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December 2019

The Worst Films of 2019


VOD goes DOA, Harmony Korine needs a new dealer, a ham-handed theater haunting, return of the Shatnering, NASA team torment, another visit to Amityville, leave Sharon Tate alone, Tyler Perry arranges a funeral, Alec Baldwin and Salma Hayek need rehab, and a graphic novel assassin shoots himself in the foot.

These are the Worst Films of 2019.

Continue reading "The Worst Films of 2019" »

Blu-ray Review - Hell Comes to Frogtown


One might expect 1988's "Hell Comes to Frogtown" to be an irresistible mix of the violent and the bizarre. It's a ready-made cult offering that's blessed with an unmissable title, a wacky premise, and the bruised charms of its leading man, the great pro-wrestler, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper (who sadly passed away in 2015). While Piper brings his wildman attitude to the endeavor and screenwriter Randall Frakes does his part by inventing a post-apocalyptic wasteland populated with mutant frogs, director Donald G. Jackson (shadowed by R.J. Kizer) practically refuses to transform the effort into an unstoppable showcase of the absurd, struggling to overcome what appears to be a painfully underfunded production that doesn't do enough to secure a rip-roarin' pace with plenty of unusual encounters. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Decoder


Credited to director Muscha, 1984's "Decoder" is a look at the ways of West German society as it struggles with issues of surveillance and unrest, doing so by examining the behavioral control aspects of muzak. The production endeavors to become experimental cinema, working closely with abstract imagery and loose storytelling to immerse the viewer in the sights and sounds of the time and place, playing games with underground cinema techniques and interests. If Dieter from "Sprockets" had a favorite movie, it would be "Decoder," which doesn't particularly care for mainstream execution, doing whatever it can to be visually striking and thematically elusive. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Mary Magdalene


Director Garth Davis won accolades and reasonable box office for his last feature, "Lion," which detailed a young man on a special emotional and spiritual journey. Now Davis tackles unfinished business with the Bible, examining a more famous story of self-inspection, giving the saga of Jesus a special spin with "Mary Magdalene," which sets out to right the titular woman's wronged reputation, isolating her origin story, giving her a modern appreciation in line with current filmmaking trends. Davis doesn't do explosive, keeping this drama extremely mild, aiming more for poeticism and reflection than prolonged suffering, approaching familiar stories from the Bible with a more artful perspective. "Mary Magdalene" isn't a fiery collection of characters and their struggles to define faith, with Davis keeping the effort crawling along, electing to make something visually appealing and insular than traditionally dramatic. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - I Trapped the Devil


Writer/director Josh Lobo doesn't have many professional credits to his name. He's a newcomer who's taking the same path as many first-time helmers, turning to horror to figure out his big screen vision, trusting in a genre that's typically very kind to such low-budget ambition. Thankfully, there's little to forgive about "I Trapped the Devil," which is accomplished work from Lobo, who bathes the feature in mood and style to dress up traditional suspense in different ways, pulling up a handsome effort with pockets of genuine unease. Labeling the movie slow-burn is being kind, but Lobo on a mission to make his contractually obligated run time, moving through the Christmastime nightmare inch-by-inch, making sure every corner of the endeavor is tended to. "I Trapped the Devil" takes its sweet time to get where it's going, but the reward is a chance to see an obviously talented director take his first step with an eerie endeavor. Read the rest at

Film Review - Spies in Disguise


“Spies in Disguise” wants to provide a good time for family audiences, giving them a superspy story with a defined cartoon approach, merging James Bond and the animal kingdom to come up with something wacky. At least when it wants to. Directors Troy Quane and Nick Bruno have a clear vision for exaggerated antics and action set pieces with the feature, but the screenplay (by Brad Copeland and Lloyd Taylor) doesn’t have much of an imagination. Jokes aren’t sharp and satire is weak in “Spies in Disguise,” while the tonal swings are mighty in what initially appears to be a harmless romp, at least before a dead parent and the might of the American military-industrial complex arrives to shut down the limited fun factor of the picture. Read the rest at

Film Review - Clemency


In one of those unfortunate situations of marketplace timing, there are two death row prisoner stories competing for audience attention right now. “Just Mercy” is more about a softer view of judicial doom, looking at the particulars of legal battles and the weariness of hope, presented in an Oscar-ready package that makes carful moves to be as audience-friendly as possible. “Clemency” is decidedly more powerful and direct about the experience of death row, delivering a gritty, introspective take on the mentality of those preparing to die and those in charge of taking lives. Writer/director Chinonye Chukwu earns all emotion in this compelling picture, making sure to preserve the realism of such an experience and how it’s processed by all involved personalities. “Clemency” has focus and insight the competition can’t muster, creating a profound understanding of the psychological battles that carry on during the cold process of prison procedure. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Rainy Day in New York


For his latest effort as a writer/director, Woody Allen returns to a comfortable creative space with “A Rainy Day in New York.” After fumbling around with melodrama in 2017’s “Wonder Wheel” and going period for 2016’s “Café Society,” Allen revisits the carefully curated highlights of NYC for his latest comedy, which transfers his usual areas of romantic anxiety and class neuroses to a much younger generation of actors, hoping to tap into fresh energy while remaining wrapped inside his artistic wooby. There’s nothing particularly distinctive about “A Rainy Day in New York” and, overall, it’s lesser Allen, lacking any sort of believability or amusing mischief to make it special. The helmer seems to be going through the motions here, which isn’t new to Allen’s filmography, but whatever spark about the Big Apple was there before has been snuffed out here. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Endless Love


Author Scott Spencer isn't a lucky guy. Here's a writer who's had two film adaptations made from his 1979 novel, "Endless Love," and both endeavors deliberately fly over his dramatic intentions, preferring to turn a tale of dangerous obsession into cinematic bubble gum for a pre-teen audience. The 1981 version arrived first, with director Franco Zeffirelli looking for material that might return him to the box office power he found with 1968's "Romeo and Juliet," sniffing around for another tale of forbidden love and scorching passions. There's something along those lines in Spencer's book, but writer Judith Rascoe doesn't pay close attention to obvious behavioral issues present in the original text, transforming a story about the disintegration of the young man into a gauzy saga of relationship denial, with Zeffirelli electing to turn such enticing distortion into melodrama. It's hard to stay with "Endless Love," which is determined to ignore the reality of the central pairing, striving more for tragedy instead of analysis. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Scars of Dracula


For 1970's "Scars of Dracula," actor Christopher Lee tries to make a part he's played four times before interesting for himself. This Dracula isn't quite the hair-raising monster of menace as previously seen, emerging in this Hammer Films production as more of a talky antagonist, imagined as a threatening host for a weekend of horrors inside his own castle. There should be more frights to "Scars of Dracula," but there's little room in the budget for a consistent run of intimidation. Instead, there's conversation, with the movie more about padding than applying genre pressure, though Baker does manage to get some proper hits of shock into the feature. There's just not enough of that to carry the viewing experience. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Alien Predators


There are aliens. Young people. A European setting. And it was made in the 1980s. "Alien Predators" (titled "Alien Predator" on IMDB and "The Falling" on the disc) has everything going for it, created with prime ingredients for a wild genre ride that pits hapless humans against an extraterrestrial threat. And yet, the film is terrible, showing a frustrating lack of interest in creating any sort of fear factor, with writer/director Deran Sarafian unable to decide if he wants to make a goofy movie or a seriously haunting one, ending up with a mess of different tones, supported by a largely incapable cast. That "Alien Predators" chooses to do so little with its premise is almost maddening, with Sarafian clearly lost at sea, unable to decide what he wants from the production or how to steer it to scares. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hoax


I'll admit, the lure of Bigfoot as a big screen mystery is bewildering, but there are filmmakers out there who clearly appreciate the cinematic value of hunting a creature of legend. Co-writer/director Matt Allen is one of those deep woods warriors, putting his time into the creation of "Hoax," which tries to launch a John Carpenter-style adventure as a team of experts march into the wild to find Sasquatch, only to receive more than they bargained for. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Donnybrook


Writer/director Tim Sutton wants to bring the pain with "Donnybrook." With previous credits including "Memphis" and "Dark Night," Sutton is no stranger to the unpredictability of human behavior, putting some thought into the construction of his screenplay, which not only examines vicious interactions between unstable characters, but takes a good long look at the current state of America, focusing on an impoverished community of addicts and killers. There's no joy to be found in "Donnybrook," but there's not a lot of engrossing anger either. Sutton is making his western here, only everyone is a black hat and they spend the movie cycling through the same reaction to utter despair. It's a glacial feature, with the helmer mistaking length for profundity, unable to connect with his overall effort to dissect violence as it's experienced by those who can't, or won't, escape abuse. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Let My Puppets Come


I'm not entirely sure writer/director Gerard Damiano is aiming for titillation with 1976's "Let My Puppets Come," but that's a deep dive down a kink hole I'm not currently prepared to investigate. Instead of overwhelming sexuality, the X-rated feature is more of a cartoon where marionettes and hand puppets are brought in to put on a show, albeit with adult movie interests. Over the years, there have been a few stabs at raunchy entertainment featuring felt stars (including 2018's borderline unwatchable "The Happytime Murders"), and Damiano deserves credit for jumping into the wilds with this production, which resembles a vaudeville show, only instead of unleashing a steady stream of one-liners, the performers use their stage time to molest one another. Read the rest at

Film Review - Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker


In 2017, the “Star Wars” universe was in a bit of a pickle. Writer/director Rian Johnson decided to put his own stamp on the franchise with “The Last Jedi,” happily dismissing a lot of narrative work created for 2015’s “The Force Awakens.” The picture was successful in a few creative areas, but ended up grossing half of the previous effort’s box office take while weaponizing “Star Wars” fandom, with many feeling he ruined a reasonably good thing started by J.J. Abrams. In a few key ways, Johnson did torpedo promising plot and characters, forcing the next filmmaker in line to rework nearly everything to get the overall arc back on track. Well, Abrams returns to the fold with “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” and he’s ready to rebuild what Johnson torn down, putting all his faith in the power of fan service to help reignite brand name excitement. He’s mostly successful with “The Rise of Skywalker,” which is a bit of a mess (understandably), but remains as “Star Wars”-y a movie as possible, bursting with droid, aliens, lightsabers, heroes, villains, and old friends to send the Skywalker Saga off with a…well, less of a pronounced limp than expected. Read the rest at

Film Review - Cats (2019)


“Cats” isn’t a movie that needs to be reviewed. It’s made for a very specific audience, and a large one at that, as the original Andrew Lloyd Webber musical (which debuted in 1981) has been an enormous success, dominating the West End and Broadway during their incredible initial runs (grossing billions over time). People love “Cats,” and now it’s time to bring the stage to the screen, only without the comfort of leotards and makeup. Tom Hooper, who scored big with his film version of “Les Miserables,” strives to do something a little different with the musical, giving his cast an exhaustive CGI makeover, with hopes to deliver a sense of the real to material that feeds on inexplicable events. Those who understand everything about the show will probably fall in love with Hooper’s effort, which is extensive. The rest who aren’t up on their Rum Tum Tugger will likely find the picture baffling -- it’s as weird as it gets, and often remains in no particularly hurry to get anywhere of note. Read the rest at

Film Review - Little Women


Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel, “Little Women,” has inspired a great number of adaptations. In fact, there were two attempts to pay tribute to the beloved book just last year, with a modern reimagining (starring Lea Thompson) and a BBC miniseries that made its way to PBS stations. There’s been a lot of “Little Women” recently, which is perhaps why writer/director Greta Gerwig has elected to shake things up for her version of Alcott’s work, taking a machete to the narrative to experiment with thematic emphasis, doing away with a natural build of emotion to make sure the movie is hers. Gerwig collects a decent cast and supports the effort with strong tech achievements, but her take on the March siblings and their tangles with love and loss is disappointing, mangling the magic of the source material. Read the rest at

Film Review - 1917

1917 2

To help bedazzle the brown paper bag that was the last James Bond movie, 2015’s “Spectre,” director Sam Mendes constructed the illusion of a continuous take as 007 infiltrated a Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico City. The action moved up and down, weaved around buildings, and followed a few furious action beats with technical skill, creating one of the few highlights found in the picture. Taking the one-shot concept to the extreme, Mendes applies such concentration to “1917,” which follows the odyssey of two British soldiers crossing dangerous terrain in World War I. Such cinematographic showmanship doesn’t really lend itself to cruel tales of military duty, but “1917” tries to respect War is Hell realism, even when it can’t pull off such sincerity. Mendes makes a striking film, but not a consistently enthralling one, finding the production’s gimmick occasionally throttling its pace and intensity. Read the rest at