Previous month:
September 2019
Next month:
November 2019

October 2019

Film Review - Wounds


Arriving to add a little David Cronenberg homage to the Halloween season is “Wounds,” which is writer/director Babak Anvari’s follow-up to his 2016 Iranian horror film, “Under the Shadow.” Adapting a 68-page novella by Nathan Ballingrud (titled “The Visible Filth”), Anvari quests to turn something literary and indistinct into a 90-minute feature, leaning on an atmosphere of dread to fully freak out the audience. As nightmares go, “Wounds” is as thinly sliced as it comes, trying to get by on very little in the fright department, with the material encouraging more undefined highlights of terror. Moving at a slower pace with an unremarkable cast, Anvari doesn’t create many highlights with the movie, which only tends to connect when acting reverential to the “The Fly” and “Videodrome” helmer, trying body horror on for size. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Current War


“The Current War” has experienced a very real battle to find its way into theaters. Shot three years ago, the picture was originally produced by Harvey Weinstein with intent to distribute the project via The Weinstein Company. Of course, that plan didn’t come to fruition, and behind-the-scenes scuttlebutt soon surfaced detailing Weinstein’s quest to rework the movie without input from director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, resulting in an underwhelming film festival debut in 2017. Now “The Current War” is back without Weinstein, boasting a new cut from Gomez-Rejon, with hopes to make the feature more enjoyable for audiences. While I didn’t have access to the first pass at the endeavor, the second iteration of it is quite overbaked and, at times, completely airless. Perhaps the effort was never meant to be, but at least there’s pride from the helmer here, who bravely takes credit for this definitive version. Read the rest at

Film Review - Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound


“Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound” acknowledges early on that most film appreciation is often focused on visual achievements. Director Midge Costin is determined to change that perception with her first feature, presenting a survey of “the other half of the experience,” delving into the nuances of sound and the technical effort required to turn images into a compelling, possibly overwhelming, aural event. It’s this need to celebrate the unsung heroes of movie production that powers most of “Making Waves,” which presents an impressively detailed valentine to the Hollywood audio masters, and celebrates their work on classics that wouldn’t be classics without support from the sound people who work tirelessly to generate a singular sonic marriage to exceptional filmmaking. Read the rest at

Film Review - Paradise Hills


Alice Waddington makes her feature-length directorial debut with “Paradise Hills,” and it’s a stunner in many ways. She’s created a fantasy world of re-education with screenwriters Nacho Vigalondo and Brian DeLeeuw, finding a way to deal with gender submission troubles while creating a futureworld environment of hostility thinly veiled by hospitality. The production has its storytelling issues, happy to throw everything at the screen without explaining a great deal of it, but Waddington also strives for a visual experience, offering terrific design elements throughout. “Paradise Hills” has something to say about the state of oppressed females, heading into a sci-fi direction to explore a survival tale that’s loaded with screen detail and summons the eternal burn of frustration as it transforms into revolution. Read the rest at

Film Review - Kill Chain


Nicolas Cage tries to create an acting opportunity for himself with “Kill Chain,” taking the lead role and a producer credit on the production, even offering himself something a vacation, with the feature shot in Columbia. Cage’s intent with the material isn’t difficult to decode, offering writer/director Ken Sanzel a shot at shaping a noir-ish look at people who kill and the trauma they wrestle with, gifting his actors plenty of opportunity to monologue and looked pained while participating in the occasional shootout. Like many recent Cage endeavors, “Kill Chain” is fairly weak, absent a supportive budget and helming hustle from Sanzel, who isn’t all that concerned with the movie’s lack of excitement, searching for a way to protect the material’s theatrical style instead of amplifying its periodic conflicts. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Gallows Act II


2015’s “The Gallows” was one of the worst films of its release year. 2019’s “The Gallows Act II” is one of the worst films of this release year. This is not progress. However, it’s Blumhouse Productions, which receives a lot of credit for supporting features such as “Get Out,” but remain just as capable of producing no-budget garbage for teenage audiences. Four years ago, they managed to make a few bucks with summer counterprogramming in “The Gallows,” a found footage chiller that didn’t make much sense, barely felt complete, but it contained enough jump scares (and utilized an effective marketing campaign) to pull in a sizable audience. Lack of positive critical and community response be damned, Blumhouse isn’t about to leave money on the table, returning with “The Gallows Act II,” which trades “realism” for Disney Channel-style melodrama and scares. Again, this is not progress. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Laundromat


For the fourth film of his retirement, Steven Soderbergh attempts to pull off an understanding of the “Panama Papers,” a massive collection of documents leaked in 2015 that detailed just how the rich stay rich, creating a network of barely legal hustling and outright fraud to avoid the scourge of taxes and deny assorted outside interests. There’s little dramatic meat on these bones, as the scandal was more about the revelation that the famous and the powerful were happy to hide their cash from the world, but screenwriter Scott Z. Burns gives it the old college try, adapting a book (by Jake Bernstein) that tries to clarify an enormous financial and moral mess. Taking cues from Adam McKay’s “The Big Short” and “Vice,” Soderbergh strives to stay ahead of a shapeless movie, laboring to make something cheeky, but it mostly comes off flat and disorganized. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Black Friday


For their final movie together at Universal Pictures, stars Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi barely share any screen time in 1940's "Black Friday," which features the men prominently billed, while the actual lead role is handed to Stanley Ridges. It's a strange situation of expectations not being met with the picture, which promises to present something more substantial with the Karloff and Lugosi, fitting them for a gangster effort with mild macabre happenings. It's weird science yet again for the duo, but the screenplay isn't very interested in Lugosi, who struggles with a lesser role in a minor film, with Karloff supplied with more screen time to showcase his range, portraying a doctor who's managed to stuff part of a criminal's mind into his best friend's dying body. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Raven


Much like 1934's "The Black Cat," 1935's "The Raven" takes inspiration from the world of writer Edgar Allan Poe, refusing any direct adaptation to simply embrace the author's macabre imagination. However, "The Raven" goes to the next level of celebration, turning its lead character (portrayed by Bela Lugosi) into a demented fan of Poe's, building recreations of torture machines to use on unsuspecting dinner guests. It's the rare picture that actually pulls real-world creativity into its own fictional realm. Such a boost of madness is enough to keep the feature interesting when, at times, it feels like the production doesn't really care about storytelling details. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Invisible Ray


Downplaying their success with horror entertainment, Universal Pictures turns to weird science to fuel 1936's "The Invisible Ray." The movie's opening card tries to sell the story as possible futureworld reality, but the basics of the production remain with genre tastes, reteaming Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi in a tale of galaxy power and damnation. However, instead of horrible monsters unleashed on society, "The Invisible Ray" offers a glowing Karloff on the verge of detonation. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Black Cat


Although both actors made their name in the cinematic realm of monsters, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi attempt a different style of menace for 1934's "The Black Cat." Director Edgar G. Ulmer has two incredible faces to utilize for this adaptation of an Edgar Allan Poe short story ("suggested by" is the actual credit), and he gives the talent a little more room to detail distorted personalities with their distinctive styles, infusing the picture with a remarkable level of menace as the tale swings into unexpectedly bleak areas of revenge and higher power. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jay and Silent Bob Reboot


In 2001, Kevin Smith was handed 22 million dollars to say goodbye to his View Askewiverse creation, using the cash to create “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,” a cameo-laden farewell to the lovable stoners who delivered silly business in movies such as “Clerks,” “Dogma,” and “Chasing Amy.” The boys from New Jersey were handed the spotlight for their final screen appearance, with Smith serving up a tight, wacky, and celebratory feature. The retirement didn’t last long (the guys were back in business with 2006’s “Clerks II”), but Smith is in a sentimental mood again, crafting another valentine to his most popular characters with “Jay and Silent Bob Reboot.” Taking aim at remake/reboot fever in Hollywood, Smith gifts his fanbase an intentional recycling of “Strike Back,” pantsing creative laziness with his own impishness, delivering a slightly winded but entertaining offering of exaggerated madness, with the whole thing dipped in nostalgia and sentimentality for maximum response. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Aeronauts


There haven’t been many movies made about the trials of survival while working in the basket of a giant gas balloon, giving “The Aeronauts” a distinct identity in an increasingly crowded marketplace. That it’s a very engaging adventure is icing on the cake, with director Tom Harper (“Wild Rose,” “The Woman in Black: Angel of Death”) tasked with creating suspense and spectacle while dealing with the tight confines of the balloon. Based loosely on real events, “The Aeronauts” brings viewers high into the sky, exploring the mysteries of the mid-19th century atmosphere as two characters attempt to crack the secret code of meteorology, but the writing is also attentive to personal stories, creating a balance of intimacy and self-preservation as science and redemption is examined in this satisfying endeavor. Read the rest at

Film Review - Pain and Glory


Pedro Almodovar always makes personal films, showing little hesitation when it comes to exploring his fantasies, desires, regret, and hope on the big screen. He’s a sensitive director, but with “Pain and Glory,” Almodovar digs a little deeper into his fears, dealing with aging and death with his traditional compassion and gift for the movement of storytelling. There’s an enormous amount of life within “Pain and Glory,” which also represents the most lived-in feature he’s made in a long time, using the tale to work through private ideas concerning creativity and mortality. Aided by a sensational performance from frequent collaborator Antonio Banderas, Almodovar crafts another achingly beautiful effort that’s mindful of human fallibility, but also aware of cinematic possibility as it seamlessly weaves together experiences from the past and the present. Read the rest at

Film Review - Zombieland: Double Tap


Released in 2009, “Zombieland” managed to make some money with its comedic observation of a zombie apocalypse, finding co-writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick trying to maintain all the splatter the subgenre is known for while encouraging a steady display of silliness to secure audience appeal. The feature felt fresh at the time, striving to do different things with the undead while other moviemakers were determined to preserve as much horror as possible. While not revolutionary, the effort did the trick, but, weirdly, the producers failed to capitalize on the endeavor’s box office performance. A decade later, a sequel has finally come together, with “Zombieland: Double Tap” hoping to revive the recipe of gore and giggles for fans. Unfortunately, too much time has passed between installments, and Reese and Wernick don’t have much to say with their follow-up, which often plays like a series of disconnected sketches occasionally interrupted by zombie attacks. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sweetheart


“Sweetheart” is a cross between “Cast Away” and “Predator,” but made on a limited budget. It’s the second directorial effort for J.D. Dillard, who made his debut a few years ago with “Sleight,” which offered viewers an intriguing blend of sci-fi and criminal pressure, but failed to doing anything original with it, with Dillard soon leaning on cliché to connect the dots. “Sweetheart” also suffers a bit from familiarity, putting a frightened character against an unknown monster lurking in the dark, but Dillard simplifies his genre targets and deepens his mysteries with the picture, which supplies a gripping variation on the island survival subgenre. Dillard delivers on expectations when it comes time to craft a creature feature, but he’s also mindful of pace and discovery, constructing a more satisfying effort for his second at-bat. Read the rest at

Film Review - Maleficent: Mistress of Evil


Disney was in a special position many years ago. The release of 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland” went wonderfully, grossing over a billion dollars, but audience reaction was mixed. They marched ahead with a sequel, finally coming up with 2016’s “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” and the expensive feature failed spectacularly. With “Maleficent,” the situation is similar, as the studio managed to make a giant hit out of their reworking of “Sleeping Beauty” characters, delivering a CGI-heavy fantasy experience that pulled in audiences, but didn’t leave a lasting impression for many. Gambling on ticket-buyer loyalty once again, Disney offers “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” which brings back Angelina Jolie and big visuals to wow the crowds once again, this time betting on the Halloween season to stimulate box office interest. Much like “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” “Mistress of Evil” doesn’t do anything different, once again providing a numbing viewing experience that’s mostly about creating noise and limp mythos to expand on a world that wasn’t very interesting in the first place. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Night of the Creeps


For his directorial debut, Fred Dekker is determined to share his love of B-movies from the 1950s. "Night of the Creeps" is a creature feature from 1986 that tries to play modern with a cast of young characters dealing with love and bullying on a college campus, but the heart of the endeavor remains in past, as Dekker serves up a valentine to horror history with the production, doing whatever he can to celebrate his influences, which are numerous. "Night of the Creeps" is about a space slug takeover of a college campus, but Dekker only visits terror periodically, having more fun playing up the cinematic excitement of it all. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Mia and the White Lion


When encountering a movie about the relationship between lions and human, thoughts of 1981's "Roar" immediately come to mind. "Mia and the White Lion" isn't created out of chaos, with director Gilles de Maistre trying to make something similar to an old-fashioned Disney film with the effort, shooting the feature over three years to generate a natural relationship between the lead character (played by Daniah De Villiers) and Thor, a white lion who matures with his co-star. It's like "Boyhood," only with lions, and while the production's patience is fascinating, "Mia and the White Lion" isn't always dramatically sound, as de Maistre can't quite make storytelling as exciting as natural behaviors. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - We Die Young


He's battled robots, M. Bison, Dolph Lundgren (multiple times), and he almost, in the mid-90s, went head-to-head with the abominable snowman. And now Jean-Claude Van Damme is going after the MS-13 gang. It's a sobering change of pace for the action star, as "We Die Young" intends to be a grittier endeavor, with a streetwise sense of horror from writer/director Lior Geller. Van Damme isn't the traditional hero here, but a broken man barely clinging to life, inspired to stand between the street gangs that control America's capital and the young lives threatened by violence. "We Die Young" isn't going to blow minds with its offering of chases and intimidation, but Lior sustains credible peril while examining an urban fight for survival. Read the rest at