Previous month:
March 2019
Next month:
May 2019

April 2019

Blu-ray Review - Suburbia


Penelope Spheeris is one of the only filmmakers to attend Punk University. The helmer of the 1981 documentary, "The Decline of Western Civilization," Spheeris spent a substantial amount of time covering the punk scene, getting into the subculture to dissect its music and fanbase, trying to understand what made the movement tick. Such an education clearly dominates the creation of 1983's "Suburbia," with Spheeris heading back into the mud pit of neglected youth, this time using dramatics to help sort through young characters trying to make sense of their rotten lives. "Suburbia" has the electricity of "The Decline of Western Civilization" at times, but it's also clumsy work from an inexperienced writer/director, with Spheeris getting carried away with tragedy and confrontational behavior, trying to make a point about generational hostility that never comes together as profoundly as she imagines. It's a helluva time capsule, but not something that's particularly heartbreaking. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Bloody New Year


Norman J. Warren is a maker of B-movies, working with minimal budgets and locations to crank out horror and sci-fi endeavors, sometimes mixing the genres, as found in 1977's "Prey." For 1987's "Bloody New Year," Warren returns to the confines of a small setting to arrange a tradition haunting, staging the action inside a hotel on a remote island. The outside world remains at bay in the tale, giving the helmer an opportunity to arrange a steady stream of stalking and attack sequences, presenting the English production a chance to play in the "Evil Dead" sandbox for 90 minutes. Screenwriter Frazer Pearce sets up a spooky situation featuring persistent ghosts, bringing in a small band of youngsters to experience the fight of their lives, and Warren supports with a spare, somewhat slow, but engaging screen nightmare, clearly enjoying himself as he organizes various survival challenges while maintaining an eerie sense of ghoulish discovery. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Dirty Rotten Scoundrels


While the collaboration may have seemed odd on paper, "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" benefits wildly from the disparate screen energy of stars Steve Martin and Michael Caine. Joining forces to portray a pair of con artists, the actors are the main attraction of the feature (which is a remake of "Bedtime Story," a David Niven/Marlon Brando endeavor from 1964), which does well with offerings of deception and faux charm, but the movie handles superbly when it's trying to be silly. Such comedy chess may seem impossible to play with these men, but Martin and Caine deliver some of their finest work in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," with director Frank Oz creating a farce sturdy enough to let the talent (joined by the late Glenne Headly) run with extremes, yet somehow remain on Earth with sly lines from screenwriter Dale Launer. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Splatter University


As slasher cinema rode a wave of popularity in the 1980s, anyone with basic budgetary means wanted in on the lucrative potential of the subgenre. Troma Entertainment was no different, trying to make 1984's "Splatter University" a player in the kill-em-all game, giving the feature a push as the next big thing in slaughterama entertainment. Director Richard W. Haines ("Class of Nuke 'Em High") tries to do his duty as a helmer of B-level hellraising, coming up (with the help of multiple screenwriters) with a decidedly formulaic take on murder, turning to a collegiate setting to unleash a knife-wielding killer on the students and staff. "Splatter University" provides some jolts with graphic special effects and a genuinely surprising conclusion, but Haines has no coin to work with, forced to keep stylistics to a bare minimum, while storytelling is generally ragged, fighting confusing detours and limp characterization while he tries to mount a successful whodunit, and one that's covered in blood and guts. Read the rest at

Film Review - Avengers: Endgame


The 22nd film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is “Avengers: Endgame,” acting as a culmination of all the hard work that’s been put into these diverse superhero stories, taking some characters to their natural conclusions, while offering supporting players a chance to shine in future installments. It’s the second half of an adventure that began with last year’s “Avengers: Infinity War,” which arranged an apocalyptic showdown between the Avengers and Thanos, offering faithful audiences an exciting and surprising sequel that was littered with questions of mental scarring and mortality, offering a cliffhanger conclusion to best lathered up viewers for another battle between good and evil. “Avengers: Endgame” works hard to give fans exactly the type of epic experience they’ve been waiting patiently for, but screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely come up a little short in the satisfaction department. They provide compelling character business and powerhouse emotionality, but as a continuation of the risk-taking Thanos saga, the feature isn’t quite as daring as expected. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Family


“Family” uses the world of the Insane Clown Posse to explore the nature of belonging and connection. It’s not exactly the first example that comes to mind with considering the warmth and dependability of community support, but writer/director Lara Steinel enjoys the extremity, wisely throttling ICP involvement as she examines a tale of a woman and her niece trying to figure out their place in the world when so-called normality just doesn’t fit their needs. Steinel invests in jokes and heart, and she makes a frequently hilarious movie with “Family.” Perhaps it’s a little undercooked in some areas of the screenplay, but Steinel gets to the point with the effort, also using star Taylor Schilling in a previously unseen way, with the actress exploring newfound deadpan silliness in what turns out to be one of the best performances of her big screen career. Read the rest at

Film Review - Drunk Parents


Fred Wolf must be a fantastic person to meet. As a filmmaker, he’s been responsible for two of the worst pictures of the last decade (“Mad Families” and “Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser”), but he always manages to find work, with his career basically supported by his association with the two “Grown Ups” movies, partially responsible for the saga’s depressing fixation on DOA humor. Wolf gets another at-bat with “Drunk Parents,” trying to cash-in on a trend concerning tales of withered guardianship, highlighting the antics of adults tasked with responsibility getting into tremendous trouble with R-rated antics. Wolf’s a dreadful screenwriter and an abysmal director, and while I’m sure he’s a nice enough guy, “Drunk Parents” is an additional stain on an already blackened resume, delivering another round of grim jokes and desperate performances trapped inside a farce that has no discernible movement. Read the rest at

Film Review - I Trapped the Devil


Writer/director Josh Lobo doesn’t have many professional credits to his name. He’s a newcomer who’s taking the same path as many first-time helmers, turning to horror to figure out his big screen vision, trusting in a genre that’s typically very kind to such low-budget ambition. Thankfully, there’s little to forgive about “I Trapped the Devil,” which is accomplished work from Lobo, who bathes the feature in mood and style to dress up traditional suspense in different ways, pulling up a handsome effort with pockets of genuine unease. Labeling the movie slow-burn is being kind, but Lobo on a mission to make his contractually obligated run time, moving through the Christmastime nightmare inch-by-inch, making sure every corner of the endeavor is tended to. “I Trapped the Devil” takes its sweet time to get where it’s going, but the reward is a chance to see an obviously talented director take his first step with an eerie endeavor. Read the rest at

Film Review - JT LeRoy


Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy was a literary persona created by thirtysomething Laura Albert, who built a backstory concerning an abused teen who found his voice through writing, detailing his experiences with homelessness, drugs, and depression. Albert needed someone to embody LeRoy for publicity purposes, finding help from Savannah Knoop, who was ready to play the part. The resulting fraud and general media mess managed to make both participants known beyond their original desire for fame, and now the pair have separate movies to help defend their reputations. Albert was the subject of the extremely suspect 2016 documentary, “Author: The JT LeRoy Story,” handed substantial screen time to directly address the controversy she created. And now Knopp has “JT LeRoy,” which uses their memoir to inspire a rebuttal of sorts, with the new film offering tremendous compassion for Knopp’s participation in the chaos. Both projects claim to be rooted in truth, but neither feature seems to be honest about what really went down between Knoop and Albert. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Plague Dogs


Director Martin Rosen wanted to make animated films for a slightly older audience, eschewing the lure of creating cartoons for all ages, trying to craft something distinct for crowds craving a more sophisticated look at the storytelling art form. 1979's "Watership Down" turned out be a hit for Rosen, with his gamble to craft a more severe tone for his adaptation of Richard Adams's celebrated novel paying off, creating a legion of fans that remains to this day. Pressing his luck, Rosen returns to Adams for his follow-up, taking on the considerable challenge of bringing "The Plague Dogs," his 1977 book, to the screen, and doing so with even more attention to the reality of dramatic entanglements for the main characters. If "Watership Down" was mildly unsettling, "The Plague Dogs" is likely to put many viewers into the fetal position, though Rosen manages such bleakness with wonderful artistry and voice talent, giving this summation of animal cruelty and survival need texture and soul as it deals with unthinkable horrors facing its cast of stressed animals. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Youngblood


"Youngblood" was released in 1986, during a time when Rob Lowe was enjoying plenty of attention for his extreme good looks, pushed into the role of a teen dreamboat after his turn in "The Outsiders," while his appearance as the hot sax-wailing underachiever in "St. Elmo's Fire" transformed him into a star. It's hard not to see his role in "Youngblood" as an effort to butch up his screen appeal, participating in a junior league hockey drama that has the actor being authentic, romantic, and involved in several fights, even losing a tooth along the way. It's not Lowe's finest hour as an actor, but he does what he can with the feature, as writer/director Peter Markle is caught between his desire to showcase the rough ins and outs of the sport as it's played in the corners of Canada, and producers who want something along the lines of a chillier "Karate Kid," putting the star in an underdog position, requiring help from wizened elders. Markle has his creative successes here, but he's also pulled into the black hole of melodrama one too many times, diluting the real flavors of the material, which are always found on the ice, not in the heart. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - There's Nothing Out There


The primary takeaway from 1991's "There's Nothing Out There" is how it predates 1996's "Scream" when it comes to self-aware horror films, making it uncomfortably clear that the Wes Craven production pulled things from writer/director Rolfe Kanefsky's work to help build what would go on to inspire a genre reawakening, this time finding movies armed with newfound marketplace consciousness. Perhaps Craven did steal from Kanefsky (it certainly looks to be the case), but such industry theft isn't the point here. "There's Nothing Out There" came first and did the frantic "horror rules" business a bit better, offering structure and comedy to a creature feature that gleefully spanks cliches to create a madcap survival romp. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Plague of the Zombies


A longstanding home for horror entertainment, Hammer Films finds fertile creative ground with 1966's "The Plague of the Zombies," finding frights from the zombie genre. Tales of the undead are common today, but over 50 years ago, such an uprising was a unique treat, giving screenwriter Peter Bryan a shot to shake up the norm and present a movie that tries to play by Hammer rules, but shows more hustle when it comes to chills, also filling out this world with impressive technical achievements to support the black magic mayhem that slowly unfolds. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Curse of La Llorona


The “Conjuring” Universe has been going strong since 2013, with the original James Wan picture spawning a slew of sequels and spin-offs, with each production warmly received by audiences craving big scares from the supernatural unknown. The quality of a few of these titles is up for debate, but as proven with last fall’s “The Nun,” viewers aren’t exactly expecting much more out these endeavors than the basics in jump scare gymnastics. Understanding that, “The Curse of La Llorona” doesn’t really bother with a plot or a backstory, charging full steam ahead as a fright machine, working in as many shocks, jolts, and booms as possible while offering a tenuous connection to the world of “The Conjuring.” It doesn’t do much, and perhaps that’s all it needs to do, but “The Curse of Llorona” gets tiresome in a hurry, trying to skate by on the bare minimum of dramatic effort. Read the rest at

Film Review - Under the Silver Lake


In 2015, writer/director David Robert Mitchell made an impression with “It Follows.” A tale of horror and paranoia, the picture managed to slip out of release obscurity and make some money, acquiring a fervent fanbase along the way. For his follow-up, Mitchell wisely stays away from replicating his lone hit film, trying something different with “Under the Silver Lake,” which is something of a valentine and a warning concerning the secret avenues of Los Angeles. But how different is too different? It’s a question that often comes up during the viewing experience, with Mitchell trying too hard to be strange and cryptic with his latest endeavor (which was shot nearly three years ago). “Under the Silver Lake” welcomes interpretation and decoding, but it’s less invested in interesting storytelling, with Mitchell taking 140 minutes of screen time to fumble along with tedious humor, mysteries, and west coast quirk. Read the rest at

Film Review - Red Joan


“Red Joan” knows exactly how to play to its target audience. This is not a procedural spy thriller or a dissection of World War II political gamesmanship. There’s nothing particularly edgy about the production. Instead, screenwriter Lindsay Shapero takes a more soap opera-ish approach to the subject, turning this tale of secrets and lies into acts of heartbreaking exposure to all-consuming love. For some, such mushiness is going to be a turn-off, with director Trevor Nunn (who hasn’t helmed a big screen feature since 1986’s “Lady Jane”) creating a softer push of melodramatics to buffer a tale of treasonous behavior and patriotic confusion. For others, “Red Joan” will be cat nip, especially for older art-house crowds who enjoy their global conflict reduced to areas of romantic indecision, blended with some mild espionage action. Read the rest at

Film Review - Little Woods


There have been a lot of movie about American poverty and addiction in the heartland and there will be many more to come. Filmmakers are naturally drawn to the distress of an open world populated with people unable to keep their heads above water, and “Little Woods” is no different, with writer/director Nia DaCosta examining the atmosphere of a North Dakota boomtown and the residents who can no longer afford to live there, trying to scrape by as drugs offer numbness, and basic needs, such as healthcare, strip them of money and dignity. DaCosta doesn’t dwell on the hardscrabble life, providing attention to character with a slight thriller edge, keeping “Little Woods” gritty without the verte feel. It’s an accomplished picture, even when manipulations begin to take command of the screenplay in the third act, with DaCosta trying to keep her effort emotionally authentic but also tense enough to hook in an audience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Crypto


Screenwriters Carlyle Eubank and David Frigerio apparently loved Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” and wanted to update the 1987 picture for today’s audiences. “Crypto” doesn’t have the sinister feel of Stone’s endeavor, but it basically follows the same arc of moral and financial corruption, offering viewers a new playground of cryptocurrency and encrypted dealings featuring global criminal syndicates. The writing provides a deep dive into terminology and restless participants trying to make a fortune with digital loot, and “Crypto” isn’t half-bad when focus turns to online detective work. Even some mild family dramatics are understood, but the material faces an uphill battle when transitioning from a cyber-thriller to a violent one, forcing director John Stalberg Jr. into helming stress positions that shut down the movie entirely. Read the rest at

Film Review - Peterloo


Writer/director Mike Leigh is not one to get all riled up for his screen endeavors. He’s quick to anger, certainly, but his features mostly take a humanistic look at behavioral failures and interpersonal connections, while his last film, 2014’s “Mr. Turner,” was a bio-pic about a painter. Primarily drawn to domestic dramas, Leigh aims for a grander scope with “Peterloo,” which depicts an 1819 event where the ruling class, in an effort to stop a peaceful demonstration, ordered violence to silence the needy, resulting the wounding of hundreds and the deaths of many. “Peterloo” isn’t a precise picture, with Leigh once again indulging himself with an unnecessary run time (155 minutes), but there’s fury here, at least in spurts, with the normally placid helmer bulging a few veins as he mounts a historical drama featuring a multitude of characters and a political backstory that’s never completely committed to being educational. Read the rest at

Film Review - Stuck


Musicals are back in style thanks to the likes of “La La Land” and the inexplicable success of 2017’s “The Greatest Showman.” Audiences are in the mood for grand displays of singing and dancing, whisking them away to areas of fantasy and emotion that can only be reached through the majesty of Hollywood magic, boosted with some old-fashioned star power. “Stuck” doesn’t have much pixie dust, offering viewers a small-scale tale of personal connection among strangers trapped in a subway car. There’s not much room for movement or epic showcases of style, but writer/director Michael Berry (adapting a musical play by Riley Thomas) is determined to make something meaningful with the little material he has, aiming for heartfelt exchanges over splashy entertainment, laboring to make “Stuck” matter where it counts the most. Read the rest at