious nine-year-old again 13 years later. Other productions would’ve recast the role, but the producers are determined to work with the star again, cooking up a prequel which tests the limits of digital de-aging, returning tiny threat Esther to power in a picture that weirdly took an eternity to become a reality. Patience is rewarded, to a certain degree, by “First Kill,” which has a better handle on the absolutely ridiculous premise of “Orphan,” striving to come up with its own level of absurdity to top what’s come before, wisely dialing down some of the distasteful aspects of the 2009 endeavor to nail a more enjoyable B-movie ride. Read the rest at

Film Review - Spin Me Round


Co-writers Alison Brie and Jeff Baena previously collaborated on 2020’s “Horse Girl.” They share a fondness for bizarre material and deep character work, playing with tonality and comedy as they visit some shadowy psychological spaces. The duo returns with “Spin Me Round,” which has the initial vibe of an upbeat workplace farce, but Baena (who directs) and Brie (who stars) aren’t committed to a straightforward tale of everyday pressures and absurdities, committed to strangeness that’s slowly massaged into the material. Much like “Horse Girl,” “Spin Me Round” has moments of greatness, but the work eventually runs out of inspiration, getting grabby with silliness and sinister business in the second half, which doesn’t line up with the breezy peculiarities of the first half. Read the rest at

Film Review - Glorious


The fate of the universe is decided inside a rest stop men’s room in “Glorious,” which is the latest offering in COVID-19 production limitations, pitting man versus an unseen entity positioned on the other end of a glory hole. Writers Joshua Hull, David Ian McKendry, and Todd Rigney have the difficult task of making something mysterious and threatening while stuck inside of a bathroom for most of the run time, and they manage to get somewhere with the strange premise. “Glorious” favors lead performances from Ryan Kwanten and J.K. Simmons, who deliver intensity that helps to build suspense primarily through conversations, but director Rebekah McKendry has the challenge of making a single location feel like the middle of a cosmic battleground, shaping a successful sense of mystery to the picture. There’s not a lot to the feature, which occasionally struggles to dream up challenges for the characters, but grotesqueness remains, along with an intriguing puzzle of motivation, keeping this small production engrossing. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Immaculate Room


“The Immaculate Room” presents the experience of two characters who’ve chosen to remain in isolation for 50 days, without access to the world outside, simply stuck with each other in a bare space, left with only themselves to deal with. It’s a take on a social experiment, offered some cinematic extremity by writer/director Mukunda Michael Dewil, who sets out to make a mess of the arrangement, toying with psychological breaks and challenges, working to transform the endeavor into a thriller of sorts. The human condition isn’t thoroughly analyzed in the feature, but Dewil has some compelling ideas to share on the strain of such stressful cohabitation, offering a study of slow mental breakdowns, wild mood swings, and bitter relationship inspection that comes to haunt the players during this lengthy, punishing game of endurance. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Almost Summer


1978's "Almost Summer" represents a transition in teen-centric storytelling, moving past the beach party movies of the 1960s while inching toward a more sympathetic understanding of adolescent concerns, as found in features throughout the 1980s. It wants to be many things for many audiences, which ultimately prevents the endeavor from becoming something truly memorable. Director Martin Davidson ("The Lords of Flatbush," "Eddie and the Cruisers") has a large collection of characters to manage, and an eager cast to make magic for the cameras, but the writing is often stuck while trying to be silly and sincere, becoming a sluggish, melodramatic study of growing pains and relationship challenges, also delving into the bitter world of politics and all the treachery that includes. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - Lifeforce


The question of who really directed 1982's "Poltergeist" remains an active mystery to this day. Tobe Hooper is the credited helmer, and some cast members have reinforced his leadership role during filming. Other production members have suggested co-writer/producer Steven Spielberg was the true creative guiding force, with Hooper more of an employee than a visionary. Perhaps the truth behind this strange collaboration will never be revealed, but "Poltergeist" was a crackerjack horror picture that employed tremendous style and furious surges of mayhem to help update a traditional haunted house tale. It was also a massive box office hit, giving Hooper a chance to become an in-demand director, with 1985's "Lifeforce" his follow- up project, and it's nowhere near the quality of the previous feature. Hooper takes full command of another genre endeavor, joined by co-writer Dan O'Bannon ("Alien"), and while he's offered a large budget and creative control from Cannon Films (trying to craft their first summer blockbuster), the director just doesn't get this extremely oddball movie off the ground. "Lifeforce" is an adaptation of a 1976 Colin Wilson novel, challenging the production to deal with the demands of literary storytelling and the potential of a sci-fi extravaganza. The project comes up short in many ways, often so excited to simply present the image of a nude female on the move, it neglects to build a rich sense of menace and intrigue when dealing with the enigmatic plans of space vampires and their attack on Earth. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Sunnyside


In the late 1970s, there was no bigger name than John Travolta. He successfully transitioned from a successful television show to big screen glory, scoring back-to-back hits with "Saturday Night Fever" and "Grease," making him one of the most famous faces in Hollywood. John Travolta became a brand, an icon, and a superstar, but this is not the Travolta that appears in 1979's "Sunnyside." The producers couldn't tempt John Travolta into appearing in the low-budget gang picture, so they went the exploitation route, hiring his older brother, Joey, to make his acting debut in the movie, emphasizing similar looks and voices while selling a new Travolta to ticket-buyers hungry for the surname. The scheme didn't work for obvious reasons, but not helping the cause is the general meandering nature of "Sunnyside," which hopes to be a tragic understanding of a life handed over to the never-ending cycle of street violence, but mostly remains an airless, deathly dull viewing experience in need of sharper dramatic points and, well, a seasoned lead actor, preferably not named Travolta. Read the rest at

Film Review - Secret Headquarters


“Spy Kids” was released 21 years ago, and it remains a powerful influence over family entertainment to this day. The Robert Rodriguez film was a delight, mixing decent acts of slapstick and silliness with a plot concerning the empowerment of children, turning them into superheroes. It found an audience and was promptly transformed into a brand name, and now “Secret Headquarters” is basically trying to tell the same story, only with a more Marvel-y approach and the use of a single set to house most of its property damage. Co-writers/directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost are tasked with making a lively adventure with junior high Avengers, and the first half of “Secret Headquarters” has the right tone and sense of exploration to keep it at least mildly interesting. The back nine of the production doesn’t sustain any fun factor, with the endeavor becoming too heavy with conflict and dreadful acts of comedy, bringing the feature to a halt long before it concludes. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bodies Bodies Bodies


It’s important to note that “Bodies Bodies Bodies” is not a slasher film, as marketing efforts have been selling the endeavor. It’s more of a murder mystery in the vein of Agatha Christie, only with a defined emphasis on the concerns and cacophony of Gen Z characters. The screenplay by Sarah DeLappe doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel when it comes to the particulars of a whodunit, instead aiming to capture the strain of relationships and the power of secrets while corpses pile up. “Bodies Bodies Bodies” has its entertainment value, and the cast is energized, ready to go where director Halina Reijn leads with this gradual descent into accusations and paranoia. It’s not an especially intriguing look at a community meltdown, but the movie offers a few electric moments, and DeLappe mostly sticks the landing, which isn’t easy in this subgenre. Read the rest at

Film Review - Day Shift


“Day Shift” is hoping to kickstart a fresh franchise with a story that concerns a union-backed effort to control the vampire population in California. It’s a blend of “Ghostbusters” and “Blade,” giving producers another opportunity to showcase monstrous happenings around the Los Angeles area, a location used often for its glamour and mystery. Writers Tyler Tice and Shay Hatten eschew the slickness of vamp-busting, preferring to deliver a blue-collar take on the business, and they elect to make a comedy out of the picture, maintaining distance from anything scary. Funny business is the stake pushed through the heart of “Day Shift,” which highlights exceptional stunt work and a delightful sense of chaos, but whenever there’s someone trying to be hilarious, the film dies, resulting in a highly uneven viewing experience that doesn’t live up to the promise of the premise. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Princess


What’s left to be said about Diana, Princess of Wales? Since her death in 1997, she’s been the subject of countless news reports, books, and all sorts of media endeavors. Recently, the life and times of Diana were turned into a high-profile feature (2021’s “Spencer”), and the difficult realities of her life were transformed into a Broadway-ready theatrical event in “Diana: The Musical.” Her story has been dissected in every possible way, feeding what appears to be an endless appetite to revisit the details of her time as a member of the Royal Family, and her eventual departure from such British order, becoming a pop culture figure. “The Princess” is a documentary that tracks Diana’s days from her time as a teenager to her death in Paris, but director Ed Perkins seems aware of the fatigue such a saga could potentially trigger, aiming to explore the decades strictly through film and video of Diana, with media reports serving as commentary. There are no stuffy interviews with “experts,” and no crude recreations, just the footage itself, superbly edited by Jinx Godfrey and Daniel Lapira, who assemble a rich understanding of public turbulence and internalized emotion, allowing the highlights and horror of Diana’s experience to lead the way. Read the rest at

Film Review - Emily the Criminal


“Emily the Criminal” is out to capture this particular moment in time. In an age of financial instability and fear, here comes writer/director John Patton Ford with a tale of one woman’s quest to free herself from the bondage of debt, student debt to be specific. It’s a topic that’s commanded attention and debate over the last few years, and Ford is trying to make such a personal struggle easily understood for audiences, using an underworld journey to best identify the pressures of payments in an age of growing poverty. Ford is on to something different with “Emily the Criminal,” which has a crisp understanding of frustrations and anger tied to the loan business, providing a universal sense of stress, which makes for powerful cinema. The rest of the feature isn’t that well-observed, with Ford turning to formula to connect the dots with his character study, which doesn’t bring much texture to the viewing experience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fall (2022)


“Fall” is an exploitation movie that has a deep desire to be taken seriously as an offering of drama and suspense. Co-writers Jonathan Frank and Scott Mann (who also directs) come up with a decent exercise in thriller cinema, sending two twentysomething women up a T.V. tower for a social media adventure, soon stranding the pair on top of the rusted structure, leaving them to deal with all sorts of challenges to their safety. It’s a simple recipe for cheap thrills, but those expecting a cool 75-minute-long ride of danger and disaster are instead offered 107 minutes of iffy screenwriting choices and melodrama. There’s not nearly enough tension to support the limited scope of “Fall,” which sets up a dire situation of endurance in an unusual location, but doesn’t have a large enough imagination to really bring it to life, content to slog through banal interpersonal issues and predictable near misses. Read the rest at

Film Review - Rogue Agent


“Rogue Agent” is a very generic title for a highly specific story about a sociopath and his intense efforts to destroy the minds of his female victims. For some, the name Robert Freegard might trigger faint memories of headline news (there was even a Netflix series about his misdeeds), but I’m sure most viewers probably haven’t heard of the man, giving screenwriters Michael Bonner, Adam Patterson, and Declan Lawn (the latter two accept directorial duties) a chance to surprise their audience with a lengthy exploration of Freegard’s case. “Rogue Agent” has the structure of a twisted thriller, and one with a heavy psychological component that allows for some extended displays of sinister behavior. Patterson and Lawn don’t meet the potential of the story, preferring a more glacial take on developing evil, but they achieve a level of unease crucial to the tale, and they have Gemma Arterton, who delivers a fine performance as the lover who decides to try and break Freegard’s criminal activities. Read the rest at

Film Review - WifeLike


“WifeLike” plays like an episode of a limited series, bringing viewers into a futureworld of on-demand spouses that’s plagued with issues concerning disposability, freedom, and control. There’s enough exposition to power at least eight episodes, and the ending sets up a conflict for the next season. It’s low-budget sci-fi with a few provocative ideas, but writer/director James Bird goes the big screen route with “WifeLike,” and the picture often doesn’t stand up to cinematic standards. Bird aims to make a thriller with the material, working to sweeten mystery and survival elements, but he’s also saddled with explaining large concepts of dreamscape visitation and some basic world-building for this nation of robotic women and the men who seek to possess them. Excitement isn’t valued by the helmer, who creates a flat, uneventful look at what initially seems like a promising idea for genre activity. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Games of Survival


For his directorial debut, Armand Gazarian attempts to participate in the home video gold rush of the 1980s, assembling "Games of Survival" (titled "Game of Survival" on the Blu-ray packaging), which presents low-fi action for evenings of VHS rental roulette. Gazarian doesn't come armed with a major budget, locations, and actors, getting by on the bare minimum of technical achievements, electing to shoot the endeavor on 8mm, giving it the general atmosphere of a student production. "Games of Survival" doesn't aim high when it comes to dramatic engagement, but Gazarian is looking to land a basic actioner with sci-fi touches, trying his hardest to make some B-movie magic with grungy cinematography and modest fight choreography. There's a mild sense of appealing lunacy in play, but there's nothing here that's too challenging for genre fans. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Ilya Muromets


1956's "Ilya Muromets" was intended to be a major moviegoing event for Russian audiences, with director Aleksandr Ptushko throwing everything he had into the creation of the Cinemascope epic, which is inspired by "Russian heroic folk tales." The feature wasn't welcomed with open arms in America, soon recut and retitled by Roger Corman (presenting the more eye-catching "The Sword and the Dragon"), who aimed to transform the endeavor into a matinee distraction. And a copy of the picture eventually found its way to the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" gang, who riffed the re- edit in a particularly amusing 1994 episode of the show. "Ilya Muromets" has now returned, restored by Mosfilm, who hope to present the effort the way it was originally seen by Russian viewers, reinforcing the amazing scope of the feature as Ptushko's imagination is celebrated throughout the viewing experience, with the helmer striving to bring fantasy to life. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - No Resistance


1994's "No Resistance" offers a look at Houston in the future, where gangs are plentiful, the economy is in disarray, and a man with a portable computer can infiltrate and manipulate any system he's paid to invade. So, basically, this is Houston, 1997, but for co-writer/director Tim Tomson, "No Resistance" is his chance to play with the world of cyberpunk, doing so with a shot-on-video thriller that looks to present heated confrontations and online warfare with a no-budget production effort, forcing Tomson to get as creative as possible with his limited resources. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - My Best Part


Nicolas Maury has been acting for a few decades now, perhaps best known to international audiences from his turn in 2018's "Knife + Heart." Creating an acting opportunity for himself, Maury co-writes and directs 2020's "My Best Part," which puts him front and center in a drama about a long- suffering actor trying to take some type of control of his seemingly spiraling life. A thespian showcase is exactly what "My Best Part" is, allowing Maury to stretch as a screen presence, bringing in French film industry legend Nathalie Baye for support as he undertakes a character study with elements of dark humor and drama, questing to generate an appreciation for an emotionally wounded man and his many experiences with rejection and depression. Read the rest at