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April 2019

Film Review - Missing Link


Stop-motion animation studio Laika has focused intently on the creation of artful endeavors for a family audience. They’ve rarely compromised, which has limited their box office appeal, but it’s resulted in a string of gorgeously crafted, adventurous tales of fantasy and beyond, reaching a sort of creative pinnacle with 2016’s “Kubo and the Two Strings.” Their latest effort is “Missing Link,” which plays like a reaction to the tepid financial response to “Kubo,” with Laika slipping into Aardman Animations territory, dialing up comedic appeal and cartoon design to reach an audience that’s been hesitant to spend their matinee dollars on semi-challenging work. “Missing Link” is a charmer and features the company’s exquisite attention to frame detail, but it can’t shake the traditional coldness of Laika’s output, often caught straining to be whimsical in a largely laugh-free endeavor. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Saturday the 14th


When "Airplane!" was released during the summer of 1980, it became a massive hit (the fourth highest-grossing movie of the year), inspiring Hollywood to attempt to replicate the formula with other genres. The obvious choice for a prolonged pantsing was the horror genre, with another screaming success, "Friday the 13th," managing to shock the industry and become something of an event film for teenagers. Slasher entertainment was ripe for the mocking, and one of the first titles out of the gate was…not "Saturday the 14th." Despite its enticing, silly title, the endeavor offered a hard pass on all things Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, with writer/director Howard R. Cohen ("Space Raiders," "Time Trackers") electing to make an Abbott and Costello picture for the disco age, trying to revive dormant slapstick interests for a comedy adventure that utilizes horror, but doesn't quite satirize it. It's a very broad effort from Cohen, who seems convinced that all he needs to sell the wacky viewing experience is game actors and hoary jokes, leaving true sharpness of wit and timely targets to other productions. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Fiend


Writer/director Don Dohler has enjoyed cult appreciation for his limited filmography, praised for his fierce independent spirit, finding much of his work captured on his own property, utilizing whatever's nearby to create sci-fi/horror pictures for nearly three decades (he passed away in 2006). 1978's "The Alien Factor" gave Dohler a career, solidifying his love for creepy tales of extraterrestrial invasion, with the no-budget endeavor generating attention with B-movie addicts. Dohler follows up his scrappy debut with 1980's "Fiend," which, if possible, looks even less produced than his previous effort, literally making the feature in his own basement, trying to stretch a reported $6,000 budget into a suitable chiller. "Fiend" makes "The Alien Factor" looks like a David Lean production, providing only the barest of directorial finesse and production coin. Dohler attempts to shape another tense meeting between worlds with his screenplay, but he's mostly made a talky endeavor that's low on scary stuff and personality, spinning its wheels while stuck in the mud pit of lethargic storytelling. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Blind Date


1984's "Blind Date" (not to be confused with the 1987 Blake Edwards feature) attempts to pull off a giallo-style atmosphere in the tight confines of Greece, with writer/director Nick Mastorakis liberally lifting from the Italians while setting up a playground of big screen sex and murder is his own backyard. The change is location is interesting but a little awkward, as is much of "Blind Date," which tries to be a techno-thriller without aiming high enough when it comes to sci-fi devices, and the serial killer side of things isn't particularly planned out in full. Mastorakis has an idea for a suitable chiller and he's determined to see it through, masterminding a whodunit that has no defined protagonist, just a pool of morally bankrupt people chasing each other around Athens, with one pushing mental illness into acts of barbarity. It's an odd movie, and one that's intermittently entertaining for those who are willing submit to Mastorakis's dented imagination for cutting-edge terror. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - 10 to Midnight


It's very strange to watch 1983's "10 to Midnight" in 2019. At the time of production, the goal of the movie was to condemn a legal system that permits known criminals to plead insanity, giving them a chance to escape severe charges, even released from prison after a short time, reunited with the world they wanted to destroy. Such rage is evident in the screenplay by William Roberts, who sets up a fairly simple tale of a madman tracked by cop who understands the full range of the perpetrator's guilt, but can't connect the dots for a proper arrest. What pops out from the feature today is its depiction of toxic masculinity and "beta male" rage, with the serial killer showcased here not a monster of mental fracture, but a damaged individual who can't wrap his mind around a society of women who want nothing to do with him and his distorted ways. In many ways, "10 to Midnight" is a prescient endeavor that identifies such subculture development long before it was organized by social media and message boards. That's not to give the film tons of credit, but watching "10 to Midnight" today is a lot creepier than it was probably meant to be. The unstoppable cop routine remains compelling, with star Charles Bronson doing what he does best: scowling at bad guys. However, there's something more interesting brewing here beneath obvious sleaze and police procedure, with director J. Lee Thompson tapping into violent insecurity to mastermind a proper opponent for his hero, who, interestingly, isn't a very noble man himself. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hellboy


We’ve done this before. Twice, actually. In 2004, there was “Hellboy,” with director Guillermo del Toro trying to bring the comic book world of Mike Mignola to the big screen, casting Ron Perlman as the big red hero, struggling to bring idiosyncratic material through the Hollywood studio system. Box office wasn’t bananas, but it was enough to inspire 2008’s “Hellboy II: The Golden Army,” which provided a marked improvement for del Toro’s vision, finding balance between his fantasy itches and the demands of a PG-13 summer sequel. Again, box office wasn’t great, and finally, it wasn’t enough. Instead of betting on del Toro/Perlman for another round of monster fighting, producers are now restarting the franchise, issuing “Hellboy,” which gives David Harbour a chance to portray the titular character, with helmer duties going to Neil Marshall (“The Descent,” “Centurion”), who’s been tasked with taking the series into R-rated extremes of violence to properly match Hellboy to his ink and paint origins. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Her Smell


Writer/director Alex Ross Perry specializes in off-beat character examinations, and he’s done depressive downfall with actress Elisabeth Moss before, in 2015’s “Queen of Earth.” Their collaboration was powerful then and remains vibrantly poisonous in “Her Smell,” with Perry taking his fixation with mental illness to the alternative rock realm, dialing back the clock to the mid-1990s to examine the complete and utter erosion of a music star. Perry doesn’t pull punches here, creating a deep sea dive into madness, with Moss going for broke in a turn that runs exclusively on pain and shame. “Her Smell” demands an audience with enough strength to remain in the vortex of a nervous breakdown for 135 minutes, and those with the proper preparation are rewarded with a raw, often thrilling display of behavioral excess. Read the rest at

Film Review - Little


In 1988, there was “Big,” and it was delightful. A fine offering of gentle comedy concerning the magical transformation of a boy into a man’s body, “Big” was sweet, hilarious, and featured one of Tom Hanks’s finest performances in director Penny Marshall’s best film. In 2019, there’s “Little,” which isn’t classified as a remake of “Big,” but let’s not dismiss the lawyers just yet. Here, the magical transformation turns a mean thirtysomething woman into her 14-year-old self. It’s meant to be a comedy with a healthy dose of heart, but it’s also uncomfortably scattershot and ill-defined when it comes to an actual sense of humor. The actors seem to be having a good time, which is perhaps enough to entertain, but actual creative effort is lacking in “Little,” which simply doesn’t have much to share with its audience. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Man Who Killed Don Quixote


Co-writer/director Terry Gilliam has been dreaming of making “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” for 30 years, craving the chance to bring Miguel de Cervantes’s novel to the big screen. Famously, in 2000, Gilliam almost managed to make such a miracle happen, with stars Jean Rochefort and Johnny Depp joining forces to give the helmer’s unusual vision dramatic life. However, a disaster ensued, with schedules, location problems, and actor unreliability shutting down the shoot, crushing Gilliam’s plans to make one of his weirdest movies to date (the experience was chronicled in the 2002 documentary, “Lost in La Mancha”). The project was left for dead, branded cursed, but such toxicity didn’t bother Gilliam, who remained obsessed with the material, emerging in 2019 with a completed interpretation of “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” finally freeing himself from the burden of having to prove himself. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ladies in Black


Charm is a big asset to “Ladies in Black,” which is an adaptation of a 1993 novel by Madeleine St. John. Co-writer/director Bruce Beresford is smart to keep the feature as appealing as it can be, using brightness of spirit to combat some peculiar turns of plot and sketchy romantic ideals. It’s a tale of personal growth set inside a Sydney department store during the 1959 holiday season, and while initial scenes give off a distinct “Mr. Selfridge” vibe of daily commerce and employee troublemaking, Beresford doesn’t head in an overly melodramatic direction, finding a comfortable balance of predictability and oddity. “Ladies in Black” doesn’t aim to overwhelm, and it achieves most of the small goals it sets for itself, doing period Australia with interest in character desires and future plans. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Munchie


There are many great mysteries of filmmaking. What did Bill Murray whisper to Scarlett Johansson at the end of "Lost in Translation"? Is Deckard a replicant in the "Blade Runner" universe? And why is "Munchie" considered a sequel to "Munchies"? Only producer Roger Corman knows for sure, with his New Concorde studio needing something, anything to help support this family film offering from a company that typically specializes in more aggressive entertainment. 1992's "Munchie" has nothing to do with 1987's "Munchies," from tech credits to creature design, with co-writer/director Jim Wynorski tasked with engineering his own take on the genie in a bottle premise, making a cinematic mess with a three-foot-tall monster voiced by Dom DeLuise. The helmer isn't out to scare with this supposed second chapter in Corman's "Gremlins" rip-off universe, and he mercifully avoids trying to build on what came before, preferring to craft his own B-movie distraction that's admittedly painful to watch at times, but also offers periodic inspiration, emerging in the form of wisecracks, casting, and general impishness. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Munchies


In 1987, every video store in America had a poster for "Munchies" displayed somewhere. It was the VHS-era version of a Hidden Mickey, with the provocative image of a tiny monster looking up a model's skirt becoming a spotting game for some, giving producer Roger Corman the kind of title exposure he craves. It's not entirely surprising to learn that the film doesn't quite live up to the promise of its one-sheet, but that was Corman's thing during the 1980s, making promises with artwork that the features could never live up to (e.g. "Barbarian Queen," "Galaxy of Terror"). "Munchies" was created to cash-in on the global success of 1984's "Gremlins," with Corman alum Joe Dante using his B-movie education to create a summer triumph, skillfully merging horror and comedy into an irresistible multiplex event. The knock-off wasn't as fortunate, though it does have Tina Hirsch making her directorial debut, fresh off her time editing "Gremlins," giving her the upper hand when masterminding a low-budget replication. Hirsch strives to craft her own vision for hellraising creatures up to no good, but there are limits to Corman-financed magic, and they are found quickly in this mediocre endeavor. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Scarlet Letter


While it seems like such a distant memory in 2019, there was a time in Hollywood when Demi Moore was the biggest actress around. She scored hits with "Indecent Proposal," "A Few Good Men," and "Disclosure," showcasing her ability to portray power onscreen with natural authority, and she rode such industry interests into major paydays with empowered characters found in "G.I. Jane" and "Striptease," but box office returns didn't follow her career explosion, and somewhere in the middle of all the press coverage and numerous film releases (including six credited parts in 1996), there was "The Scarlet Letter." Putting her faith into the creative instincts of director Roland Joffe, Moore set out to play the iconic character of Hester Prynne, the center figure of Puritan disturbance in Nathaniel Hawthorne's celebrated 1850 novel. She was trying to expand her range, offered a rare shot at a costume drama part, and while Moore strives to put in her best effort, she's often restrained by Joffe's bizarre creative choices, which turns a tale of moral and social decay and mob rule into a Harlequin romance novel, with screenwriter Douglas Day Stewart ("The Boy in the Plastic Bubble," "The Blue Lagoon") electing to expand on Hawthorne's ideas instead of strictly adapt them. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - When Harry Met Sally...


Considering the mediocre quality of work he issues today (including "Shock and Awe," "And So It Goes," and "LBJ"), it's amazing to reflect on the career run director Rob Reiner enjoyed during the 1980s and the very early 1990s. He was on fire, creating classics with alarming regularity, including "This Is Spinal Tap," "Princess Bride," and "Stand by Me." And then there was 1989's "When Harry Met Sally...," a modest romantic comedy released during an event movie-heavy summer season that managed to become the sleeper hit of the year, also bringing Reiner's helming powers to a new level, teaming up with screenwriter Nora Ephron to deliver an examination of gender relationships as they're complicated by emotional ties and physical attraction. "When Harry Met Sally..." is hilarious, one the finest funny films of the decade, but Reiner manages to craft something silly and sincere, paying close attention to the wilds of human behavior and discomfort while tending to superb mischief, primarily engineered by co-star Billy Crystal. It's a gem, and one made from the heart, giving Reiner one last gasp of perfection before his filmography gradually headed toward the wall. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution


Revolution comes in many shapes and sizes, but the music world tends to favor movements that show the most promise for profit, forcing those seeking representation to create their own rebellion, often using obscurity for security. "Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution" details such an effort to make something out of nothing, with director Yony Leyser adventuring into the world of Homocore/Queercore, using visual evidence and interviews with founding members of the new dawn to track the rise of gay participation and invention when it came to the choppy cultural waters of the punk scene of the 1980s and '90s. "Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution" is greatly informative, providing an eye-opening look at a subculture that was born out of frustration and developed into a monster of conformity requiring members of the uprising to return to the source, ultimately trying to destroy it. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Best of Enemies


“The Best of Enemies” has the best intentions in the world to communicate something basic about the human experience. It’s here to heal, showcasing an unlikely thawing of hostilities between a Ku Klux Klan leader and a black activist in North Carolina during the summer of 1971. The connection is inspiring, but the movie is not. Writer/director Robin Bissell takes the true story of C.P. Ellis and Ann Atwater’s meeting and pours on the syrup, making a distinct effort to avoid as much real-world grit and emotion as possible to create something huggable, which is the wrong path to take for a tale concerning institutionalized racism and community violence. “The Best of Enemies” endeavors to stay warm and approachable, but it ends up insulting, with Bissell doing his best to keep the story as cartoonish as possible. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Public


Emilio Estevez doesn’t make many movies these days, but when he does, he’s looking for material that examines the human experience, braiding social and personal issues into fascinating character studies, with his last two efforts, 2010’s “The Way” and 2006’s “Bobby,” achieving a sense of illumination through acts of contemplation and understanding. He’s never been too preachy with his work, and once again touches on community concerns with “The Public,” which addresses the role of the library as a place of research and education, while such safe spaces are being increasingly used as shelter facilities for the homeless and the mentally ill. As with “Bobby,” “The Public” is an ensemble piece, and a frequently terrific one, placing attention on a growing issue in urban areas, and it works as a drama highlighting the concerns of many while situated in a single, and unusual, location. Read the rest at

Film Review - Pet Sematary


30 years ago, there was “Pet Sematary,” the first attempt to bring Stephen King’s popular 1983 novel to the screen. The picture was a success, offering audiences a wacko take on death and resurrection, with director Mary Lambert leaning into the perversity of it all, striving to find the nightmare of loss at the core of King’s work. It’s amazing that it’s taken this long for Hollywood to try their luck with the material again (let’s pretend a 1992 sequel never happened), with “Pet Sematary” a second adaptation that tries to distinguish itself by changing certain elements of the plot, hoping to refresh known events for hardcore fans. While the ’89 effort had its issues, the ’19 take is uncomfortably flat and unadventurous when it comes to the madness of Ludlow, Maine, with directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer (“Starry Eyes”) playing it safe with “Pet Sematary,” going more for slasher atmosphere than utter psychological ruin. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Chaperone


Julian Fellowes was able to conquer television with six years of “Downton Abbey,” guiding the hit show through creative ups and downs, maintaining a loyal audience who remained with the series for its colorful characterizations, wish-fulfillment aspects of posh life, and period setting, with the 1920s the primary years of inspection. It seems Fellowes doesn’t exactly want to leave such success behind, with “The Chaperone” returning the writer to the Jazz Age, only this time bringing focus to America, highlighting the development of future film star Louise Brooks as she enjoys her first taste of popularity during a key trip to New York City. Fellowes even brings in “Downton Abbey” vet Elizabeth McGovern to star in the picture, which inspires one of the best performances from the actress, who really digs in deep here while the rest of “The Chaperone” isn’t all that committed to emotional depth. Read the rest at

Film Review - Unicorn Store


After winning an Academy Award for her performance in 2015’s “Room,” Brie Larson was suddenly faced with a career that could go anywhere. And it did, in a way, with the actress participating in heavy dramas (“The Glass Castle”), violent weirdness (“Free Fire”), and blockbusters (“Kong: Skull Island”). However, right before she embarked on her Marvel Cinematic Universe mission with the stunning success of March’s “Captain Marvel,” Larson decided to mount her own directorial debut, taking command of “Unicorn Store,” a quirky, searching fantasy from writer Samantha McIntyre. Larson showcases a cinematic vision with the endeavor, which delivers color and attention to personality on a limited budget, and while “Unicorn Store” doesn’t make it all the way to the finish line, it’s a promising offering of contorted whimsy from Larson, who clearly shows skill behind the camera and interest in creating strange little worlds. Read the rest at