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February 2019

Film Review - Happy Death Day 2U


Just 15 months ago, there was “Happy Death Day.” The Blumhouse production wasn’t aiming very high with its mixture of comedy and horror, offering younger audiences their own “Groundhog Day,” fitting a slasher movie set-up for a time loop gimmick. The PG-13 frightener clicked with audiences in the mood for a wacky distraction, giving Halloween 2017 a slight boost at the box office. Terrified of losing such momentum, writer/director Christopher Landon went right back into production, churning out a quickie sequel in “Happy Death Day 2U,” hoping to retain the limited attention span of certain viewers these days. There’s lots of room for improvement, but Landon merely hints at creative escalation with the follow-up, which chases a tale about a killer in a baby mask with another tale about a killer in a baby mask. There’s a heavy “Back to the Future” influence this time around, for everything except sequel quality. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Isn't It Romantic


Director Todd Strauss-Schulson already did this kind of movie four years ago. It was titled “The Final Girls,” and it deconstructed and lampooned slasher film cliches. It was a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, but it worked, showcasing agreeable humor and enthusiasm for the genre it was pantsing. Strauss-Schulson returns to the well with “Isn’t It Romantic,” which trades a serial killer for Rebel Wilson, delivering her solo starring debut, which takes apart formula found in romantic comedies, offering a self-aware spin around lovey-dovey entertainment. In keeping with Wilson’s style of humor, there’s nothing subtle or sly about “Isn’t It Romantic,” which often delights in pointing out absurdities in rom-coms while wrapping itself in the same comfortable repetition, offering confusion with its ultimate summation of empowerment, and its jokes just aren’t all that funny. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - It's Pat: The Movie


While "Saturday Night Live" scored a box office success with 1980's "The Blues Brothers," it was 1992's "Wayne's World" that really opened Hollywood's eyes to the potential of turning sketches into cinema. "Wayne's World" was special, with incredible spirit, timing, and charm from the cast, giving it a unique alchemy that would be difficult to repeat. But that wasn't going to stop producers (including "SNL" creator Lorne Michaels) from trying. Just two years after Mike Myers and Dana Carvey headbanged their way into everyone's hearts, "It's Pat: The Movie" showed up, trying to siphon some of the magic dust that was left behind. Perhaps the endeavor was a smart business decision, but creatively, it's difficult to understand who really thought there was potential in turning a one-line joke from a late night sketch show into a major motion picture. "It's Pat: The Movie" is horrible, no shock there, but to watch the endeavor gasp for air for an unexpectedly long 74 minutes is painful, finding star Julia Sweeney trying with every fiber of her being to keep the sinking ship moving along before it hits bottom. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Quigley Down Under


In the quest to turn Tom Selleck into a movie star, Hollywood ended up with a few decent franchise-starters to help the actor along. Audiences didn't accept the "Magnum, P.I." lead as a viable source of big screen thrills, but Selleck's efforts to forge a career found him accepting colorful roles, with one of his better starring vehicles being 1990's "Quigley Down Under," which brought the American to Australia to reexamine the western in a new land, portraying a classic genre character. Helping the cause is director Simon Wincer, who previously helmed the beloved mini-series "Lonesome Dove," trading pained reflection for grander thrills in his homeland, working to bring some classic John Ford spirit to the picture. "Quigley Down Under" benefits from such enthusiasm, with the cast (including Laura San Giacomo and the late, great Alan Rickman, here in his bad guy prime) providing a level of life to the screenplay by John Hill, who's trying to bring the traditions and concerns of the Old West to an alien land, investigating issues of racism and masculinity where few might expect it. It's not an entirely triumphant endeavor, but Selleck delivers one of his best performances as the titular sharpshooter, showcasing a full understanding of the job at hand as he gives a nicely leathered and unsettled performance for Wincer, who's also in hog heaven positioning heroes and villains, while spotlighting longstanding issues from Australia's past. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Incubus


1982's "Incubus" doesn't waste time, making sure to dump as many characters and situations on the audience as possible during the initial act of the movie, leaving them with little to invest in as the story begins to take shape. Confusion is a common feeling during the picture, as director John Hough ("The Watcher in the Woods," "Return from Witch Mountain") doesn't pay the closest attention to the particulars of this horror endeavor, electing to take star John Cassavetes's lead and just wing it from one end of the tale to the other. It's a loose improvisational quality that provides most of the production fog that clouds "Incubus," which is an otherwise competently crafted genre effort that looks and sounds like a proper low- budget chiller. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Kazaam


It's easy to understand why Hollywood tried for a short amount of time to make basketball player Shaquille O'Neal a movie star. He's an unusual screen presence, with massive size and spirit, and he brings a built-in audience with him, tempting NBA fans into the multiplex to see what the star is up to when he's not on the court. There's a long list of athletes who've made the transition to acting, but for O'Neal, dramatic legitimacy was probably never in the cards. Making an impression in 1994's "Blue Chips," the hulking man made a critical error in judgement for his follow-up, trusting the Disney touch with "Kazaam," a family film that turns O'Neal into a rapping genie with a magic boombox trying to help out a streetwise kid with his daddy issues. The intent is clear, giving the star over to his young admirers for a PG-rated adventure that's heavy on slapstick. However, in the hands of director Paul Michael Glaser, "Kazaam" turns into one big chore to sit through, clinging to the comfort of formula while acting is uniformly awful, failing to hide O'Neal's lack of thespian training. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Cold Pursuit


2014’s “In Order of Disappearance” was a special Scandinavian movie (receiving a U.S. release in 2016), taking the framework of a traditional revenge saga and turning it inside out, making the experience about blood and rage, but also character and calmness, with director Hans Petter Moland finding ways to give the film eccentricity without dipping into quirk, also guiding star Stellan Skarsgard to one of the best performances of his career. The picture was fantastic. “Cold Pursuit,” the inevitable American remake of “In Order of Disappearance,” isn’t. While Moland returns to duty, trying his hand at the Hollywood game, his sense of darkness has been severely dulled, stuck trying to translate something with specific cultural ties for the Liam Neeson Hit Factory, which only seems interested in broad comedy and tuneless performances. Read the rest at

Film Review - Alita: Battle Angel


The world of “Alita: Battle Angel” is massive, and it requires the control of a filmmaker who can manage the bigness of action and the intimacy of character. Robert Rodriguez, despite landing a handful of creative successes, is not someone with a track record that inspires confidence is his abilities to whisk audiences away to a complex fantasy realm. There’s a lot to unpack with this feature, an adaptation of a 1990 manga, and Rodriguez isn’t quite up the challenge of providing engrossing storytelling. “Alita: Battle Angel” is teeming with technical achievements and ambitious epicness, but it’s winded easily, frequently caught up in expositional quicksand, failing to make something exciting while it spends a substantial amount of screen time trying to verbally itemize a world that’s better off revealed in purely cinematic ways. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot


We live in an entertainment world where no-budget films with few redeeming production values are created, often using outrageous titles simply to attract attention (e.g. “Sharknado,” “Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus”), suckering in those on the prowl for wacky good times. “The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot” absolutely qualifies as B-movie identification of the highest order, offering an eye-catching promise of Asylum-style nonsense, playing up a connection between real-world evil and one born from myth. Mercifully, writer/director Robert D. Krzykowski isn’t interested in self-aware comedy, finding a way to turn such a genre-smashing promise into a meditation on aging and memory, perking up now and then to deal with the realities of wartime and forest extermination. “The Man Who Killed Hitler” is serious work, which is its greatest surprise, presenting severity of feeling and violence without feeling the need to rely on cheap shenanigans. Read the rest at

Film Review - What Men Want


“What Men Want” is a remake of a 2000 Nancy Meyers comedy, which tried to make something silly and mushy out of Mel Gibson, back when that was still a possibility. It was a PG-13 production, as vanilla as it gets, with Meyers overseeing a mild battle of the sexes premise that shifted from frivolity to a deadly serious conclusion that touched on suicide. It was typical of Meyers’s uneven work, and the screenplay was certainly ripe for a do-over. Enter Adam Shankman, a crude helmer of terrible movies (“The Pacifier,” “Rock of Ages”), who has the bright idea to play “What Men Want” as broadly as possible, stuck between his desire to craft a hard R-rated version of the tale and the perceived demands of the mainstream audience, with sincerity trying to worm its way into a film that has no use for it. Shankman doesn’t know what he’s doing with the feature, so he does nothing, coasting on painfully inept jokes and sporadic ugliness to complete the job. Read the rest at

Film Review - Everybody Knows


Writer/director Asghar Farhadi is primarily known for his Iranian dramas, scoring major critical successes with efforts such as “The Salesman,” “A Separation,” and “About Elly.” Ready for more global awareness, the helmer takes baby steps toward the mainstream with “Everybody Knows,” which utilizes a sampling of star power to nab attention, finding Farhadi teaming with actors Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem to help carry a kidnapping mystery. However, “Everybody Knows” is not a nail-biter with chases and whiplash turns of fate. It remains in line with Farhadi’s previous work, with primary attention placed on the internal churn of decision-making and the troubles that come with longtime relationships and secretive connections. Those expecting something more explosive from the filmmaker this time out might be disappointed, but slow-burn tension is there, realized through accomplished performances from the entire ensemble. Read the rest at

Film Review - Untogether


Making her debut as a writer/director is Emma Forrest, who chooses an L.A. tale of mismanaged love in “Untogether,” making use of a large ensemble to create tight spaces of relationship woes. As career launches go, Forrest doesn’t select the most original route for her storytelling journey, dealing with broken people making terrible decisions, but there’s an effort found in select scenes to resist cliché, to find the real impulses behind sexual unions that are clearly masking other needs. “Untogether” drops sharpness and nerve as it goes along, eventually ending up a puddle of feelings and ideas in search of a more prepared filmmaker, as Forrest loses her way early and never gets back to the core display of confusion she begins with. Read the rest at

Film Review - St. Agatha


Director Darren Lynn Bousman was introduced to the world as a horror moviemaker, proving his speed with low-budget hits in “Saw II,” “Saw III,” and “Saw IV,” playing his part in the continuation of a series that wasn’t big on variation to begin with. Bousman remained with fright films, some imbued with musical numbers, determined to make his mark on the genre, despite ample evidence that perhaps the conjuring of screen violence just isn’t his forte. After dragging along with tedious work in “Abattoir” and “The Barrens,” Bousman keeps his dream alive with “St. Agatha,” which turns to evil nuns to bring on the nightmare fuel. Of course, other helmers have beaten him to the punch when it comes to the secretive ways of religious servants, and “St. Agatha,” which strives to be stylish, has nothing interesting to share on the state of Catholic imprisonment, with Bousman returning to his old bag of tricks to emphasize an agonizing situation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Under the Eiffel Tower


Matt Walsh is a comedic actor who’s been pushing his way into bigger and better roles over the last decade. He’s been in a lot of things, often portraying uptight characters, playing into his naturally submissive presence, and he’s managed to amass an impressively detailed filmography. With “Under the Eiffel Tower,” Walsh graduates to leading man status, taking command of a “Sideways”-style tale of a man’s mental breakdown while visiting what many would consider paradise. Co-writer/director Archie Borders puts a lot of faith in Walsh, whose job here is to create a dimensional character with peaks and valleys of fallibility but still remain approachable, even understandable. Walsh does fine in the part, but “Under the Eiffel Tower” has a problem with likeability, which becomes an issue with a movie that’s hoping to make a warm impression on viewers. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Amityville Murders


Does the Amityville name mean anything to horror fans these days? It’s been 45 years since the original family murder spree committed by Ronald DeFeo Jr., and 40 years since the ghastly incident was turned into “The Amityville Horror,” a dim production that turned into one of the highest-grossing features of 1979. People were once insatiable when it came to all things Amityville, but the hunger for new versions of old violence diminished long ago, especially after a sustained wave of sequels, remakes, and spin-offs, with 20 movies in all trying to squeeze the true-crime teat dry. Faced with impossible odds for success, writer/director Daniel Farrands tries his luck with DeFeo misery, offering “The Amityville Murders,” a prequel of sorts to “The Amityville Horror,” going back to the scene of the crime to understand the motivation behind the killings that shocked a nation and punished entire generations of genre fans. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Blood Harvest


A fright film doesn't need much more than the simple image of Tiny Tim in clown make-up staring into the camera, but director Bill Rebane ("The Giant Spider Invasion") thinks he can do better in 1987's "Blood Harvest," which has the distinction of being an offering of regional horror from Wisconsin, combining slasher entanglements with farmland events. Representing Tiny Tim's lone starring vehicle, "Blood Harvest" has the challenge of finding things stranger than the actor, who portrays a broken man obsessed with the circus, giving the "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" singer a chance to display more than just his famous falsetto (although that appears as well). Rebane has the vision for a proper genre offering, even giving the material an appealingly remote location, but his execution fails to congeal, often so consumed with exploitation interests, he forgets to make the movie scary, or at least menacing enough to give viewers a reasonable jolt. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Trilogy of Terror


After scoring ratings gold with 1972's "The Night Stalker" and 1973's "The Night Strangler," director Dan Curtis decided to return to television with a new vision for horror entertainment on ABC, going the anthology route with 1975's "Trilogy of Terror." Trading the detective world of Kolchak for an extended freak-out with star Karen Black, Curtis reunites with writer Richard Matheson for tales of disturbing sexuality, mental fractures, and the menace of an African doll, coming up with a surprisingly bland stew of panicky encounters that aren't particularly vivid, only surging with violent energy in small amounts. "Trilogy of Terror" is largely remembered by fans for its final chapter, and for good reason, as the other two are basically filler for a production that's attempting to bring perversion and shock to network TV, not quite understanding how difficult it is to support nightmare fuel when dealing with commercial breaks and material that's decidedly more tell than show. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Slave of the Cannibal God


The killer cannibal subgenre receives another workout with 1978's "Slave of the Cannibal God," but director Sergio Martino has a tad more to share with the audience than a routine of ugliness and suffering. There's decent acting for a change in the picture, with Stacy Keach leading co-stars Ursula Andress and Claudio Cassinelli into the thick of Sri Lanka locations to sell the stuffing out of a jungle adventure that periodically stops to watch horrible things happen to animals and humans. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Giallo in Venice


In perhaps one of the weirdest movie openings I've ever encountered, 1979's "Giallo in Venice" commences with a brutal murder (a man getting stabbed in the stomach repeatedly with scissors), a reveal of two dead bodies, and the use of big band music to score the immediate nightmare. It's the first sign that director Mario Landi isn't exactly paying close attention to the mood of severe scenes, but there's a certain loopy charm in the feature's absurdity, at least until it reaches unimaginable acts of violence that not only sober the picture up, but puts it down a point of no return. "Giallo in Venice" is a lot of things, but tonally balanced is not one of them. Read the rest at

Film Review - Miss Bala


It’s been difficult to take director Catherine Hardwicke seriously, as she’s built a filmography made up of misfires and mediocrity (“Twilight,” “Red Riding Hood,” “Miss You Already”), always finding her way into overkill, even with delicate material. Her aggressive style seems like a fine fit for “Miss Bala,” which is a remake of a 2011 Mexican thriller, giving the helmer a template for panic and scenes of intimidation, as the story covers kidnappings, across-the-border drug running, and acts of revenge. And yet, Hardwicke manages to turn it all into a mushy pile of cliches and noise, treating “Miss Bala” as her ticket into the Michael Bay School of Fetishistic Violence. Star Gina Rodriguez seems bewildered by it all, trying to keep up with Hardwicke’s excesses and limited interest in dramatic support, in need of a moviemaker with more patience and taste to successfully execute the unfolding nightmare presented here. Read the rest at