Film Review - Becky


“Becky” is being sold as the dramatic debut for comedian Kevin James. I’m not sure if that’s accurate, as I saw “Grown Ups 2” on opening night in a half-full auditorium, and nobody was laughing. But who am I to get in the way of marketing? The great news is that James tries to be steely and humorless here, and he does a fantastic job playing a menacing character. Even better, “Becky” is an absolute blood-drenched joyride of a film; a revenge picture that’s lean, mean, and unexpectedly interested in the bodily harm a 13-year-old kid can inflict on the Nazi goons looking to destroy everything she holds dear. Directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion don’t pull any punches with their endeavor, offering a nightmarishly graphic descent into feral outbreaks of grief, going wild with B-movie rampaging from an unlikely source of rage. Read the rest at

Film Review - Judy and Punch


Perhaps the most surprising aspect of “Judy and Punch” is writer/director Mirrah Foulkes’s interest in returning to the past to examine a different origin story for a famous puppet show. Offering a feminist take on the saga of Punch and Judy, the feature winds back 400 years to a time of male dominance, religious fearmongering, and desperation for entertainment. Foulkes has something original with “Judy and Punch,” and something angry too, with the picture delivering an impressive level of violence to go with its pitch-black sense of humor and horror. It doesn’t always connect as it should, getting a little lost when it comes time to form a resolution, but Foulkes makes an impressive debut with the macabre endeavor, and while she’s not dealing in real history, her imagination is big enough to reconsider the state of art and gender balance during a chaotic time period. Read the rest at

Film Review - You Don't Nomi


1995’s “Showgirls” has experienced a true roller coaster ride of appreciation. When it was initially released in theaters, sold as a sinful NC-17 viewing experience, it was promptly dismissed by critics as unforgivable trash. Audiences were initially curious, bur horrible word-of-mouth spread fast, killing the picture in its second weekend. And then it was gone. All that hype and promotion was over just like that, sending the effort to the VHS afterlife, destined to live the rest of its days as a cinema curio from Paul Verhoeven, a mighty director. And then something happened to “Showgirls.” Around 2000, it started finding an audience, and one that responded to the extremity of the endeavor with absolute delight, giving the box office bomb a second wind on home video and around the world as a midnight movie oddity. “You Don’t Nomi” is fairly late to the party with its offering of admiration and deconstruction, but for those with a profound love for the production, director Jeffrey McHale strives to present an understanding of what went right, and what went oh-so-wrong. Read the rest at

Film Review - Shirley


“Shirley” isn’t a bio-pic of writer Shirley Jackson, author of “The Lottery” and “The Haunting of Hill House.” It’s an adaptation of the 2014 book by Susan Scarf Merrell, who used her admiration for Jackson’s work in psychological horror to create her own homage to the writer, imagining a complicated, almost parasitic relationship between Jackson and a pregnant woman who comes to lives with her for a significant amount of time. There’s a twinge of disappointment that the material isn’t more interested in history, with screenwriter Sarah Gubbins aiming to make more of a chiller, combining Merrell’s material, Jackson’s reputation, and her own dramatic interests to construct an unnerving exploration of mental illness, literary inspiration, and obsession. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Fraternity Vacation


Directorial careers can be very strange, with most helmers struggling to find work, jumping from project to project just to maintain a living. James Frawley (who passed away in 2019) is in possession of that kind of wild resume, primarily working in television, laboring to make lackluster shows presentable. And then, in 1979, Frawley was offered a shot to guide "The Muppet Movie," allowing Jim Henson a chance to focus on performance and puppet work while someone else managed day-to-day business. Frawley ended up with one of the best films of the year and arguably the finest Muppet cinematic endeavor of all time. However, he couldn't get anything going with such a credit, returning to television, with his next theatrical offering being 1985's "Fraternity Vacation," taking command of a teen horndog production meant to be made as cheaply and quickly as possible to compete with the rising tide of R-rated comedies that delivered juvenile antics and naked bodies. It's difficult to understand what Frawley was thinking when he accepted the job, besides collecting a paycheck, suddenly in charge of realizing a simplistic screenplay (by Lindsay Harrison) and supporting limited actors, stuck with pure formula to make multiplex (and VHS) fodder. Where's Kermit when you need him? Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Paradise Hills


Alice Waddington makes her feature-length directorial debut with "Paradise Hills," and it's a stunner in many ways. She's created a fantasy world of re- education with screenwriters Nacho Vigalondo and Brian DeLeeuw, finding a way to deal with gender submission troubles while creating a futureworld environment of hostility thinly veiled by hospitality. The production has its storytelling issues, happy to throw everything at the screen without explaining a great deal of it, but Waddington also strives for a visual experience, offering terrific design elements throughout. "Paradise Hills" has something to say about the state of oppressed females, heading into a sci-fi direction to explore a survival tale that's loaded with screen detail and summons the eternal burn of frustration as it transforms into revolution. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Public Affairs


Co-writer/director Henri Pachard aims to skewer politics with 1983's "Public Affairs." He's not exactly remaking "The Candidate," but Pachard has distinct ideas to share when exploring the absurdity of politicians and their behavior on and off the stage. Being an adult movie, there's time set aside for all sorts of couplings and randy behavior, but "Public Affairs" is a cynical picture, often using its offerings of sex to help define corrupt behavior and examine the gamesmanship involved when manipulations come for the press and the people of America. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Legend of the White Snake


Taking the essential elements of "The Legend of the White Snake," a Chinese fable (inspiring many interpretations, including Tsui Hark's "Green Snake"), directors Amp Wong and Ji Zhao try to create an animated epic with "White Snake." The picture delivers a lush realm of visual possibilities, dealing with towering offerings of fantasy and intimate moments of romance. "White Snake" is striking, but it's always more impressive as spectacle, unable to connect on an emotional level. Read the rest at

Film Review - The High Note


Just last summer, director Nisha Ganatra delivered “Late Night,” a study of power and gender within the talk show circuit. It was meant to be a big thing, but it ended up a very small thing when it was finally released, ignored by audiences, who couldn’t quite find their way into a mediocre picture. Ganatra is back with more vanilla in “The High Note,” this time exploring the ways of power and gender in the music industry, with a young, naďve woman struggling to navigate the anxieties of a powerful, older woman trying to compete in a cutthroat business. Okay, so she’s basically made the same movie twice, and “The High Note” is equally bland but not entirely unpleasant. It’s the rare film where most of the supporting characters are more interesting than the main players, and while Ganatra is skilled at creating softness, she’s lost with dramatic urgency, allowing the feature to slowly evaporate. Read the rest at

Film Review - Survive the Night


Just six months ago, director Matt Eskandari and star Bruce Willis were working on their VOD game with “Trauma Center.” It wasn’t an inspired feature, with plenty of lackluster filmmaking and casting choices, but it was marginally better than what’s typically made for the home video market, dialing down hyperactive action antics to try its luck as a thriller. Eskandari is back with “Survive the Night,” reteaming with Willis for a home invasion chiller that’s big on keeping costs down, containing most of the action to a basic household setting. Willis continues down his career path of picking roles that require the least amount of standing, and though the picture doesn’t provide an extended run of screen tension, Eskandari does relatively well for the first hour of the endeavor, especially with lowered expectations for a brisk display of antagonism and family issues. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Clear Shot


“A Clear Shot” is “inspired by” the true story of a 1991 Sacramento hostage crisis, where a group of four armed Vietnamese men stormed into a Good Guys electronic shop, demanding strange ransoms and immediate satisfaction. Writer/director Nick Leisure doesn’t have the budget to deal with the chaos of the day in a satisfactory manner, offering a low-budget version of the events, spruced up with more active characterizations and charged encounters between gunmen and hostages. Leisure has a few ideas he wants to sell on the immigration experience in America, but he doesn’t have much of a game plan to achieve his vision. “A Clear Shot” emerges as weirdly ambitious in some areas and far too low wattage in others, with Leisure unable to reach any noticeable levels of suspense as he wages war with limited budgetary coin. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Vast of Night


On the IMDB page for “The Vast of Night,” under the trivia section, someone has added a list of film festivals that passed on the feature as it was making its rounds. As with anything on the website, it’s difficult to tell if this informational addition is either a source of shame or a point of pride. However, such rejection makes sense with this endeavor, which is meant to play like a tribute to television from the 1960s, and is often executed like a podcast, more interested in telling tales than showing them. “The Vast of Night” marks the directorial debut for Andrew Patterson, and it’s clear he has talent, as the effort showcases a sure moviemaking approach. It’s the overall urgency of the feature that’s more in doubt, with the slow-burn viewing experience strictly reserved for those already interested in the art of oral storytelling. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Pet Sematary Two


An adaptation of a Stephen King novel, 1989's "Pet Sematary" (scripted by the author) had a defined beginning, middle, and end. There was little room for a sequel, but the movie ended up a surprise hit for Paramount Picture, who craved a return to Ludlow, Maine, hoping to scoop up some easy sequel bucks. 1992's "Pet Sematary Two" (identified as "Pet Sematary II" in the film) isn't blessed with the return of King to help keep the story on track. Actually, King took is name off the feature, and it's easy to understand why, with returning helmer Mary Lambert trying to make her own bloody mess with the brand name, eschewing franchise intensity to fool around with a semi-comedic tone for a premise that doesn't trigger many laughs. Lambert doesn't really have a creative direction with "Pet Sematary Two," showing little control over tone, performance, and message as she tanks the sequel, almost on purpose. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Peace Killers


It's Hippies vs. Bikers for 1971's "The Peace Killers," with director Douglas Schwartz and screenwriter Michael Berk (the pair would go on to co-create "Baywatch") trying to locate some sense of moral and philosophical foundation as they detail all sorts of behavioral awfulness. It's heavy-handed all the way, but interestingly ambitious, watching the production attempt to comment on the futility of violence while indulging it for the drive-in crowds. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Nightingale


Writer/director Jennifer Kent made a dynamic impression with her feature-length filmmaking debut, 2014's "The Babadook." It was a masterful picture, marrying the extremes of horror and parenthood into a suffocating, frightening viewing experience, presenting Kent as a major talent to watch. It's unfair to pin expectations to Kent's follow-up, but it's impossible to escape the efficiency of "The Babadook" while watching "The Nightingale," which retains the helmer's fondness for suffering, but also remains an overlong, somewhat repetitive effort, trying to master period Australian ruin without tight editing. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - A Thousand and One Erotic Nights


1982's "A Thousand and One Erotic Nights" makes a valiant attempt to be a respectable, borderline epic adult movie, and one that tries to treat its source material with some degree of respect. Writer/director Edwin Brown sets out to do something saucy with "One Thousand and One Nights," a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales that doesn't immediately translate to sexual interplay, but the production puts in the effort to create something entertaining, varied, and, whenever possible, technically proficient, with Brown hoping to elevate his endeavor with cinematic emphasis wherever he can get away with it. Read the rest at

Film Review - Villain


The poster for “Villain” promises a blistering action viewing experience. There’s star Craig Fairbrass in full brutalizer pose, clutching a gun while walking away from a wall of flame and scattered sparks. Gotta have those sparks. The marketing for the feature is presenting a distinct image for revenge cinema, so it comes as something of a surprise to find out that “Villain” isn’t anywhere near the bone-breaker offering initially imagined. Writers Greg Hall and George Russo keep their distance from displays of aggression, with the story concerning the emotional toil of a life of crime, with the lead character spending his hours trying to pick up the pieces after experiencing a stint in prison, locked away while the world changed. Promotional efforts want to sell some slam-bang entertainment, but this movie is far from that, offering a compellingly emotional journey, boosted by a terrific turn from Fairbrass. Read the rest at

Film Review - Military Wives


In 1997, Peter Cattaneo directed “The Full Monty.” The little picture about working class blues and male nudity became a big deal, enjoying critical acclaim and sizable box office, also starting a trend of sorts, with studios suddenly ordering their own tales of miserable people overcoming great odds through peculiar hobbies. Cattaneo couldn’t capitalize on the hit film (bottoming out with the awful 2008 comedy, “The Rocker”), and now he’s attempting a similar viewing experience 23 years later. “Military Wives” is based on the true story of female choirs who pour their heart and soul into song while their significant others are away on duty, and the premise is ripe for feel-good entertainment, observing emotionally wounded people coming together for a greater good. While the whole thing seems unbearably contrived, Cattaneo actually locates a pulse for “Military Wives,” finding a sincere way to approach pure cliché. Read the rest at

Film Review - Inheritance


Two years ago, director Vaughn Stein delivered “Terminal.” It was his attempt at a stylish crime thriller, boosted by star power from Margo Robbie and a rare turn from Mike Myers, but the feature was seriously underwhelming, falling apart long before it reached its crescendo. Stein returns with “Inheritance,” which happens to peak way too soon, delivering an intriguingly twisted premise from screenwriter Matthew Kennedy (making his debut) before it doesn’t do anything of note with it. Stein once again provides a dearth of thrills with his twists and turns, and his feel for casting is way off this time around, finding the wrong people in the wrong roles trying to make a tepid, anticlimactic tale of dark secrets connect on some level. If “Terminal” was slow-burn stroll into tedium, “Inheritance” is in a hurry to get there, making a series of poor creative choices on the way down. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Lovebirds


Fighting a fledgling directing career, Michael Showalter scored a hit with 2017’s “The Big Sick,” impressing many with his ability to balance frightening elements of medical uncertainty with silliness, going for big heart with a side of wackiness. Showalter also turned comedian Kumail Nanjiani into a leading man, as viewed in last year’s bomb, “Stuber.” The pair reteam for “The Lovebirds,” though sensitivity is really the last priority for the production, which intends to play as more of a farce, with brief elements of romance to preserve the date movie appeal of the picture. “The Lovebirds” doesn’t possess any noticeable depth, and its sense of humor is seriously lacking, with Showalter in more of a coaching position, cheering on Nanjiani and so-star Issa Rae as they stumble through terrible improvisations, trying to cover for the lack of a complete script. Read the rest at