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October 2019

Film Review - Doctor Sleep


While 1980’s “The Shining” is an adaptation of a Stephen King novel, time has slowly erased that reality, transferring ownership to director Stanley Kubrick, who worked extremely hard to make his own horror event out of King’s working parts. It’s one of those untouchable movies, with King even trying to challenge it with his own miniseries offering in 1997. To develop his literary world, the writer revisited Danny Torrance in the 2013 book, “Doctor Sleep,” finding King pushing the character into a new phase of power and understanding, endeavoring to revisit the events of the Overlook Hotel from a place of trauma and forgiveness. Writer/director Mike Flanagan (“Gerald’s Game”) has the unique opportunity to combine King’s vision with Kubrick’s fingerprints, mounting a screen version of “Doctor Sleep,” which masters such a creative tightrope walk, managing to play with “The Shining” in inventive ways while remaining a King-inspired ride of macabre events and tortured minds. Read the rest at

Film Review - Terminator: Dark Fate


Four years ago, “Terminator Genisys” was supposed to be the big return of the old “Terminator” magic. Coming after the dreary nothingness of “Terminator Salvation,” “Genisys” had the budget, the production enthusiasm, and the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger to reenergize the brand name. However, it didn’t connect as it should’ve, straining to kick off a fresh series of sequels that could match the time-travel enjoyment of James Cameron’s first two installments of the franchise. Because the “Terminator” universe is too lucrative to let die, producers return with “Terminator: Dark Fate,” making sure they have some big guns to wow audiences, and they do, luring Schwarzenegger back to his most iconic role, while James Cameron provides story and producing support. Most encouragingly, Linda Hamilton returns as Sarah Connor, almost 30 years after the she last played the part. Her steely disgust is most welcome in “Dark Fate,” which is immediately boosted by her presence while director Tim Miller finds a reasonable blend of metal-mashing action and sci-fi that eluded the last two chapters of this unwieldy series. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jojo Rabbit


While working on a steady stream of idiosyncratic comedies, managing low budgets and bright ideas, writer/director Taika Waititi made a jump to the big time with 2017’s “Thor: Ragnarok,” which not only was the best of the Thor movies, but one of the finest offerings in the rapidly expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. Taking advantage of studio interest, Waititi quickly delivers “Jojo Rabbit,” which has the difficult challenge of being a semi-farce about Nazi Germany, with Adolph Hitler depicted in an almost purely clownish way. If there’s one person able to master the hacky sack dance of tonality such material demands, it’s Waititi, who scores laughs with “Jojo Rabbit,” but also respects the sobering reality of wartime loss, doing an impressive job committing to his wild ideas without losing the feature in full. Read the rest at

Film Review - Adopt a Highway


A working actor with credits such as “The Invitation,” “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” and “Prometheus,” Logan Marshall-Green takes a short break from his on-camera duties to make his filmmaking debut with “Adopt a Highway.” Marshall-Green doesn’t overwhelm himself with screenplay ambition, manufacturing a small tale of a broken man trying to feel whole again, or possibly emote for the very first time. Modest in scale and execution, “Adopt a Highway” does have its aimless moments, but Marshall-Green is wise to bring in Ethan Hawke for the lead role, with the pleasingly aging actor handed the entire picture to work with, using his screen time to locate the inner life of the character while the production moseys from one scene to the next, slowly generating an understanding of motivation. Read the rest at

Film Review - In Fabric


In 2012, writer/director Peter Strickland created a tribute to the art of giallo in “Berberian Sound Studio,” and he returns to open fields of madness with “In Fabric,” which provides an even stranger viewing experience. Strickland is confident with style, going all-in on surreal imagery to best disturb his audience, this time assembling a chiller about a haunted dress and the lives it ruins in the most peculiar ways. “In Fabric” isn’t something to be approached casually, requiring a special level of patience with Strickland’s indulgences and curiosity with the material’s often inscrutable mysteries. It’s certainly gorgeous to look at, with lavish attention to cinematography, makeup, and costume design, and it carries its perversity well for an hour. It’s the second half of the picture that doesn’t come across as essential, weakening the spell Strickland is hoping to cast. Read the rest at

Film Review - Motherless Brooklyn


The last time Edward Norton directed a movie, Bill Clinton was president. It’s been ages since the actor stepped behind a camera, with his debut, “Keeping the Faith,” making some viewers wish he would never return to helming. He played it safe the first time around, making a romantic comedy for Disney, but now Norton is offering something with a little more meat on it, adapting the 1999 novel, “Motherless Brooklyn,” written by Jonathan Lethem. Instead of arranging mild slapstick, Norton toughens up with this detective story, paying tribute to the noir classics of old, creating a feature that’s rich with style and populated with irritable characters. The actual machine powering all the story’s intrigue isn’t completely beguiling, but the filmmaker has cinematic ideas he wants to share here, finding intermittent success with an overlong (144 minutes) saga of corruption and denial. Read the rest at

Film Review - Badland


Writer/director Justin Lee likes to work. In 2018, the helmer issued four movies, and “Badland” is his second release of 2019. Lee isn’t a refined filmmaker, trying to get by on limited budgets and locations, and he turns his attention to the western genre for his latest endeavor. Aiming to create a literary-style viewing experience, Lee gives “Badland” lots of dialogue and periodic chapter breaks, working to pull viewers in with a sense of character and scope. Lee isn’t always successful managing his creative vision for the production, which feels very small and simple at times, but periodic scenes piece together as intended, delivering a homage to classic westerns where hard men use violence to deal with problems on the open range. Read the rest at

Film Review - Inside Game


Actor Randall Batinkoff (“For Keeps,” “School Ties”) returns to the director’s chair for “Inside Game,” which explores the true story of three childhood friends who decided to take advantage of a unique situation, setting up a massive betting scheme involving the NBA. The production would probably like to be a Scorsese-lite endeavor with budgetary extravagance to work with, but Batinkoff doesn’t have much cash to spend and time to work with, offering a modest understanding of a bad situation that spirals out of control. The helmer has his cast, who keep the movie on its feet, delivering charismatic and emotional performances, but the rest of “Inside Game” feels awfully small, while immersion into the world of bookies and sports betting is a major “love it or leave it” element of the viewing experience. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Fatso


Already established as an actress with incredible range and taste in quality material, Anne Bancroft was searching for a change of pace in the late 1970s, trying to tap into her own family history and deep psychology with the screenplay for "Fatso." Instead of giving the writing away, Bancroft elected to take her position as the director of the project, making her debut behind the camera (joined by the first female cinematographer for a studio project, Brianne Murphy) with the 1980 effort. "Fatso" means well enough, with Bancroft striving to understand the root of overeating and the casual denial of obvious medical concerns, and she brings in Dom DeLuise for a proper acting challenge, gifting the notorious ham a chance to show off his dramatic side and test his romantic leading man skills. The problem here isn't professional achievements, but tone, as Bancroft spends the entire endeavor swinging from cartoon comedy to profound confrontations of self, ending up with a picture that's exhausting to watch, never achieving any of the ambitious goals its sets for itself. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - I'll Take Your Dead


There's a decent premise in "I'll Take Your Dead" that's struggling to survive during the run time. Director Chad Archibald and screenwriter Jayme Laforest work with a fine idea for a horror picture, examining the troubled life of a man (Aiden Devine) who gets rid of dead bodies for criminals, trying to build a small fortune to help buy a better life for his 12-year-old daughter (Ava Preston). However, one of the deceased (Jess Salgueiro) being prepped for dissection isn't actually dead, with her presence raising all sorts of problems for the newly alert butcher. Sadly, instead of leaning into the macabre aspects of the plot, the production tries to go warm with the concept before it slides into cliché. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Monolith Monsters


There are cinematic monsters for every star in the sky, but there comes a time for every horror fan when a break from malicious creatures is needed. 1957's "The Monolith Monsters" aims to provide a different kind of fright feature, eschewing matters of the flesh to offer sheer power from deep space. Meteor fragments are the major source of destruction in the picture, with little black shards scattered around a California desert town becoming a real issue when they get wet. In a way, "The Monolith Monsters" is a precursor to Joe Dante's "Gremlins," only instead of cuddly Mogwai turning into a reptilian menace, the film offers the strange sight of tiny rocks transforming into deadly towers, offering just the right amount of instability to threaten life on Earth. The production certainly wins points for originality. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hale County This Morning, This Evening


Taking an educator position in Alabama, filmmaker RaMell Ross elected to carry a camera during his time in the community of Hale County. The documentary "Hale County This Morning, This Evening" has little linear momentum, with Ross electing to stitch together a feeling of the town in motion, dropping in and out of the lives of various citizens, but focused on the passage of time and how it changes everything is subtle ways. The feature strives to be present in the best way possible, capturing remarkable beauty and wonder in everyday events, while identifying pressures facing people just trying to make their way through life, dealing with dreams and crushing realities. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Silent Hill


Video game adaptations aren't easy to master, forcing filmmakers to invent ways of taking a participatory experience and changing it to a passive viewing event. Many of these productions have failed, but for most gamers, 2006's "Silent Hill" stands out as the rare success story, with director Christophe Gans and screenwriter Roger Avary trying to master a specific approach that respects the exploratory origins of the original games, transferring that sense of mystery and approaching malevolence to the big screen. There's undeniable artistry to the movie, with Gans lovingly detailing this world with surreal touches and ultraviolence, trying to craft atmospheric immersion without resorting to cheap scares. However, such attention to the specifics of gaming delights results in a largely inert picture, and one that has major issues with dreadful dialogue, disappointing performances, and stabs at exposition that are not inclusive to those who haven't spent weeks of their lives in front of a television, mastering this macabre maze of blurring realities. Read the rest at

Film Review - Black and Blue


Four months ago, director Deon Taylor (“Meet the Blacks”) was in theaters with “The Intruder.” While presented with the basic idea of a stalker chiller, Taylor couldn’t bring the film to a boil, preferring to linger on needless stupidity and arrange ineffective suspense sequences. He’s back with “Black and Blue,” another stab at exploitation formula, this time crudely using rising tensions with police activity and responsibility in America to backdrop a manhunt movie. Unwilling to truly dig into law enforcement issues, Taylor and screenwriter Peter A. Dowling (“Flightplan”) go generic, arranging a pedestrian chase picture that’s always throttling momentum to spend time with moronic characters and their inability to make simple things happen. There’s no snowballing sense of fun here, as Taylor goes dour and dim, robbing the feature of any potential action highlights. Read the rest at

Film Review - Marriage Story


Writer/director Noah Baumbach has always permitted pieces of himself to inform his work, assessing stages of his life and experience with family through mostly effective dramedies, including his last endeavor, 2017’s “The Meyerowitz Stories.” With “Marriage Story,” Baumbach goes to a dark place to assess the end of a life shared by two unhappy people, taking over two hours of screentime to assess the difficulties of a specifically challenged marital union. This one plays like Baumbach is flipping through pages of his diary, delivering frighteningly intimate work that remains focused on troubling psychological spaces, with the fingerprints of personal experience found all over the effort. “Marriage Story” is richly detailed, tastefully balanced with some needed comedy, and consistently attentive to the inner lives of the lead characters, who endure all the dehumanization of the divorce process in America. And yet, through the gloom and rising anxiety, Baumbach always preserves the heart of the moment, fleshing out the struggle of legal and emotional separation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street


While there have been a few lengthy explorations of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series, “Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street” doesn’t have much interest in the screen wrath and pop culture influence of Freddy Krueger. Instead, filmmakers Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen quest to spotlight the life of Mark Patton, the star of 1985’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge,” who was set to hit the big time with his turn as Jesse, the boy tormented by the razor-fingered menace, only to find himself crucified by viewers for the gay overtones of the movie created by screenwriter David Chaskin. Patton was destroyed by the experience, erasing his desire to continue acting, but “Freddy’s Revenge” wouldn’t go away, growing in popularity and analysis as the years passed, giving the feature a second life, while Patton was singled out as the first male scream queen, complicating his relationship with a despised horror sequel he thought would rocket him to the big time. Read the rest at

Film Review - Just Mercy


2013’s “Short Term 12” was a wonderful picture and introduced audiences to the talents of writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton, who made an impressive debut, offering a gritty but humane drama, and one that also managed to boost the career of star Brie Larson. In 2017, Cretton returned with “The Glass Castle,” reuniting with Larson for a significantly less satisfying storytelling experience, with the production showing obvious strain during its mission to create an impactful literary translation. Continuing on a slide of mediocrity, Cretton issues “Just Mercy,” which aims to shine a light on the experience of the wrongly convicted, but chooses to lead with crude manipulation instead of inspecting all sides of the issue. Cretton and co-writer Andrew Lanham certainly have passion for their message, but they bury the potency of their ideas in T.V. movie-style turns of legal upsets and victories. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dolemite Is My Name


I’m not sure a single frame can contain the power of actor/comedian Rudy Ray Moore, but Eddie Murphy gives it his best shot with some of his finest work to date in “Dolemite Is My Name.” Granted, Murphy hasn’t been mentally committed to a project in a long time, but he takes the challenge of portraying Moore’s screwball focus seriously, careful to keep the subject understood while enjoying the extremes of his personality. Bio-pic vets Scott Alexander and Larry Karazewski (“Big Eyes,” “Man on the Moon,” “Ed Wood,” “The People vs. Larry Flynt”) provide appealing guide rails for the production, working through a chunk of Moore’s crazy career, and director Craig Brewer keeps the feature moving along with a lively supporting cast. But the real reason to spend time with “Dolemite Is My Name” is the chance to watch Murphy come alive on screen again, giving the part his all in the best possible way. Read the rest at

Film Review - Countdown


The PG-13 horror experience is usually a letdown, with unadventurous producers sticking to cliche and bloodless antics to engage a younger audience, opening possibilities for greater profit on low-budget entertainment. “Countdown” is certainly not going to win any awards for originality, aiming to remake “Final Destination” for the smartphone age. However, all is not lost in writer/director Justin Dec’s film (which represents his feature-length helming debut). The movie is absolutely goofy, aimed directly at viewers who can’t take the hard stuff when it comes to genre escapism, but there’s some energy to the picture that keeps it going. Dec makes a few critical errors that disrupt the mood of “Countdown,” but there’s fun to be had with the app-fearing chiller, as it plays quick enough and panicked enough to create a basic thrill ride. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Kill Team


“The Kill Team” was originally a 2013 documentary from director Dan Krauss, looking into the madness of the military in Afghanistan, singling out the story of Private Adam Winfield, who witnessed his fellow soldiers commit murder, taking down civilians, and felt powerless to stop it. After creating other documentaries, Krauss returns to the Winfield saga with “The Kill Team,” this time dramatizing the events, giving real world agony to actors for interpretation. In a marketplace overwhelmed by tales of Middle East war and agony, Krauss brings intimacy to the screen, examining the moral ungluing of boy who wanted to become a man while in service, only to face his future as a monster. While there’s little reason to revisit the story, Krauss makes his points vividly, finding an effective thriller this time around. Read the rest at