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June 2019

Blu-ray Review - The Minion


1998's "The Minion" attempts to cash-in on millennium fever, imagining a futureworld of 1999, where global temperatures are rising, unrest is taking over the world, and the countdown to the year 2000 begins. It's a tight timetable for the picture, which hopes to communicate an apocalyptic scenario a year before such an event is about to take place, but thinking ahead is not one of the feature's strengths. In fact, there are no strengths in "The Minion," with pits Dolph Lundgren against Wendigo, an evil force who's been locked up for centuries, itching to be released and bring utter destruction to Earth. While it sounds like a proper DTV romp, director Jean-Marc Piche doesn't have a vision for such low-budget combat, in charge of detailing a laborious script by Matt Roe and Ripley Highsmith, which drags along the ground, carrying heavy amounts of exposition, leaving little time to focus on the most important part of the package: Lundgren fighting monsters with a spiked glove. Such diversions are few and far between in this dud, which promises the end of the world, but doesn't have a plan to get there. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Favor


"The Favor" endured a rocky road to a theatrical release. It was filmed in 1990, willing to hire a young Brad Pitt for a supporting part as a hunky artist, just before his big break in "Thelma and Louise." However, due to bankruptcy issues with Orion Pictures, the feature actually crawled into theaters in 1994, where nobody made the trip to see it, despite the presence of Pitt, whose marquee value surged during the movie's lengthy time on the shelf. Watching the effort today, and even a 1990 production year seems too modern for the endeavor, as "The Favor" often resembles product from the mid-1980s, providing audiences with a moldy take on marital blues and escalating misunderstandings, with director Donald Petrie (then the helmer of "Mystic Pizza" and "Opportunity Knocks") trying to stitch together a proper farce with lackluster elements of comedy. It's halfhearted work at best, providing a vanilla viewing experience while downplaying edgier viewpoints on domestic satisfaction, secret desires, and an unplanned pregnancy. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Spider-Man: Far from Home


2017’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming” enjoyed the element of surprise. It was a reboot of a reboot, offered to audiences after two dull chapters with a different creative team. Nobody was expecting much from it, but director Jon Watts delivered a joyful, exciting, endearingly adolescent adventure that managed to make the Web-Slinger into a viable screen hero once again. While Peter Parker has been dealing with a few Avengers-related issues recently, he’s back on his own with “Spider-Man: Far from Home,” which has the unfortunate position of being both sequel to “Homecoming” and a continuation of April’s “Avengers: Endgame.” Watts returns to helming duty, and once again he knocks it out of the park, delivering a thrilling installment for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Spider-Man fans, recapturing all the speed, teen anxiety, and comic book atmosphere that was previously established. Watts doesn’t try to top himself, he simply expands and enjoys the world he’s helped to create. Read the rest at

Film Review - Yesterday


Bringing the music of The Beatles to the big screen isn’t a new idea. The band did it themselves on multiple occasions, and in 1978, there was “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which celebrated the amazing career of The Beatles by having George Burns and Steve Martin sing a few songs, while an entire sequence was devoted to the Bee Gees fist-fighting Aerosmith. Perhaps realizing such a sight is impossible to top, helmer Danny Boyle and screenwriter Richard Curtis head in a much softer direction with “Yesterday,” manufacturing a silly fantasy that’s eventually consumed by romantic comedy intentions. There’s plenty of Beatles in the feature, and some mild wackiness as well, but Boyle and Curtis aren’t in this to make audiences laugh. They want hearts, and the pair get awfully grabby when it comes to the plight of near-miss lovers and their extraordinary test of companionship, which frequently interrupts the potential for a promising farce. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Escape Plan: The Extractors


The biggest challenge facing the producers of “Escape Plan: The Extractors” is trying to get viewers to recall anything that happened in 2018’s “Escape Plan 2: Hades.” After finding some box office success in China, 2013’s “Escape Plan” was granted a pair of sequels, shot back-to-back. However, budgets were reduced or perhaps all the money was spent on getting Sylvester Stallone to return to the franchise, with his participation in the first sequel limited, keeping his work days short. Stallone has a larger role in the latest chapter, and there’s a new director in John Herzfeld (who previously worked with the actor in “Reach Me”), taking over for DTV machine, Steven C. Miller. While visual limitations remain, Herzfeld does more with the material than his predecessor, giving “Escape Plan: The Extractors” a pleasingly mean energy, stuffing the effort with violence and anger, even managing to pull off something that’s eluded the series up to this point: genuine surprise. Read the rest at

Film Review - Nightmare Cinema


Horror loves the anthology movie. The format offers the genre a rare shot to be explored in short film form, giving writers and directors a chance to shave down superfluous additions meant to beef up run times, creating an opportunity to approach scary stories with the leanest edits and wildest imagination possible. Co-producer Mick Garris has been here before, overseeing the “Masters of Horror” television show from just over ten years ago, and he’s back with “Nightmare Cinema,” which brings together tales of finality from helmers who don’t normally receive a chance to cut loose with big screen frights. There are five chapters of dark comedy and blurred reality, and while every omnibus endeavor has its creative highs and lows, “Nightmare Cinema” is often stuck in neutral, prizing oddity to a point where the effort loses all momentum and mischief. Read the rest at

Film Review - Midsommar


Last year, writer/director Ari Aster impressed horror fans with “Hereditary,” delivering an eerie meditation on loss mixed with demonic cult theatrics. I wasn’t as thrilled with the feature, finding its insistence on shock value more numbing than chilling, but Aster did manage to pull something special out of star Toni Collette, who delivered the best performance of her career. Aster returns a year later with “Midsommar,” and while he doesn’t have Collette by his side again, he does recycle many of his old tricks, heading once again into the deep end of atmosphere and ultraviolence, transferring the relative intimacy of “Hereditary” to the open land of Sweden with this “Wicker Man” riff that’s extremely long and terribly light with crucial psychological details. The gruesomeness returns, but in a more predictable manner, as Aster chooses to repeat himself to secure a burgeoning helming career. Read the rest at

Film Review - Euphoria


What “Euphoria” provides is a new reason to pay attention to the acting talents of Alicia Vikander and Eva Green. While there’s nothing wrong with paychecks roles and interest in the Hollywood star-making machine, it’s been disappointing to watch the pair fight to survive dismal mass entertainment offerings such as “Tomb Raider” and “Dumbo,” with both pictures offering Vikander and Green more of a physical challenge than a dramatic one. “Euphoria” tries to realign some thespian chakras, giving the performers a thorough acting obstacle course as it takes on the messiness of sisterhood and the finality of euthanasia. It’s not the most enticing endeavor in the marketplace, but there’s profound feeling to discover, as writer/director Lisa Langseth doesn’t pull any punches with the material, retaining rawness and confusion as emotional breakthroughs are squeezed out of the characters. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Ophelia


“Hamlet” is a 400-year-old play that’s been interpreted in many ways, with some taking great liberties with the source material, working to reconsider writer William Shakespeare’s original text and find ways to reach a different audience. That’s the thinking behind “Ophelia,” which revisits the events of “Hamlet,” only here a key supporting part into turned into the lead role, with Ophelia’s perspective intended to refocus concern on the female characters. It’s not exactly a daring undertaking, but the screenplay by Semi Chellas is trying to do something very specific, keeping things involving by altering Shakespeare’s plotting and sense of power in Elsinore Castle. “Ophelia” isn’t the most dynamic feature to be made with the concept, but director Claire McCarthy isn’t in this for the pace. She wants to make a beautiful picture about a misunderstood young woman, and with those goals in mind, the effort is satisfactory. Read the rest at

Film Review - Framing John DeLorean


“Framing John DeLorean” emphasizes early on that Hollywood has spent decades trying to figure out a way to bring the titular icon’s story to the screen. And yet, with all these competing projects and various completed screenplays, nothing has come of it. Directors Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce (“Batman & Bill”) step up to the plate with “Framing John DeLorean,” but the duo isn’t interested in a straightforward bio-pic of the automobile designer, electing to mix things up a bit by turning the production into a semi-documentary, blending informational stretches with dramatic recreations and behind-the-scenes activity during the shoot. It’s a bizarre cocktail of perspectives and realities, but not an unappealing endeavor, with the helmers using such unconventional storytelling to showcase an unconventional man, finding a fresh way to chart the rise and fall of John DeLorean. Read the rest at

Film Review - Maiden


2019 represents the 30th anniversary of the 1989 Whitbread Around the World Race, a yachting competition that was known for attracting the titans of the sport and the inclusion of the Maiden, the first all-female team to join the event. Being such a unique offering in the line-up, the Maiden attracted plenty of attention at the time, and now there’s “Maiden,” a documentary examining the development of the boat team and the determination of its troubled skipper, Tracy Edwards. Director Alex Holmes (“Stop at Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story”) reunites the squad for an examination of the Maiden experience, presenting an overview of physical hardships and psychological weariness, but also plenty of uppercase sexism, with the male-dominated sport not exactly willing to give Edwards the respect she deserved. It’s a story of empowerment and achievement, but Holmes also tries to keep sporting suspense alive in “Maiden,” making the race and its punishing legs a major element of the feature. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Third Wife


Making her feature-length directorial debut, Ash Mayfair (who also scripts) takes audiences to a time long ago and a place far away, exploring female issues and anxiety that carry on to this day. “The Third Wife” is a period piece, taking place in 19th century Vietnam, and while Mayfair doesn’t have an enormous budget to bring her vision to life, she picks and chooses her moments with striking precision. However, as beautiful as the picture is, “The Third Wife” deals with harrowing acts of submission and futility, examining the role of the woman in an arranged marriage, where feelings and desires have no place, forced into a life of service. It’s a powerful film from Mayfair, who doesn’t turn to dialogue or heightened dramatics to make her points, trusting in the performers and their ability to convey the deadening of a soul with subtle reactions to mounting despair. Read the rest at

Film Review - Annabelle Comes Home


As The “Conjuring” Universe expands, 2019 welcomes another release in the series. “Annabelle Comes Home” follows last spring’s “The Curse of La Llorona,” which attempted to get by on the thinnest of connections to the James Wan-curated world, coughing up a quick “Annabelle” reference to keep fans interested in a largely uneventful chiller. Now the original screenwriter of 2014’s “Annabelle” and 2017’s “Annabelle: Creation,” Gary Dauberman, is promoted to the director’s chair for “Annabelle Comes Home,” and he’s making an effort to restore the sequel/prequel atmosphere for the latest franchise offering. Dauberman is also well aware of the target demographic for the movie, delivering a relatively light picture that’s limited in scope but eager to frighten a younger audience, with the R-rating awarded to the film more of a decoration than a warning. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Willard


In 1971, there was "Willard." It was a mildly unsettling film and surprisingly cheery, with the picture's marketing promising a raging horror experience, but the actual effort was actually more peaceful. Star Bruce Davison delivered a fine performance as a young man with problems who befriends household rats, and the feature as a whole was engaging, with a unique take on an animals attack premise. There was room for improvement and remake cinema took its time, with "Willard" resurfacing in 2003, offering acting duties to Crispin Glover, an inspired choice for the titular role, presenting director James Morgan with a full helping of behavioral weirdness to go along with the tale's intended rat-based freak-out. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Craft


There's no greater pairing than the edge of teen angst and the power of witchcraft, and co-writer/director Andrew Fleming has a fine vision for high school hellraising in 1996's "The Craft." Bringing along stars Robin Tunney, Fairuza Balk, Rachel True, and Neve Campbell, Flemings taps into a primal need for magical control, exploring initial mischief from four teenagers looking to alter their lives through deals with the dark side, who soon come into contact with actual power to exact revenge on their hallway enemies and body issues. "The Craft" does a terrific job with introductions, offering a first half that details horrible behavior and physical pain attacked by rites and spellcasting, with Fleming playing up the demands of teen cinema while exposing a darker side to personal issues. "The Craft" is sharply observed and mindful of genre demands, also supplying lead performances that commit to the fantasy in full, with Balk especially crazed as the alpha witch gone bad. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Losin' It


The late Curtis Hanson ended up in a place of Hollywood regality, managing to secure his legacy through efforts such as "Wonder Boys," "8 Mile," and "L.A. Confidential," which won him an Academy Award. However, before his placement on the A-list, Hanson nurtured a career as a B-movie specialist, trying to build a reputation as a man capable of quality work while still following box office trends. In the 1980s, one of the hottest subgenres around was the teen horndog comedy, with the massive success of "Porky's" inspiring countless knockoffs, gifting desperate producers a chance to ride the turn in adolescent entertainment. The broadly titled "Losin' It" is Hanson's stab at capturing the troublemaking ways of young men desperate to lose their virginity, embarking on an odyssey into the craziness of Mexico to achieve their one and only goal. The helmer's mission is to create a pleasant ride of mischief, yet Hanson always seems a bit confused with his job, striving to position characterization in the middle of a weak farce, coming up with a feature that's not funny and never as deeply felt as Hanson would like it to be. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Return of the Vampire


In 1943, Columbia Pictures wanted to revive the Dracula screen experience with the actor that brought it to life, reuniting Bela Lugosi with one of his most famous roles. However, Universal Pictures wasn't about celebrate the situation, using legal hustle to prevent Columbia from cashing in directly. Instead of engineering a sequel to 1931's "Dracula," the production comes up with "The Return of the Vampire," evading courtroom entanglements while giving audiences the bloodsucker event they demand. Read the rest at

Film Review - Child's Play (2019)


Perhaps it’s not a classic, but 1988’s “Child’s Play” was a special picture at the time, bravely joining the decade’s slasher movement with the murderous antics of a possessed doll, giving the subgenre a much needed boost of the bizarre. It offered competent filmmaking with a wacky premise, while the talents of Brad Dourif as the voice of plastic punisher Chucky elevated the material, giving the effort a genuine level of menace. The producers (and creator Don Mancini) made sure to beat the idea into the ground with multiple sequels, with the homicidal interests of Chucky now relegated to the DTV pile, essentially inviting others to double check contracts and attempt a remake. 31 years later, it’s “Child’s Play” all over again, with this round updating the tech, losing the voodoo, and amplifying the gore to see if there’s a new generation of young moviegoers interested in Chucky’s pint-sized rage. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Swinging Safari


Writer/director Stephen Elliott made an industry splash with 1994’s “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.” It was an ABBA-fueled romp that wasn’t afraid of a little madness to inspire shock and hilarity, pushing successfully with some degree of visual anarchy. His follow-ups tried to replicate some portion of the “Priscilla” magic, but he often came up short (with efforts such as “Welcome to Woop Woop” and “Eye of the Beholder”). Elliott finally reclaims his lost mojo with “Swinging Safari,” which drips with mad Aussie energy, taking viewers back to the lawless age of the 1970s, where safety, fashion, and personal boundaries where all ignored in the name of fun. It’s a berserk snapshot of life lived on the edge by a collection of families in various states of distress, with Elliott developing ideal insanity to capture his memories of Australian freedoms and fears during a particularly freewheeling decade. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Command


After taking a break from cinematic study for quite some time, submarine movies seem to be back in vogue. The underwater war machines offer potential for a more regal sort of national confrontation, allowing filmmakers to detail efforts of strategy and patience instead of serving up fiery conflict, preserving the promise of high drama at stunning depths. Last year there was “Hunter Killer,” a popcorn take on naval tensions, with “The Command” (a.k.a. “Kursk”) endeavoring to dramatize a true story of unimaginable survival. Director Thomas Vinterberg and screenwriter Robert Rodat (“Saving Private Ryan”) step away from pyrotechnics and near-misses to grasp the sheer horror of a 2000 Russian disaster, concentrating on the panic of the moment and concern brewing on land, searching for a way to grasp rising tensions from multiple points of view. “The Command” isn’t showy, trying to remain human and procedural as it details a desperate situation. Read the rest at