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June 2019

Film Review - Daughter of the Wolf


Director David Hackl clearly has a fondness for outdoor adventures. A few years ago, he crafted “Into the Grizzly Maze,” trying to participate in the brief resurgence of killer bear movies, and now he’s made “Daughter of the Wolf,” which takes viewers to the Canadian wilderness to track the efforts of one mother determined to rescue her son from a gang of kidnappers. There’s a survival element to the feature that’s worth developing, and star Gina Carano is always more interesting being physical than dramatic, but “Daughter of the Wolf” isn’t particularly inventive with its forest showdown. Screenwriter Nika Agiashvili attempts a deeper motivation for criminal activity, but there’s not enough fury to inspire excitement, while passes at a primal connection between humans and the beasts of the wild is fairly ridiculous. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Vengeance of She


Suppose they made a sequel to 1965's "She" and nobody knew? The Ursula Andress-starrer from Hammer Films managed to become a hit, using sex appeal and wild stretches of fantasy, taking inspiration from author H. Rider Haggard. However, Andress didn't want to return to duty, forcing Hammer to rethink the concept of a sequel, using 1968's "The Vengeance of She" as a way to semi-remake their original effort, replacing Andress with Olinka Berova, who certainly has the look for the part, but little thespian skill. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Mutant War


1988's "Mutant War" is generally considered a sequel to 1985's "Battle for the Lost Planet," but writer/director Brett Piper doesn't entirely believe in the potential of a true continuation. While the lead character returns to duty, there's little else that syncs up with the previous endeavor, finding the helmer in rehash mode, only something is weirdly askew with follow-up. Piper has more money and filmmaking technology to give "Mutant War" proper thrust, but he's made a mostly lifeless picture that doesn't possess the same DIY vibe of special effects that kept "Battle for the Lost Planet" vaguely interesting. The fun has been drained out of the endeavor, watching as Piper labors on a needless do-over that plays considerably smaller than its predecessor, while the titular promise for sci-fi chaos isn't kept. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Battle for the Lost Planet


Paying tribute to the cinema of his youth, writer/director Brett Piper manufactures his own B-movie adventure with 1986's "Battle for the Lost Planet," which pairs sci-fi and post-apocalyptic survival for a low-budget brew of filmmaking achievements. One doesn't come to the feature looking for stunning dramatics, it's a production that's more about appreciating what Piper manages to pull off with limited coin, mounting a tale that travels from Earth to Mercury and back again, ending up with a war between alien invaders and human inhabitants struggling to retain the old way of life. It's not a refined picture, and its run time is downright punishing as the effort continues, but there's helming pluck presented here that's easy to admire, watching Piper try to figure out a vision for intergalactic hostilities and earthbound discoveries, working in monsters and mayhem to boost the bottom-shelf appeal of "Battle for the Lost Planet." Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Mole People


1956's "The Mole People" is a little hesitant to make a swan dive into sci-fi/horror, opening with expert testimony from a USC English professor who sets the scene by sharing bits of foolish science concerning activity occurring at the center of the Earth. Such mistakes and myth are used to lubricate audience passage into the realm of "The Mole People," which is pure silliness, but the production seems very concerned with establishing some type of archaeological authenticity before it brings out a parade of whip-slinging albinos and the creatures from the depths they've enslaved. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Tinseltown


It's difficult to believe that co-writer/director Carter Stevens had a precise plan to expose the ugly underbelly of life in Hollywood with 1980's "Tinseltown," but he does a fairly good job summarizing the corruption of the industry. While it remains adult entertainment, the movie tries to capture the cruelties and surprises of the business, essentially calling out the casting system as a form of prostitution, where the willing aren't always rewarded for giving. Exploitation is the premise here, and Stevens manages an effective look at the painful realities of professional acting. While he tries to keep things light, the helmer has a hard time staying away from darkness, giving a minor feature of intended eroticism some archeological value for today's audiences. Read the rest at

Film Review - Toy Story 4


The worst thing Pixar could’ve done with “Toy Story 4” is to try and top what they accomplished with 2010’s “Toy Story 3,” which found a way to elegantly and emotionally close the chapter on Woody and Buzz’s years as Andy’s playthings. The picture dealt with aging and friendship, even going as a far as to include a moment where the plastic pals feared for their own deaths, giving fans an exhausting ride of slapstick and mortality. “Toy Story 4” doesn’t carry the same weight, which is a wonderful revelation, with director Josh Cooley returning to the spirit of the 1995 original to inspire a new round of comedy and adventure, delivering a movie that’s immense fun, with vivid animation and distinct characters contributing to a third sequel that probably didn’t need to be, but most viewers will be thrilled to spend time with. Read the rest at

Film Review - Murder Mystery


Adam Sandler stepped out of his comfort zone over the last few years, finding creative success with Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories” and the charmingly silly “The Week Of.” The actor is back in vacation mode with “Murder Mystery,” which returns Sandler to the comforts of glorious locations and minimal screenwriting, reteaming him with his “Just Go with It” co-star, Jennifer Aniston, for what should be recycling of “Clue” on a yacht. However, writer James Vanderbilt (“The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” “Independence Day: Resurgence”) wants a little more than a simple situation of close-quarters murder, taking the whodunit to Monaco, which permits the cast to romp around in luxury settings, trying to make the funny happen. “Murder Mystery” doesn’t have many laughs, but there’s energy that carries the viewing experience, giving Sandler and Aniston enough panicky situations to work over with their charisma. It’s not the slam-dunk project it initially appears to be, but it’s intermittently entertaining. Read the rest at

Film Review - Clinton Road


If there’s anything truly eye-catching about “Clinton Road,” it’s the co-director credit. Actor Richard Grieco makes his helming debut with the picture, and he goes where many untested talents head when dealing with a moviemaking challenge: horror. Joined by Steve Stanulis, Grieco presents a vision for New Jersey terror, depicting the Bermuda Triangle-style dead zone of a 10-mile stretch of road in the state, which is home to many disappearances and hauntings. This is simple stuff, with the production aiming to pull off a few chills here and there on an extremely low budget, calling in as many favors as possible. “Clinton Road” shows some effort, but there’s a lot of padding to work through to get anywhere in the feature, which throttles pace and limits frights. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Shaft


“Shaft” is a sequel to “Shaft,” which was a remake of “Shaft.” Can you dig it? If it all seems a little confusing at this point, don’t worry, the producers of the latest “Shaft” adventure have little regard for the rest of the film series, electing to go the cartoon route with the brand name, which was never afraid of a little broadness here and there, but the 2019 version includes a Clapper joke. That’s the level of screenwriting involved here. It began in 1971 with a Blaxploitation classic that defined cinematic attitude for the rest of the decade. It continued in 2000 with a wheezy reimagining. And now it’s a CBS sitcom from director Tim Story, who found great success with 2014’s “Ride Along,” and now believes every action movie deserves the slapstick treatment. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Men in Black: International


While a valiant attempt to give the fanbase something significant for a trilogy closer, it was clear that 2012’s “Men in Black 3” was running out of ideas when it came to the pairing of stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, while the alien attack aspects of the premise where diluted by the story’s concentration on time travel to inject some wow into a second sequel. It got the job done, but it was clear whatever magic was there in the 1997 original was long gone. Hollywood, never one to let a brand name die, attempts to revive the intergalactic cops with “Men in Black: International,” which trades Smith and Jones for Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, who already enjoyed passable chemistry in “Thor: Ragnarok.” Also missing is director Barry Sonnenfeld, whose quirky way with the series is gone, with the reins handed to F. Gary Gray, the helmer of “The Fate of the Furious” and “Be Cool.” Creative changes are periodic, but Gray mostly tries to recapture what was lost, hoping to reboot the “Men in Black” with actors not known for their comedic chops, while the screenplay by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway isn’t terribly sharp with mystery, unable to power a surprisingly plodding film. Read the rest at

Film Review - I Am Mother


There have been many films made about the mysteries of artificial intelligence and robot order, but few understand the core crisis of trust the way “I Am Mother” does. Making his feature-length directorial debut is Grant Sputore, and he’s managed to find a way to respect low-budget realities while still creating a picture with big ideas, offering a strong visual presence while exploring a story with only a handful of characters. “I Am Mother” is dystopian sci-fi, but never oppressively so, managing to grasp larger questions of ethics and safety while remaining a suspenseful thriller with a few mysteries to solve, playing into genre expectations without softening the whole endeavor in the name of entertainment. Read the rest at

Film Review - American Woman


“American Woman” has all the signs of a Lifetime Movie, only without the glamour. It’s a story of a disappearance and the struggle of those fighting to understand what’s happened to their loved one, trying to carry on with some sense of normalcy while facing potential emotional devastation. While hysterics are encountered, screenwriter Brad Ingelsby (“Out of the Furnace”) is committed to character development, putting in the effort to make the feature about human beings instead of simple tragedy. Such commitment makes all the difference in the world to “American Woman,” which delivers a clear understanding of motivation, eschewing procedural activity to remain on the trials of life when hope has been depleted. Read the rest at

Film Review - Halston


For his third foray into the specialized area of fashion documentaries, director Frederic Tcheng (“Dior and I,” “Diana Vreeeland: The Eye Has to Travel”) takes on an American icon in Roy Halston Frowick. Tracking the development of Halston’s trained eye and fondness for publicity, Tcheng attempt to define what made the man such a sensation throughout the 1970s, with his branding capabilities and good taste helping to reenergize female clothing after the rigidity of the 1960s. “Halston” is a bit odd in approach, electing to create a fictional story as a way to portion out the audio and visual evidence, but Tcheng is obviously trying to keep his feature from becoming just another fashion doc that’s big on personality and low on connective tissue. The picture is engrossing, with the tale of Halston’s ascent and business decisions filled with strange characters and unexpected turns of fate, giving the helmer plenty to work with when assembling the span of “Halston.” Read the rest at

Film Review - Being Frank


Jim Gaffigan isn’t normally found in leading roles. The popular comedian is typically in charge of support, offering strange cameos and small turns in various comedies. “Being Frank” is a full test of his skills as an actor, handed a complete arc to communicate in a film that’s often very silly, but also hoping to be sincere with its study of parenthood and the shifting nature of family. Writer Glen Lakin delivers a picture primed for farcical turns, but it’s a hesitant screenplay, never fully comfortable with being ridiculous, while director Miranda Bailey aims to support whatever mood the movie finds itself in. Gaffigan’s the feature attraction here, and he’s good with what he’s offered, given a rare shot to play a semi-normal human being, and he makes his moments count, lifting “Being Frank” when it periodically becomes a drag. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hampstead


It’s always been tough to cast Diane Keaton in movies, especially in the last 20 years. She’s an idiosyncratic screen presence, but she’s not exactly pushing herself anymore, content to recycle performances and wardrobes, taking part in entertainment that mostly plays up her ownership of screen hesitation and awkward flirting. “Hampstead” doesn’t ask Keaton to provide anything but the bare essentials of her personality and timing, one again playing a timid woman with beret issues coming into contact with a seemingly unbearable man. Keaton’s done this before, making her participation in the picture disappointing, as she works through her to-do list of tics and stammers, showing very little interest in elevating Robert Festinger’s screenplay, which is based on the true story of a hermit caught in legal pressure over land he’s claimed for himself. Turning such a tale into a Keaton-y romantic comedy feels like a big mistake. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Mad Dog and Glory


A writer specializing in gritty inspections of hollowed out souls, Richard Price looks to lighten things up after spending his early years in the industry crafting pictures such as "The Color of Money" and "Sea of Love." 1993's "Mad Dog and Glory" isn't a knee-slapper in the usual sense, but for Price, who rarely passes on adrenalized masculinity, this endeavor is practically a Billy Wilder film, surveying the accidental collision of crime and justice, and the woman caught up in the war of discomfort. Director John McNaughton ("Wild Things") tries to preserve as much Price as possible, delivering an intermittently calloused tale of romantic awakening dimmed by criminal entanglements, and he has a fine cast to help achieve unsteady tonality, with Robert De Niro and Bill Murray playing against type, trying to manufacture a special dance of intimidation with darkly comic timing. When it connects, "Mad Dog and Glory" is very funny and loose, but McNaughton doesn't always nail the special mood of the endeavor, often in a hurry to wrap up a story that needs more time to marinate. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Party Line


While many pictures date quickly, 1988's "Party Line" will likely befuddle some younger viewers, taking them back to a time when people interested in random sexual experiences picked up a phone to discuss their desires with complete strangers. Perhaps not much has changed in the last 31 years, but there's an amusing retro appeal to the feature, with screenwriter Richard Brandes tapping into a then-current craze of pay-per-minute perversion, using the concept of a party line to fuel a slasher film that's always eager to go above and beyond its basic concept of seduction. "Party Line" has dead bodies and a supercop on the go, but there's plenty of kink and extreme psychological distress to butter up the viewing experience, which is breezier than expected. This is one seriously goofy movie, but director William Webb keeps an eye on pace and behavioral oddity, making sure to keep the low-budget endeavor enjoyable wacky. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Doctor


Director Randa Haines earned accolades and awards for her sensitive treatment of sexual abuse and incest in the 1984 television film, "Something About Amelia." But her career truly took off with 1986's "Children of a Lesser God," which managed to collect a Best Actress Oscar for actress Marlee Matlin, while her co-star, William Hurt, enjoyed a nomination for his work in the lauded feature. It took some time for Haines to return to the screen, but in 1991, she delivered "The Doctor," reuniting with Hurt for a semi-charged look at the inner workings of health care in America, taking inspiration from the book "A Taste of My Own Medicine," written by Dr. Edward Rosenbaum. The topic of finding compassion in an inherently cold, unwelcoming medical system is a bit of gimme, but "The Doctor" finds a direct way to address the inadequacies of the system, following and tweaking Rosenbaum's odyssey as a surgeon forced to experience the trial of treatment once he's confronted with a cancer diagnosis. Haines can't completely get her hands around every subplot in the movie, but her dedication to the humanity of the piece is remarkable, crafting something approachable for the mass audience that still retains emotional nuance and provides a careful challenge of hospital practices. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Wacko


Joining the early '80s craze to pants horror entertainment is director Greydon Clark, who gifts the world "Wacko," his version of a slasher parody. Perhaps slightly miffed to watch as a bunch of no-budget scary movies conquer the box office, Clark elects to take down the absurdities of the genre, arriving with screenplay credited to four people and a cast that's loaded with noted character actors, blended with younger talent from the day. The 1982 endeavor has no shortage of jokes, with Clark particularly attentive to the speed of the film, which carries on with rat-tat-tat timing, always on the hunt for cliches to spank and characters to mock. This is Clark competing in a post-"Airplane!" world, and it's a big swing and a miss for the man behind "Joysticks," "The Return," and "Uninvited." Instead of triggering laughs, "Wacko" mostly demands bewilderment, often coming at the audience with complete enthusiasm but no refinement or even simple punchline taste. It's a scattergun of lame gags and clownish performances that's periodically hard to watch, with Clark so caught up in the production effort, he misses a prime chance to dig into the goofy idiosyncrasies of slasher cinema. And yes, pies are flung during the run time. Read the rest at