Previous month:
June 2019
Next month:
August 2019

July 2019

Blu-ray Review - The Golem


Directors Doron and Yaov Paz set out to create a slightly different haunting with "The Golem." Working through the history of Jewish mysticism, the siblings (along with screenwriter Ariel Cohen) come up with a different take on the average bloodbath, traveling back 400 years to make a period piece about revenge and empowerment. "The Golem" boasts some fine tech credits and a wonderful lead performance from Hani Furstenberg, who delivers powerful work for the helmers, who are always better with defined acts of frustration and rage, searching for subtle ways to provide agitation before the whole picture ends up in a mess of gore and fire. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Book of Monsters


Director Stewart Sparke and writer Paul Butler love horror movies from the 1980s. Such fandom inspires every frame of "Book of Monsters," which plays like a blend of John Carpenter and "Evil Dead," with the production attempting to whip up a genre mess that's wet with blood, littered with demons, and propelled by act of self-defense. Sparke doesn't have much money to realize his vision, so he keeps things scrappy, endeavoring to pay tribute to the helming gods and define his own sense of anarchy, which gets the picture on its feet, but doesn't take it far enough. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Robot Ninja


After dealing with zombies in his previous film, "The Dead Next Door," writer/director J.R. Bookwalter takes on the world of comic books in 1989's "Robot Ninja." Such a title promises an outrageous camp-fest, but Bookwalter isn't in any mood to screw around, getting past a case of the giggles in the first act of the movie, moving into fairly dire psychological areas as the story unfolds, ending up with an incredibly heavy endeavor about a costumed vigilante. There's tonal bravery and a desire to do something gritty with no-budget entertainment, but consistent tonality eludes the production, which does remarkably well with introductions, but soon doesn't have anywhere interesting to go. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Body Snatcher


1945's "The Body Snatcher" (based on an 1884 short story by Robert Louis Stevenson) is remarkable in many ways, offering a slow-burn but effective chiller concerning blackmail, dead bodies, and moral corruption. It's also an early offering from director Robert Wise, who would go on to helm many large-scale classics (including "The Sound of Music" and "West Side Story"), but here he's dealing only with paranoia and the singular force of star Boris Karloff, who delivers an absolutely sensational performance, portraying the key figure in a terrible scheme of medical experimentation and dormant secrets. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Skin-Flicks


Writer/director Gerard Damiano has long strived to bring some sense of artistry to his early adult entertainment, even testing the limits of darkness and sophisticated storytelling. With 1978's "Skin-Flicks," the helmer creates a commentary of sorts on the creation of erotica, writing a scattered but pointed assessment of life in the trenches of adult cinema, where psychological abysses are everywhere, money men remain in control, and a pure creative vision is impossible to achieve. "Skin-Flicks" isn't a cheery overview of the business, as Damiano purges a few demons with the work, which grows increasingly hostile as it goes. Read the rest at

Film Review - Once Upon a Time in Hollywood


After the claustrophobic experience of 2015’s “The Hateful Eight,” writer/director Quentin Tarantino returns to the open air with “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” It’s a valentine to a time and a place, taking viewers back to Los Angeles in 1969, where free love was taking shape and the old ways of the studio system were coming to an end, while on Cielo Drive, a young woman named Sharon Tate was about to be murdered by the Manson Family. It’s a cocktail of nostalgia and unrest Tarantino loves sip until his lips bleed, going hog wild with his latest endeavor, which is a picture of extraordinary detail and run time, as the helmer isn’t content to merely recreate 1969, he wants to live there once again. Tarantino’s vision remains as potent as ever in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” but his unwillingness to judiciously edit his footage also returns, creating a feature that’s undeniable fun, but also unnecessarily lengthy, playing up bad habits that’ve been plaguing him since 2012’s “Django Unchained.” Read the rest at

Film Review - Astronaut


In 1977, actor Richard Dreyfuss starred in Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” which detailed the developing urge within an average man to experience the unknown with help from alien visitors. In 2019, Dreyfuss returns with a similar tale of an indescribable need to visit space, only this time with the aid of people-powered engineering. The stories aren’t an exact match, but it’s interesting to watch Dreyfuss revive a long dormant sense of longing and wonder for “Astronaut,” where he plays a senior citizen inching close to the possibility of spaceflight. Writer/director Shelagh McLeod has the wonders of the cosmos in her sights, but she remains on Earth with decent dramatics, striving to create a community of lived-in personalities while the tale surveys a seemingly impossible task of endurance, ultimately aiming to be a touching film, not an awe-inspiring one. Read the rest at

Film Review - Polaroid


Well, there was a once a movie about a killer bed, so a killer camera isn’t a complete reach. “Polaroid” offers audiences a haunting via obsolete technology, trying to cook up some scares with evil that pursues a collection of teenagers who don’t fully understand the dark power of instant photography, trying to decode this oddball threat to their lives. The director of the recent “Child’s Play” remake, Lars Klevberg isn’t exactly aiming high with the production, which is pointed at pre-teens who aren’t used to the wilds of the horror genre, presented a mild PG-13 chiller with easily telegraphed scares and nondescript characters. There’s the whole Polaroid camera premise, which is unusual, but the rest of the film is a strictly paint-by-numbers affair, likely to bore seasoned genre admirers. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Mountain


It’s not easy to sit through a Rick Alverson film. He’s an artist without interest in structure or storytelling, electing create cinematic voids that seem to exist slowly to test viewer patience, delivering inscrutable bits of dark humor and grim psychology. With “The Comedy” and “Entertainment,” Alverson has gone his own way, and there’s something admirable about his defiance, making movies that aren’t meant to be decoded, but simply endured. Such nonconformity doesn’t translate to compelling cinema, and with “The Mountain,” he’s dangerously close to self-parody, once again dragging audiences into a particular stillness that doesn’t reward attention, reviving his fascination with mental illness and pure experience in yet another glacial endeavor. It’s certainly Alverson’s most well-produced effort, and also his greatest disappointment. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Green Card


In 1989, writer/director Peter Weir made "Dead Poets Society" for Disney. A somewhat intense drama, the film was released during the summer season, with the company scrambling to find a way to get audiences to see it, focusing intently on the star power of Robin Williams, emphasizing his few comedic scenes in the picture. The actor's change of pace and pure, uncut word-of-mouth turned "Dead Poets Society" into a major hit (the 10th highest grossing movie of the year), giving Weir a chance to make whatever he wanted to. And he chose "Green Card" as the follow-up, returning to the comfort of Disney and their willingness to take a chance on the American screen debut of French actor Gerard Depardieu, giving him a shot to portray warmth and mischief in a romantic comedy. While a respected actor, Depardieu is not easily tamed, giving Weir the unenviable task of softening a hardened screen presence. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Land of Doom


1986's "Land of Doom" gives the audience a different kind of hero in Harmony, a post-apocalyptic warrior with severe personal contact issues and preference for kicking attackers in the groin as a way of shutting down oncoming violence. She's not exactly a steely, butt-whuppin' type (remember, this is the same release year as "Aliens"), but she's close enough for director Peter Maris, who tries to make a proper actioner with star Deborah Rennard. Tasked with supplying screen authority, and the actress certainly seems like she's having a good time with "Land of Doom." It's a bummer the rest of the feature only reaches a certain level of campy chaos, finding Maris unable to bring his B-movie elements to a boil. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Robot Holocaust


1986's "Robot Holocaust" is a B-movie that's not terribly concerned with protecting storytelling balance. The first half of the feature is one long exposition dump, with writer/director Tim Kincaid laboring to create a futureworld where the Earth is ruined, robots rule, and a new hope is offered with a band of warriors trying to defeat a series of villains. There's much world-building to sort through, necessitating a narrator to help with the heavy lifting, as Kincaid has no throttle when it comes to the speed of new information whipped at the viewer. The second half of the picture is almost completely devoid of storytelling, with the helmer trying to pay off patience with his extended identification game by issuing battle sequences and lengthy shots of travel around a single location. One side of "Robot Holocaust" has everything, the other has nothing. It's a bizarre effort to begin with, but such top-heavy filmmaking disrupts the obvious fun factor of the low-budget extravaganza. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Curse III: Blood Sacrifice


"Curse III: Blood Sacrifice" isn't really "Curse III: Blood Sacrifice." According to the main titles, the picture is actually called "Panga," with the whole "Curse" connection cooked up by shady producers looking for anything familiar to horror fans to help sell their dismal African monster movie. Those expecting a return to the world of "The Curse" are going to be disappointed in the second sequel, which joins the first sequel ("Curse II: The Bite") in a weird display of industry chicanery, where three features bearing the same title having nothing to do with one another. Such a situation of marketing three-card Monte would be more amusing if "Panga" was any good, but director Sean Barton (in his one and only helming gig) doesn't do much with the basics of supernatural and reptilian frights, assembling a largely uneventful chiller that sets some kind of record for most chases in a sugarcane field. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Angel Unchained


In the grand scheme of biker cinema, 1970's "Angel Unchained" is one of the few to present the conflicted nature of a motorcycle-riding menace who finally, after years of troublemaking and violence, just wants to experience life as a hippie. It should be a complex characterization, following one man's desire to leave his past and embrace something of a future, and Jeffrey Alan Fiskin's screenplay almost gets there, helped along by an invested lead performance from Don Stroud. "Angel Unchained" doesn't stay within the boundaries of intense introspection for long enough, often distracted by the needs of the subgenre, which demands lots of roaring motorcycles, dangerous dudes in leather, and, for some reason, a healthy dose of destructive mischief. The picture could use stronger concentration on primary dramatic elements, but as steel westerns go, the effort has a fiery temper and a sense of tragedy, slipping in small offerings of horror between broad action and reactions. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Farewell


“The Farewell” was initially included as a segment on the radio show, “This American Life.” It’s easy to see why, as the story includes a somewhat strange premise coated in the honey of idiosyncratic human behavior, offering a few mild twists and turns to keep listeners glued to their speakers, wrapped up in the details of this offering of pure culture. Turning her tale into a feature proves to be a bit more difficult for writer/director Lulu Wang, who’s tasked with taking intimate thoughts and turning them into screen dramatics, trusting actors to carry feelings previously held deep within. “The Farewell” isn’t quite the emotional ride it initially promises to be, but Wang isn’t committed to making a tearjerker, showing more interest in the ways of Chinese life and the pains of an outsider who once belonged. It’s a searching picture, not a spongy one, with Wang impressively detailing culture shock with a cast of capable performers. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Supervized


29 years ago, director Steve Barron guided the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the big screen for their very first live-action feature. The film was part of the initial wave of darker comic book adaptations after the monster success of 1989’s “Batman,” with the helmer tapping into superhero mania with his own idiosyncratic take on sewer-based heroism. In 2019, Barron returns to the heaviness of caped crusaders with “Supervized,” which takes a look at problems brewing within a retirement community created specifically for humans with special powers. Youthful violence and tomfoolery has been replaced with cantankerous characters and diminished abilities, with Barron working hard to make “Supervized” into something energetic and satirical. The movie gets out of control far too easily, but the weirdness of it all is reasonably compelling, watching Barron return to the genre that secured his career, locating a different corner of comic book destruction to explore. Read the rest at

Film Review - Iron Sky: The Coming Race


There was a time and place for 2012’s “Iron Sky.” It was a nutty creation from director Timo Vuorensola, who mounted an elaborate fantasy with limited coin, placing focus on visual effects and a farcical plot that had Earthly forces encountering the wrath of Moon Nazis, leading to all-out war. It was cheeky, making fun of easy targets with help from its alternate timeline plot, and the helmer also enjoyed a chance to pants taboo subjects, including power plays from a space bound Third Reich. “Iron Sky” wasn’t sharp but it was amusing, a showy trifle made for cult movie appreciation. There was no need for a sequel, but nobody explained that to Vuorensola, who returns with “Iron Sky: The Coming Race,” which attempts to double down on absurdity and CGI while lacking a crucial sense of surprise. The follow-up is noisy and unfunny, still pawing at the same obvious political targets while expanding its capacity for mayhem, hoping to wow viewers instead of tickle them with relentless absurdity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Three Peaks


“Three Peaks” is a film that requires a tremendous amount of patience from the viewer. It’s a slow-burn affair, populated with only three characters working around a remote setting, dealing indirectly with potent but ill-defined issues of guardianship and family. Writer/director Jan Zabeil takes the long storytelling road, but unlike many of his contemporaries, he’s actually going somewhere with the material, locating a way to surprise the audience as domestic unrest turns into a fight for survival. “Three Peaks” doesn’t find physical peril until the final act, with Zabeil more interested in brewing tension and disappointments, leading with domestic disturbances before heading into a more extreme conflicts that take advantage of natural dangers in the middle of nowhere. Read the rest at

Film Review - Into the Ashes


Writer/director Aaron Harvey has a lot of competition in the marketplace for his revenge thriller, "Into the Ashes.” Tales of men folding inwards after suffering through tragedy or facing dire circumstances are popular these days, with the efforts trying to tap into the messiness of wounded masculinity and lost purpose, examining family ties and gender roles with a heaping helping of violence to secure some sense of finality. “Into the Ashes” goes by the same playbook, with Harvey arranging big screen hostility with bloody results, only to pull back some when it comes time to assess the true motivation for vengeance. This slight deviation from the norm helps to support a picture that’s not particularly packed with incident, as the helmer is more interested in the big stew of choices and mistakes, not simple fury. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Manitou


"The Manitou" is based on a 1976 book by Graham Masterson, giving the screenwriters some guidance when exploring a completely bizarre premise. For some, the prospect of making a movie about a growth developing on the back of a woman that turns about to be the reincarnated spirit of a malicious Native American shaman would be daunting, perhaps impossible. Co-writer/director William Girdler shows no such hesitation with the project, moving full steam ahead with the wacky story, happily forgetting that perhaps Masterton's imagination was best left on the page. "The Manitou" is an extremely serious take on extremely silly matters of spiritual danger, with Girdler doing his best to transform an odd point of stress and doom into a functional horror feature, and one with a trend-chasing sci-fi finale. The helmer strives to juggle such tonal changes, but the sheer effort to bend his weirdness into cinematic shape proves to be too difficult for Girdler to manage. Read the rest at