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February 2019

Film Review - Greta


Director Neil Jordan hasn’t enjoyed the most stable career, but he’s always been interesting. He was last seen on screens in 2013’s “Byzantium,” working very hard to make a modern vampire tale that thrived on weird, provocative imagery. The feature connected to a certain extent, but his latest, “Greta,” is a more straightforward endeavor, at least as mainstream as Jordan gets. He’s made some suitable thrillers years, but Jordan is not Hitchcock, and such finely tuned chiller instincts are missing from the picture, which peaks too soon and offers roughly five different endings, with the helmer making a play to toy with audience expectations, but timing, logic (even for this type of entertainment), and performances are deeply flawed, leaving “Greta” struggling to find traction as a nightmare machine, despite its well-worn stalker premise. Read the rest at

Film Review - Saint Judy


“Saint Judy” certainly has impressive timing. While it was in production, the conversation concerning illegal immigration exploded in the news, becoming a hot topic for those who genuinely care about the issue and those who live to exploit the situation for political gain. And now here comes the story of Judy Wood, an immigration lawyer who personally set out to challenge the system, helping those in unique situations of homeland pressure try for asylum, using her passion for the battle and courtroom practice to make a name for herself in Los Angeles and beyond. “Saint Judy” doesn’t come at the audience with balled-up fists, electing to be a bit more sensitive about those facing deportation, trying to submit the concept that actual lives are involved in such matters, with Judy working to clarify intent and infraction before final judgments are made. Read the rest at

Film Review - Boy Band


The central joke of “Boy Band” is one that’s been made before. The story details the efforts of a singing group trying to come up with new music long after their prime, dealing with changes in trends, personalities, and body shape as they attempt to recapture what was lost over a decade ago. Writers Stephen J. Levinson and Joel Levinson (who also directs) are walking in established footprints with this material, inspiring them to add as much absurdity as a possible in the no-budget endeavor, which primarily takes place inside a single recording studio. At its best, “Boy Band” reaches a few Lonely Island-style patches of wonderful weirdness, unearthing a certain level of craziness when dealing with fried egos and the literal undead. However, the movie struggles to maintain energy, lacking consistent madness and fresh air to truly come alive. Read the rest at

Film Review - Climax


French director Gaspar Noe broke through to the big time with 2002’s “Irreversible.” It was a horrifying movie, a suffocating immersion into the wilds of human violence and the blind savagery of revenge, but it was an undeniable shock to the system. Noe was a major player in the nihilism movement of French cinema in the early 2000s, and it turns out, he’s not one to reach beyond his grasp. Stumbling through equally charged affairs such as “Love” and “Enter the Void,” Noe returns to Hell with “Climax,” which delivers a similar viewing experience as “Irreversible,” only without the artfulness, thespian power, and freshness. At this point, Noe has become his own worst enemy, going soft with predictable aggression for “Climax.” Read the rest at

Film Review - Ruben Brandt, Collector


Even art history majors need a movie night too, right? A Hungarian production from co-writer/director Milorad Krstic, “Ruben Brandt, Collector” merges the world of art and cinema for a high-flying ride of visual references, with the helmer heading to the elasticity of animation to reach impossible filmmaking dreams with this ambitious offering. It’s a dazzling feature, bursting with energy and intelligence, with Krstic spinning plates like a madman as he manages a noir-ish ride into museum thievery while also digging into strange psychological spaces as the endeavor wiggles around hallucinatory freak-outs. “Ruben Brandt, Collector” is a special picture, but there’s a limit to how effective such specialized storytelling can last, and Krstic finds it quickly, crafting a masterful short that unfortunately has to figure out how to fill 90 minutes of screen time. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - The Children


1980's "The Children" is working uphill in the good taste department. It's schlock, giving it an out when it comes to considered filmmaking, with the production often aiming just for shock value, which in this case covers the use of kids as murderous zombies. There's a way to pull this premise off, giving the uneasy audience a thrill ride of outrageousness. Writers Carlton J. Albright ("Luther the Geek") and Edward Terry don't understand the care required to make a movie where children murder and, in return, are murdered. Some humor remains in "The Children," but laughs are often buried under the weight of idiotic tonal directions and an absence of pace, keeping the endeavor an absolute chore to sit through when it isn't completely wrongheaded. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - City Slickers


There were a good few years where a Billy Crystal comedy was generally considered an appealing event. His follow-up to "When Harry Met Sally," "City Slickers" was the comedian's "Avatar" in terms of box office success and media saturation, fitting Crystal for leading man shoe lifts via an unlikely vessel of bellylaughs and cowboy buffoonery. "City Slickers" is easily digestible as a well-crafted comedy, loaded with slapstick and sincerity, permitting Crystal a starring vehicle to exercise his best Jackie Mason impression while submitting a successful catchphrase in Mitch's greeting, "Helllllooooo." The man is genuinely funny here, distributing one-liners and pained expressions, playing beautifully off the likes of Daniel Stern and Bruno Kirby, while the producers filled supporting roles with a number of colorful character actors, including Supergirl herself, Helen Slater. And then there was Jack Palance, who clearly beamed down from his private asteroid to portray leathery cowboy Curly, a man so cured, he can light a match off his own cheek. Palance would go on to accept accolades and an Academy Award for his work here (cue the one-armed push-ups clip), and all of the love was heartily deserved, with the actor playing to his breathy strengths as a tough guy who develops a fondness for Mitch's neuroses. Palance and Crystal worked beautifully together, creating wonderful highlights along the way. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Cutting Class


1989's "Cutting Class" (shot in 1987) is a slasher film that would normally be lost to the sands of time if it wasn't for one little detail: Brad Pitt. The now globally renown actor, as famous as a human being can get in this day and age of tribal popularity, made his starring debut with the horror endeavor, securing its position as a perennial curiosity, with most viewers drawn to the potential fun of watching an icon get his start. The good news is that there's plenty of Pitt in the feature, which gives the young, hungry actor a lot of screen time to work on his emoting, trying his best to make as big an impression as possible. The bad news is that "Cutting Class" is mostly a confused production, unsure if it wants to be frightening or funny as it works out subgenre formula. Screenwriter Steve Slavkin never clarifies his vision for the endeavor, while director Rospo Pallenberg mostly fumbles everything that's handed to him, forcing the actors, including Pitt, to make the most of their scenes on their own. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Extremity


"Extremity" uses the culture of extreme haunts to inform its screenplay. These establishments aren't regular haunted houses, but something much more personal, requiring those interested in pushing their fear factor to the limit to sign away their lives to achieve it in the hands of strangers. It's a subject that's ripe for a cinematic rendering, but "Extremity" doesn't go very far in terms of understanding what drives the daily business of such a back alley enterprise, preferring to take on therapy, not terror, when it comes to the ins and outs of an extreme haunt. Read the rest at

Film Review - Life After Flash


1980’s “Flash Gordon” has endured a strange ride of recognition over the last 39 years. The picture was hoping to be the big ticket of the Christmas moviegoing season, giving ticket-buyers a large-scale fantasy adventure in the vein of “Star Wars,” only with a more European approach thanks to producer Dino De Laurentiis. While the feature did business, it was far from a blockbuster, sending the endeavor to the wilds of home video consumption, where it developed a cult following. Fandom was born, passionately so, but for the people who were involved in the making of “Flash Gordon,” such delayed response contributed to unsteady careers, especially for its star, Sam J. Jones. Director Lisa Downs tracks down the actor and many more behind-the-scenes personnel for “Life After Flash,” with the documentary splitting its time discussing the creation of the newly understood film and the reaction of those who created it, with Jones the primary focus of professional and personal confusion. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Hole in the Ground


“The Hole in the Ground” offers the killer kid routine. It’s a staple of the horror genre, with many variations on “The Bad Seed” produced, as recently as this very month with the release of “The Prodigy.” The features tend to abuse the same trick, toying with the image of innocence to best shred nerves, with violence often erupting from the very essence of goodness. It’s usually exploitative, skirting the line of good taste, but co-writer/director Lee Cronin has something slightly different in mind for his fright film, eschewing pre-teen devilry for more of an “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” atmosphere for “The Hole in the Ground,” which generates a proper mood of unease as the lead character explores the weirdness that’s consumed her once beloved son. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fighting with My Family


Dwayne Johnson is a busy man these days, making sure he’s represented on the big screen at least a couple times every year. He’s an action star now, but he never lost touch with his career as a professional wrestler, and he’s returning to the squared circle with “Fighting with My Family,” flexing his producing muscles to bring the story of WWE superstar Paige to the screen. Movies and pro-wrestling rarely mix, but this bio-pic isn’t interested in the sheer silliness of “No Holds Barred” or the odiousness of “Ready to Rumble,” instead going the inspirational route with an underdog tale. Writer/director Stephen Merchant tries to redefine “Rocky” with “Fighting with My Family,” using Paige’s rise to WWE glory as a way to craft an audience-pleasing sports dramedy, and Johnson is along for the ride to secure authenticity, at least with wrestling atmosphere. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Changeover


American audiences are used to a little more extremity from their YA fantasy entertainment, often served the ways of love and danger with a larger sense of scale and apocalyptic stakes. “The Changeover” is a New Zealand production, and doesn’t quite reach for visual fireworks to tell its tale of a teenager experiencing her entrance into the ways of witchcraft. Instead, the production often goes insular, playing the evolution in dreamscape settings, trying to do justice to a 1984 novel by Margaret Mahy. Screenwriter Stuart McKenzie (who co-directs with Miranda Harcourt) has a difficult task of adaptation, working to make the novel’s exploration of magic fit a low budget, and the helmers get most of the way there with “The Changeover,” making a movie that’s more disturbing than fantastical, wisely putting their faith into the cast to sell the mysteries of the story. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Def by Temptation


James Bond III was a child actor, appearing in such pictures as "The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh" and "Go Tell It on the Mountain." 1990's "Def by Temptation" is the thespian's attempt to take control of his career, pouring time and energy into a low-budget horror feature, taking writing and directing duties, along with a co-starring role. For Bond III, the creative experiment delivers an odd but compelling B-movie, and one that has a little more style and enthusiasm than its competition. "Def by Temptation" isn't an offering for those who require the cleanest filmmaking standards, working as a more of a loose, intermittently inventive journey into monsterdom, adding bits of seduction and psychological inspection to help spice up the viewing experience. Bond III is a tad sloppy here and there, but his need to add his voice to the genre shows throughout the endeavor, making something unique and charmingly bizarre. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Killing Kind


Director Curtis Harrington creeps in the mind of a murderer in 1973's "The Killing Kind," which, in a way, could be approached as a kind of prequel to "Psycho," observing the psychological thin ice created when a son has a special relationship with his domineering mother. Harrington doesn't completely cross over into slasher territory, instead finding fright in the cracking of a young man's psyche, surveying the sinister creep of dangerous behavior as it grows over the course of the run time. "The Killing Kind" isn't lively in the least, but those able to tune into special frequency of dysfunction and dangerousness are rewarded with an unusual study of evil, brought to life by leads John Savage and Ann Southern. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Big Trouble


To be fair to "Big Trouble," it's not like it had a chance to be a success at the box office. A chaotic comedy that includes a subplot concerning the movement of a nuclear bomb around an airport, the movie was originally scheduled for release on September 21st, 2001, only to find its content reconsidered by Disney after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, who decided to push the release date to April, 2002. By the time the feature finally opened, it was damaged goods, lacking a refreshed marketing push and positive press, with the studio basically scraping the film off the bottom of its shoe before moving on to more important pictures in the pipeline (like "The Country Bears" and "The Hot Chick"). "Big Trouble" isn't a masterclass in cinematic storytelling, but as silly, swiftly paced ensemble endeavors about Floridian mischief go, it's very entertaining, becoming something of a highlight in the disturbingly uneven career of director Barry Sonnenfeld. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Adventures of Tom Sawyer


The marketing for 1938's "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" promises a throwback viewing experience for audiences looking to detach from the hustle and bustle of the modern age. Producer David O. Selznick follows this mission in the film as well, opening with a quote from author Mark Twain, selected to remind ticket-buyers that the material is meant to evoke the mischief and raw emotion of childhood. Selznick orders up a highlight reel of Twain's novel, but his intended tone carries throughout, delivering a spirited take on "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" that's big on gesturing, reaction, and episodic tangles with authority and danger. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Breaker Upperers


While they’ve both been working in film and television for decades, “The Breaker Upperers” is terrific chance to become fully aware of the talents possessed by stars Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek. They’re manufacturing their own opportunity with the picture, also accepting screenwriting and directorial duties, working to craft a farce that pokes fun at the fear of ending commitment, taking a business of break-ups to farcical highs. A production from New Zealand, “The Breaker Upperers” is extremely funny and surprisingly tight, with Sami and van Beek keeping their endeavor rolling along with some wackiness and dry humor, creating their own vehicle to display their stuff, which is often fantastic stuff. Read the rest at

Film Review - High Flying Bird


Now six years into his retirement, Steven Soderbergh continues to work on his iPhone moviemaking revolution with “High Flying Bird,” which is debuting a year after his smartphone-shot thriller, “Unsane,” failed to catch much heat at the box office. Turning to Netflix for his distribution needs, Soderbergh sheds production risks and takes a chance on unusual material for his latest endeavor, which takes a brief look at the world of NBA ownership and leadership, and how the game is actually played with billions of dollars on the line. Staying true to his artistic interests, Soderbergh goes minimal, returning to the iPhone for cinematographic needs and working with a screenplay by Tarell Alvin McCraney, who takes more than a few jabs at the state of the basketball union with his sharp screenplay, inspiring the helmer to doing something a little differently than his traditional offering of passivity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Donnybrook


Writer/director Tim Sutton wants to bring the pain with “Donnybrook.” With previous credits including “Memphis” and “Dark Night,” Sutton is no stranger to the unpredictability of human behavior, putting some thought into the construction of his screenplay, which not only examines vicious interactions between unstable characters, but takes a good long look at the current state of America, focusing on an impoverished community of addicts and killers. There’s no joy to be found in “Donnybrook,” but there’s not a lot of engrossing anger either. Sutton is making his western here, only everyone is a black hat and they spend the movie cycling through the same reaction to utter despair. It’s a glacial feature, with the helmer mistaking length for profundity, unable to connect with his overall effort to dissect violence as it’s experienced by those who can’t, or won’t, escape abuse. Read the rest at