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May 2019

Film Review - Godzilla: King of the Monsters


In this day and age, five years to wait for a sequel is an eternity. The success of 2014’s “Godzilla” wasn’t entirely a surprise, but the pump was primed for a continuation, building on the foundation poured by director Gareth Edwards, who made a specific creative choice to hold back some when it came to giant monster battles. The film was released, and then nothing. Well, at least until 2017’s “Kong: Skull Island,” which introduced the potential of Legendary Pictures and their “MonsterVerse,” creating a franchise battle plan for large things that smash. Finally, there’s “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” which isn’t an improvement on the 2014 effort, but more of a direct response to criticisms of the previous movie. Co-writer/director Michael Dougherty (“Krampus”) has been ordered to lose Edwards’s restraints, mounting a more ferocious, action-packed continuation that dials up the noise and the property destruction to give fans the viewing experience they want. And in this feature, titans unleashed is always preferable to humans talking. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Ma

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After winning an Oscar in 2012 (for “The Help”), Octavia Spencer has struggled some while trying to figure out how to capitalize on such major exposure. She’s managed to find bit parts in money gigs and participate in some quality work along the way (including 2016’s “Hidden Figures,” which presented her with an Academy Award nomination), but “Ma” feels like the first time Spencer’s been unleased as a star, with “The Help” director Tate Taylor putting his faith in the actress to carry her own horror project. And boy, does she ever. Wildly ridiculous but also appealingly demented, “Ma” is appetizing junk food for the multiplex, with Spencer making it her personal mission to become a cult nightmare figure for genre fanatics, delivering a wonderfully unhinged performance that Tate returns to whenever he runs into storytelling trouble. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Late Night


There’s a lot “Late Night” wants to say about the state of the world today. It’s a story about the changing tides of the entertainment industry, diversity, and workplace representation. Somewhere buried underneath all its ambition is a tale about a stony television legend learning to be something better to a world that wants her back in top form. Mindy Kaling’s screenplay feels like it was filled with complete ideas at one point during the picture’s development, but the final cut of “Late Night” is unnervingly incomplete, with missing pieces, sloppy editing, and characterization that’s missing a real sense of fullness. There’s much to like here, with the lead performance from Emma Thompson enjoyably ragged and impatient, but the feature doesn’t reach many of its goals, often going vanilla when Kaling seems ready to provide necessary poison. Read the rest at

Film Review - Domino


For various reasons, it’s been seven years since a Brian De Palma film has hit screens, with 2012’s “Passion” his last endeavor. Such a break represents the longest delay between projects in the helmer’s career, but it hasn’t been easy for De Palma to find his place in the business these days, with his signature style and interest in melodrama having a hard time matching the proper material to let his imagination flourish. “Domino” initially appears to be a return to form for the moviemaker, put in charge of a revenge story with various players and interest in the horrors of Islamic terrorism, and there’s genuine greatness wedged in here at times, with De Palma getting up to speed with a few terrific set pieces. Overall, “Domino” is messy, feeling as though it was slapped together instead of properly edited, as character beats come and go, and the central story of madman hunting isn’t provided enough concentration to matter. Read the rest at

Film Review - Meeting Gorbachev


A lauded documentarian, Werner Herzog often brings his idiosyncratic point of view to his subjects, with a habit of making himself part of the informational approach, securing a defined personality when it comes to the examination of faraway places, future technology, and strange individuals. Herzog isn’t one to make a defiantly confrontational feature, but he’s not big on tongue baths either, with “Meeting Gorbachev” a rare shot of sunshine from the helmer, even while assessing the dark history of Soviet politics. Offered three chances to sit down with the former U.S.S.R. leader, and Herzog tries to remain on task with questions concerning the highs and lows of Gorbachev’s time in power, but he can’t help but feel for the subject’s unusual position as a man who sought clarity in the midst of Communist confusion. “Meeting Gorbachev” takes it easy on Mikhail Gorbachev, but that’s the idea, with Herzog most interested in identifying accomplishments and mourning a lost vision for sanity in an increasingly hostile world. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Poison Rose


“The Poison Rose” is meant to be throwback entertainment, restoring an interest in noir entanglements that haven’t been a staple of big screen entertainment in quite some time. The production isn’t shy about its fondness for the genre, with the lead character living above a movie theater showing “The Maltese Falcon,” while a cat is named Raymond and a character is branded Chandler. I’m sure there are more references to be found, and perhaps finding these touches is more entertaining than the actual film. Loaded with characters and motivations, “The Poison Rose” is a buffet of dangerous activity from untrustworthy characters, but director George Gallo doesn’t show much enthusiasm for the construction of suspense, keeping the feature fatigued and overly expository, turning the central mystery into homework, unable to create a delicious cinematic stranglehold. The production wants the audience to know it understands the basics of classic noir, but it shows limited interest in becoming one. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Perfection


It’s difficult to assemble an B-movie experience these days, as self-awareness and nostalgia tends to dominate the viewing experience, with most filmmakers striving to celebrate the ugly side of storytelling, without truly grasping the needs of such entertainment. Richard Shepard (“The Matador,” “Dom Hemingway”) almost finds a way to resurrect the exploitation experience with “The Perfection,” creating a seductive feature that’s initially about one thing before changing entirely, only to reset one more time, making a neck brace readjustment a requirement for all act breaks. It’s a sinister picture, and Shepard wins points for taking his endeavor to the extreme, but the aggression of “The Perfection” grows tiring in a hurry, with small grotesqueries more effective than the gonzo avenues the production is a lip-licking hurry to explore. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Poison Ivy: The Secret Society


After three "Poison Ivy" adventures that tried to, in some small way, connect the films in one big erotic thriller saga, 2008's "Poison Ivy: The Secret Society" elects to break from the team, taking on its own vision for lusty young things causing all types of trouble for horndog men. However, instead of a passably cinematic touch, the franchise is turned into a Lifetime production, and one with tacked on sex scenes to give the product an afterlife on home video. It's all very sketchy (Catherine Hicks is the biggest name here, and I'm sure she had no idea what type of movie she was making), poorly acted, absurdly plotted, and randomly sexualized, with the end result landing somewhere between a WB pilot and a lukewarm parody of the "Poison Ivy" pictures. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Poison Ivy: The New Seduction


Trying to keep a profitable business motoring along, New Line Cinema returns to an unlikely franchise with 1997's "Poison Ivy: The New Seduction." There's actually an effort made to connect the sequel to the series, but the third installment of the franchise is mostly interested in doing its own thing, with director Kurt Voss realizing that aiming for any sort of realism when it comes to an assessment of trauma is pointless at this point, moving ahead with a fairly basic revenge movie that fulfills most erotic thriller needs. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Poison Ivy 2: Lily


Much like Drew Barrymore, Alyssa Milano was hunting for a different image during the 1990s, working to lose the brightness of her "Who's the Boss?" years, entering the seemly world of B-movie entertainment to redirect her career. 1996's "Poison Ivy II: Lily" wasn't offering an acting challenge, but it did gift Milano an opportunity to continue her work in seductive endeavors, picking up the "Poison Ivy" brand for a spiritual sequel that attempts to be a little more sympathetic to the ways of sexual gamesmanship and the creation of identity. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Poison Ivy


Trying to shed her image of youthful innocence shaped in films such as "E.T." and "Babes in Toyland," Drew Barrymore entered the 1990s on a personal crusade to show Hollywood just how much she's aged. For 1992's "Poison Ivy," Barrymore tries jailbait seductress on for size, participating in a sensual chiller from the helmer of "Stripped to Kill." Mercifully, there's more going on in "Poison Ivy" than simple acts of thrusting, with co- writer/director Katt Shea fighting the potential salaciousness of the plot, trying to dig deeper into character psychology and moody gamesmanship. Shea almost gets there with her noticeable effort, but the feature's Skinemax absurdities tend to overwhelm whatever grit manages to find its way to the screen. Read the rest at

Film Review - Rim of the World


Screenwriter Zack Stentz and director McG are trying to make a next-generation “Goonies” with “Rim of the World,” only instead of kids on their own hunting for pirate treasure, the children featured here are in charge of saving the world from an alien attack. The premise is irresistible, holding the potential for sci-fi adventure and adolescent antics, but the production doesn’t follow through on wonder and silliness. “Rim of the World” is shockingly corrosive instead, with a painful sense of humor and a budget-minded take on intergalactic war, with Stentz trying to muster R-rated shenanigans with material that’s aching for something more special than a collection of lame improvisations and generic young teen rebellion beats. It’s definitely bright and colorful, but the movie has no sincerity. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Brightburn


“Brightburn” offers a premise where a Superman-like figure is born bad. Fans of comic book cinema have seen this before, in “Superman III” and sections of “Justice League,” but writers Brian and Mark Gunn have decided to push the idea into the realm of horror, losing fantasy touches to move full steam ahead into slasher territory. It’s a shame the screenplay doesn’t show more interest in doing something original with a well-worn concept, but this is a low-budget chiller after all, giving the production little room to experiment as it tries to deliver frights. “Brightburn” has promise in its early scenes, moving toward an unsettling confrontation between a wicked alien and loving parents trying to preserve peace, but the Gunns are mostly in this for the gore, cooking up a series of banal stalking sequences, while the overall movie feels half-baked at best. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Rocketman


“Rocketman” has the appearance of a typical musician bio-pic, this time focusing on the highs and lows of Elton John as he grows from a musical prodigy to a rock star. It’s hard to doubt the routine of it all, with “Bohemian Rhapsody” smashing box office records and Motley Crue’s “The Dirt” capturing viewers on Netflix. “Rocketman” isn’t about to deny the popularity of tales involving musicians caught in psychological strangleholds, but this is Elton. Hercules. John. He’s one of the most flamboyant and popular entertainers around, but his life story isn’t complete, with screenwriter Lee Hall and director Dexter Fletcher transforming certain aspects of John’s experience into a jukebox musical that teases delightful fantasy, but mostly fixates on depression. The feature works to pry John open, inspecting his demons and dreams, but the movie only finds intermittent clarity. The rest is frustrating repetition, though star Taron Egerton makes it his personal mission to feel everything offered here in full. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Booksmart


Olivia Wilde is looking to expand her career, taking control of her professional future with a move behind the camera for “Booksmart,” her directorial debut. While she’s been growing as a performer, taking a few interesting risks, Wilde seems most comfortable as a helmer, displaying thrilling confidence with her first feature, which takes on the teen sex romp subgenre and finds ways to disrupt expectations and deliver a clear vision for companionship. It’s a buddy comedy that contains a lot of laughs, but Wilde isn’t completely focused on the jokes, instead working with the screenwriters (Katie Silberman, Sarah Haskins, Emily Halpern, and Susanna Fogel) to deliver stronger characters to best support episodic shenanigans, largely avoiding the grimly vulgar nonsense these types of pictures are known for. Read the rest at

Film Review - Aladdin (2019)


For the second installment of Disney’s Year of Animated Remakes, there’s “Aladdin,” which is a live-action reworking of one of the company’s finest animated offerings, with the 1992 picture filled with heart, humor, and wonderful songs. Following in the footsteps of March’s “Dumbo,” the new release tries very hard to downplay cartoon whimsy and fluidity to become yet another underwhelming, CGI-shellacked event, taking audiences to a version of Agrabah that doesn’t look or sound quite right. Director Guy Ritchie (who co-scripts with John August) has the unenviable task of turning something joyous and relatively simple into an epic summertime blockbuster, continuing his recent big-budget career freefall (following duds “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword,” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”) with yet another hollow viewing experience devoid of real magic. Read the rest at

Film Review - We Have Always Lived in the Castle


“We Have Always Lived in the Castle” is a highly bizarre picture, and this type of strangeness always has the potential to dissolve in the filmmaker’s hands, requiring someone committed to weirdness without permitting the movie to be dominated by eccentricity. The feature is based on a novel by Shirley Jackson, and screenwriter Mark Kruger makes a specific effort to retain as much literary flavor as possible, organizing curious characters and their fried minds as they interact in tight spaces, inspect the depths of dysfunction. Director Stacie Passon (previously reaching screens with the unusual “Concussion”) miraculously maintains control of tone and threat, giving “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” an intriguing atmosphere, joining Kruger to examine insanity and not lose concentration on the storytelling essentials along the way. Read the rest at

Film Review - Charlie Says


As 2019 becomes the year of Charles Manson and the revival of interest in all the chaos he created, “Charlie Says” (the second of three movies about the man this year) makes an effort to move away from some of the famous imagery and characterization that usually inhabits tales about the cult leader. The focus here is on the women in his life, with special attention on the ways of Leslie Van Houten, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Susan Atkins. Reteaming after their collaborations on “American Psycho” and “The Notorious Bettie Page,” director Mary Harron and screenwriter Guinevere Turner endeavor to humanize those involved in barbaric crimes, striving to understand the brainwashed drive of three women who were caught up in something they didn’t completely understand, chasing emotional needs to macabre extremes. Read the rest at

Film Review - My Son


The director of “The Girl from Paris” and “Joyeux Noel,” Christian Carion sets up a story of a strange kidnapping for “My Son.” A French production, nothing is immediately clear in the tale (scripted by Carion and Laure Irrmann), which blends the terror of sudden loss and the weight of guilt with those forced to deal with such a horrific invasion. While the nightmare seems to lean toward the bitterness of domestic resentment, Carion has something more visceral in mind, keeping away from a somber Euro analysis of pain to become a thriller of sorts, gifting star Guillaume Canet is own chance to perform in a “Taken”-lite actioner. “My Son” is tense and twisty, and it doesn’t mess around with melodrama, with Carion most interested in feral responses to an unthinkable situation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Avengement


Scott Adkins has amassed a considerable amount of acting credits during his career, but it’s difficult to tell if he’s been truly challenged by any of these roles. He’s played a henchman, a terrorist, a ninja, and more henchmen, basically permitted to perform in movies that require more physical movement than dramatic depth. “Avengement” is definitely a violent endeavor, and there’s plenty of Adkins action where the star is often stuck in a room with multiple baddies, forced to bash his way out of some deadly situations. However, beyond the bloody knuckles is a performance, and one that single-handedly supports “Avengement,” giving it the grit and groan it requires to register as something more than a mindless distraction. Co-writer/director Jesse V. Johnson tries to execute some storytelling gymnastics along the way, but Adkins is the foundation here, delivering perhaps the best performance of his career. Read the rest at