Previous month:
August 2019
Next month:
October 2019

September 2019

Film Review - Auggie


2013’s “Her” tackled the issue of intimacy involving the presence of artificial intelligence, capturing how loneliness is tempted by emotional connection, even with a computer program. “Auggie” basically tells the same story, but in a much more realistic way, eschewing futurism to explore the average seduction of technology as it faces a newly retired man struggling to retain his identity while everything he holds dear is pulled away from him. “Auggie” isn’t profound, but it does offer a wonderful lead performance from Richard Kind, and co-writer/director Matt Kane has a few observations on marriage and companionship that support the material through times when it becomes slightly confused with tone and its ultimate assignment of guilt. Read the rest at

Film Review - Zeroville


While many movies go through release delays, picking up a little dust while the distributor tries to find a workable launch date, “Zeroville” has had a devil of a time seeing the light of day. Shot five years ago, the feature has struggled to lure in a company to release it, and after watching the film, it’s easy to understand why. It’s not a disaster, but this adaptation of Steve Erickson’s 2007 novel doesn’t make it easy on the audience, with director James Franco trying to capture the elusive oddity of the original work by reveling in his cinematic indulgences, laboring to remain stylish and enigmatic, which tuckers out the picture in a hurry. Boasting a cast of known actors, “Zeroville” declines most opportunities to become something interesting, more concerned with satisfying Franco’s ego than examining a riveting story set during a critical time in the evolution of Hollywood. Read the rest at

Film Review - 3 from Hell


Taking a break from being a rock star, Rob Zombie transitioned to filmmaking with 2003’s “House of 1000 Corpses.” It wasn’t exactly a stunning directorial debut, but it had plenty of style and even more Zombie-approved exploitation cinema chaos. He revisited the world of the Firefly Family in 2005’s “The Devil’s Rejects,” finding his helming groove with a spectacular ode to drive-in movies while packing in even more Zombie-fied madness, marrying real intensity to his customary dosage of R-rated, southern-fried horseplay. 14 years later, Zombie is back in Firefly country with “3 from Hell,” and the divide in time between installments shows throughout the endeavor, which doesn’t quite have the macabre highlights of “1000 Corpses” or the confidence of “Rejects.” The production has intermittent hellraising to share, but Zombie seems more fatigued for this go-around, often unable to overcome his severely limited budget and best the previous efforts with his game cast. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Can't Stop the Music


1980 was a special year. It was a time when producers wanted to give the world disco-laden musicals long after disco died, just barely missing the trend while spending an unfortunate amount of money to bring colorful fantasies to life. The year delivered "The Apple" and "Xanadu," but the first one out of the gate was "Can't Stop the Music," which was proudly promoted as the cinematic experience of the 1980s, while featuring talent from the 1970s. It's better known as the origin story for Village People, a singing group famous for hits such as "Macho Man" and "Y.M.C.A." It's their "Bohemian Rhapsody," only slightly more believable, with director Nancy Walker and co-producer Allan Carr using the camp factor of the band to launch their version of 1930s musical, doing whatever they can to maintain the fun factor of a production that's in dire need of a tighter edit and a 1978 release date. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Mountaintop Motel Massacre


1983's "Mountaintop Motel Massacre" requires a great deal of patience from the viewer. It's not something that leaps off the screen, with director Jim McCullough Sr. (Jim McCullough Jr. takes care of scripting duties) taking his time building mood with the picture. The first act is slow and relatively uneventful, but once the characters all fall into place, "Mountaintop Motel Massacre" reveals itself to be a different kind of slasher film, at least with its unexpected antagonist and strange acts of menace. There's no masked killer here preying on coeds, with McCullough Sr. looking for weirder ways to dispatch personalities who've made the mistake of stopping to rest at a rural Louisiana motel. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Satan's Slave


For his first horror outing, director Norman J. Warren doesn't quite lunge for a fear factor with 1976's "Satan's Slave." Instead of winding up suspense and unleashing terror, he's made an incredibly talky endeavor that's big on fine performances but low on chills. There's no visceral rush to be found in the endeavor, which strives for more of a psychological freak-out, only turning to random blasts of ultraviolence when Warren realizes that characters conversing for so long doesn't exactly encourage a macabre joyride. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Blackout


Before "Die Hard," there was "Blackout," with the 1978 release trying to raise some hell with a cop vs. baddies war set inside a high-rise building. It's a scrappy Canadian production trying to play into disaster movie trends, using the real-world nightmare of the 1977 New York City blackout to inspire sleazy violence and lackluster supercop heroism. It's certainly aggressive, but also sloppy, delivering drive-in thrills with limited appreciation for tight editing and multi-character juggling. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Nightbeast


A B-movie director who never seems to possess a budget that matches his visual ambition, Don Dohler found some success with 1976's "The Alien Factor," which managed to find its audience in the late-'70s cable scramble for everything sci-fi. He went on to make "Fiend," another chiller, but with 1982's "Nightbeast," Dohler returns to his first inspiration, basically remaking "The Alien Factor" with a slightly higher budget and slightly lower standards. Instead of trying to mount a semi-thoughtful understanding of human impatience when dealing with the unknown, Dohler kicks out the jams and launches "Nightbeast" with oodles of gore and nudity, also doing away with the concept of alien complications, making the monster here pure evil and in a mood to eliminate as many earthlings as possible. It's a sleazy, violent adventure, also identifying the helmer's newfound disregard for nuance, going full steam ahead into R-rated waters. Read the rest at

Film Review - Downton Abbey (2019)


“Downton Abbey” premiered in 2010, with creator Julian Fellowes attempting to return some old-fashioned class conflict to television, reviving the “Upstairs, Downstairs” formula to explore the world of the elite and those hired to serve them. The ITV series was a smash, inspiring a passionate fanbase and renewing the urgency of PBS programming in America, where the show managed to become a phenomenon. For 52 episodes, Fellowes guided viewers through the ups and down of life on a grand English estate, creating memorable characters and tastefully manipulative drama, relying heavily on refined production values and the sheer charms of the ensemble, who never failed the program. Four years after the series concluded, “Downton Abbey” is back, only now the saga of the Crawley Family has turned to the big screen for a suitable return, challenging Fellowes to pack in a season’s worth of mischief, manners, and longing into 120 minutes. He’s up for the task, and while “Downton Abbey” isn’t a revelation, it remains reliable entertainment, careful to deliver what the faithful expect from the brand name. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hustlers


Writer/director Lorene Scafaria previously scored creative successes with 2012’s “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” and 2015’s “The Meddler.” She handled extraordinary circumstances and intimate relationships well, getting the features past cliché to truly understand human behavior during stressful times. Scafaria has difficulty finding the same sensitivity with “Hustlers,” which is something of a true crime tale, aiming to be a “Goodfellas” for the 2008 financial collapse. It’s “inspired by a true story,” but Scafaria isn’t entirely invested in delivering real-world concerns, making this strippers-seek-revenge saga more about surface psychology and cinematic style. It’s not without a few elements that dazzle, but the production fails to rise above simplicity, struggling to define these characters as more than one-dimensional empowerment figures. Read the rest at

Film Review - Memory: The Origins of Alien


There’s no shortage of media dedicated to the making of the 1979 masterpiece, “Alien.” Books, T.V. shows, website articles, podcasts, and DVD/Blu-ray documentaries have all ventured into the analysis realm, finding all possible corners covered when it comes to the creation of the picture and its lasting hold on audiences over the last 40 years. Saturation is real, but that doesn’t stop Alexandre O. Philippe (“The People vs. George Lucas”), who ventures back into the blood and guts of filmmaking with “Memory: The Origin of Alien,” on a mission to not simply chart the day-by-day progress of the shoot, but grasp the endeavor’s deeper meanings, symbols, and motives, going cerebral as a way to maintain distance from the glut of BTS information out there. His quest is noble, and “Memory” is informative with certain aspects of cinematic appreciation, but this isn’t a satisfying overview of the creative process, as Philippe doesn’t have the run time or level of known interviewees to truly sink his teeth into the layers of interpretation “Alien” has to offer. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Goldfinch


Not every book needs to be a movie. I’ve written that before and I’m repeating myself when it comes to “The Goldfinch,” which is an adaptation of a 2013 novel by Donna Tartt. It was lauded work, and it makes sense that Hollywood wanted in on it, as it explores the saga of a broken young man who grows into a corrupted adult, interacting with other lost souls as he tries to maintain stability through the comfort of lies and the use of drugs. It’s Oscar-bait right there, but in the hands of director John Crowley (“Brooklyn”) and screenwriter Peter Straughan (“The Snowman”), “The Goldfinch” falls asleep fairly quickly, not exactly working up the energy to transform Tartt’s work into a high drama. Tech credits shine, but there’s no urgency to the storytelling, which doesn’t communicate what seems to be an emotional viewing experience, rendered flat by ponderous subplots and messy editing. Read the rest at

Film Review - Edie


“Edie” has the appearance of a softer picture for an older audience. Indeed, it does have its soaring moments, hoping to extend some sense of joy and accomplishment to ticket-buyers, but simple triumphs aren’t the only thing the screenplay (credited to Elizabeth O’Halloran) is hoping to offer. There’s a deeper emotional current running just under the surface of the feature, with the writer touching on difficult concepts of regret and denial, instantly making the endeavor a bit more enlightened than many of its ilk. “Edie” has a firm grasp on kindness and delivers the occasional corny turn of character, but there are a few raw nerves worth paying attention to, giving lead actress Shelia Hancock something substantial to play as she works to the keep the effort from becoming a forgettable senior empowerment movie. Read the rest at

Film Review - Can You Keep a Secret?


Alexandra Daddario hasn’t experienced a box office breakthrough, but her 2019 resume has been reasonably interesting, contributing fine work in “We Have Always Lived in the Castle,” and she was frequently the highlight of the muddled thriller, “Night Hunter.” But she’s chasing a hit, returning to the realm of the romantic comedy with “Can You Keep a Secret,” which is an adaptation of a 2003 Sophie Kinsella novel. Daddario doesn’t sleep through the picture, endeavoring to be as animated as possible to support the material, and while her performance is likeable enough, “Can You Keep a Secret” struggles to come together as something sweet and silly, with director Elise Duran too dependent on improvisation and contrived screenwriting. Read the rest at

Film Review - Haunt


The screenwriters of “A Quiet Place,” Scott Beck and Bryan Woods hope to preserve their directorial careers with “Haunt,” which continues their fascination with scary business, this time using the rise of the “extreme haunt” business to create their own Halloween offering. It’s a tempting setting, providing an atmosphere of aggression and confusion, but Beck and Woods don’t pull out all the stops with their fright film, throttling “Haunt” with crude attempts at characterization and motivation, trying to fashion a substantial lead character when the picture really needs more madness. The feature deals mainly with formula, but the helmers don’t choose to combat predictability, delivering a “Saw”-like jaunt into the business of evil, serving up six young things for the slaughter. Your patience is required. Read the rest at

Film Review - 3 Days with Dad


Larry Clarke is a longtime character actor, working his way around the industry for the last two decades, appearing in such shows as “The Shield,” “Bones,” and “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.” Perhaps searching for a little more control in his career, Clarke makes his debut as a writer/director with “3 Days with Dad,” which takes a look at the whirlwind of family issues that arises when a tolerated patriarch is about to die. Clarke doesn’t arrive empty handed, calling in favors to make his first feature something special, and he’s quick to offer the spotlight to other thespians who don’t normally receive opportunities to shine in major roles. Chaos mostly drives “3 Days with Dad,” but Clarke achieves a lived-in feel to the dramedy, doing well with his talented cast and observations of household antagonisms. Read the rest at

Film Review - This Is Not Berlin


World cinema focus turns to Mexico City for “This is Not Berlin,” which tracks the development of two teenagers trying to grow up too fast, too soon. To help soften the blow of technology, co-writer/director Hari Sama dials the clock back 35 years, returning to a time when innocence was attacked by specific forms of influence. It’s a coming-of-age drama with a keen sense of the city, delivering a specific place and time that’s periodically more interesting than the characters. Sama can’t push the material over troubling road blocks of melodrama, but “This is Not Berlin” is evocative and intermittently emotive, locating the heart of adolescent pain and the difficulties of finding one’s way in a predatory world. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Harvesters


While it deals with feelings of isolation and disillusionment, “The Harvesters” is immediately striking due to its setting, bringing viewers to the world of Afrikaner farmers in South Africa, where cultural pressure and changing times are making it difficult for families in a troubled part of the world. Writer/director Etienne Kallos isn’t making a political picture, but he doesn’t exactly ignore the cultural strain, which helps the film to tighten its grip as it explores the difficulties facing a young man caught in a troubling position of guardianship while working through his own issues. “The Harvesters” is an unsettling feature at times, but also intensely atmospheric, as Kallos often shows more interest in the cinematic qualities of his endeavor than he does characterization, which grows choppier as the movie unfolds. Read the rest at

Film Review - Depraved


Many filmmakers have attempted to adapt the essentials of the 1818 novel, “Frankenstein,” trying to remain respectful of author Mary Shelley’s original work while embarking on narrative detours to best fit their movie’s mood or setting. The basics are nothing new, but writer/director Larry Fessenden attempts to achieve a modern understanding of Shelley’s nightmare, going the low-budget route with “Depraved,” looking to pull together a gothic chiller with limited resources. The effort is commendable, and Fessenden has something to say about the human experience as it exists today in a cruel world, but he certainly takes his time to say it, working very deliberately with a picture that could use a few boosts of urgency, giving the central crisis a real cinematic grip. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Savage Harbor


When there's a sleazy, violent human trafficker taking over the streets of San Pedro, California, who are you gonna call to save the day? Well, Frank Stallone, of course! The actor/musician/famous brother returns to screens with 1987's "Savage Harbor" (aka "Death Feud"), which pairs him with another notable last name, Christopher Mitchum, tasked with portraying a couple of sailors just looking for some time away from ships, soon getting caught up in the local area's prostitution scene, challenging a crime boss for the safety of women everywhere. Writer/director Carl Monson ("Please Don't Eat My Mother!") isn't big on production polish, simply trying to deliver a VHS-ready actioner with some skin, horrible human behavior, and close-ups of a snarling Stallone, who takes to the hero role with visible discomfort, perhaps fully aware of what kind of movie he's making. Read the rest at