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December 2019

Film Review - A Hidden Life


There was once a lengthy period of time when writer/director Terrence Malick didn’t make any films. Now he’s issued his sixth release in the last decade. There’s a clear creative purge going on with the notoriously press-shy helmer, who’s been trying to lead with his efforts, not his explanations, resulting in a wildly uneven collection of semi-experimental endeavors that all share the same drive to merge dramatic poeticism with striking visual achievements. “A Hidden Life” has no surprises, closely adhering to the Malick way of cinema, wandering through turmoil and thought over an extended run time (this one clocks in at 174 minutes). What’s slightly different here is the use of a surprisingly clear narrative, with Malick settling into storytelling as he wrestles with wartime history and supports the needs of a true life tale of integrity challenged by God, evil, and family. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - V: The Original Mini-Series


36 years ago, there were three network television channels. When one of them wanted to command the viewing audience, it required something major to capture national attention. Many mini-series attempted epic storytelling, scoring with high drama over multiple nights. 1983's "V: The Original Mini-Series" offered such an invitation, but added a cherry on top: the lure of sci-fi extravaganza on the small screen. This wasn't simply appointment television, it as a country-wide event, with most televisions tuned into the NBC broadcast for two consecutive nights, devouring the tale of an alien visitation that slowly turns into an invasion. Writer/director Kenneth Johnson takes the entertainment challenge seriously, striving to transform "V" into a major show of force, with unusually sophisticated special effects for the medium and a screenplay that turned into history's battles with hostile takeovers and fascism into an action-oriented ride of spaceships, lizard people, and warfare across Los Angeles. Johnson isn't sculpting with precision here, but his vision for a T.V. blockbuster in the "Star Wars" age is incredibly entertaining and, at times, thought-provoking. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Forbidden World


Refusing to give up on his dream of recreating the success of "Alien," producer Roger Corman makes a second attempt at replication with 1982's "Forbidden World." Having already created a knock-off with 1981's "Galaxy of Terror," Corman actually recycles a few of the film's sets for the follow- up production, once again exploring the horror of futureworld space tourism and weird science, only here the budget has been severely trimmed, containing the action to a few rooms inside a genetic research station. Limitations are noticeable, but that doesn't stop director Allan Holzman, who tries with all his might to make something exciting within B-movie boundaries, keeping monster grossness plentiful and exploitation needs satisfied for the most part, but such goodness is stuffed into a somewhat dull endeavor that's missing necessary surges of suspense. It's certainly sci-fi, but thrills are lacking here, despite the presence of goopy gore. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Galaxy of Terror


When Roger Corman wants to cash-in on a trend, little stands in his way. For 1981, the veteran producer desired his own "Alien" clone, bringing in co-writer/director Bruce D. Clark to create a similar study of horror in space, tracking the exploits of those unlucky enough to come face-to-face with their own fears while stuck on an unknown planet. Clark doesn't completely replicate the "Alien" experience, finding it hard to do Ridley Scott on a Corman budget. Instead, "Galaxy of Terror" is a more traditional genre offering of multiple deaths and monstrous encounters, though the material tries to work in some head games and plot turns to keep viewers interested. The feature is a bit repetitive, but for cash-in entertainment, "Galaxy of Terror" actually looks good when it wants to, finding the crew (which includes production designer James Cameron) working especially hard to sell this visually textured descent into terror. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Harder They Come


1972's "The Harder They Come" was a shot of authenticity from Jamaica, which was, at the time, beginning to establish itself, developing its culture and sound. Director Perry Henzell decided to share that magic with the world, creating a feature that celebrated movie storytelling yet remained verite in style, using a rough sense of filmmaking to pull viewers into island life, following the exploits of a character (portrayed by Jimmy Cliff) who experiences poverty, finds his voice in music, and ends up an outlaw. Henzell can't escape the low-budget stiffness of the production, but there's undeniable energy on display, with the picture soaking in the juices of reggae and smoked into a stupor, all the while providing a grand tour of life in Jamaica, with Henzell creating an enthralling travelogue. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Haunting of Sharon Tate


Six months ago, writer/director Daniel Farrands revisited the true crime tale of Ronald DeFeo Jr., hoping to squeeze a little more misery out of "The Amityville Horror" franchise with "The Amityville Murders." It was a dud, but a strange one, turning to the supernatural as a way to explain mental illness and moral dissolve, with Farrands attempting to make a ghost story in a way, with hopes to approach well-worn material from a different, fictional perspective. Feeling good about his creative choices, Farrands does the same thing for the Tate Murders, reimagining a mass murder as some type of elongated descent into nightmares and premonitions, depicting Sharon Tate as somewhat aware of her horrible fate. Distasteful doesn't even begin to describe "The Haunting of Sharon Tate," with Farrands going the B-movie route with a delicate situation of death, toying with the details of the case to manufacture yet another crime tale situated deep in the cartoony unknown. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Poison Rose


"The Poison Rose" is meant to be throwback entertainment, restoring an interest in noir entanglements that haven't been a staple of big screen entertainment in quite some time. The production isn't shy about its fondness for the genre, with the lead character living above a movie theater showing "The Maltese Falcon," while a cat is named Raymond and a character is branded Chandler. I'm sure there are more references to be found, and perhaps finding these touches is more entertaining than the actual film. Loaded with characters and motivations, "The Poison Rose" is a buffet of dangerous activity from untrustworthy characters, but director George Gallo doesn't show much enthusiasm for the construction of suspense, keeping the feature fatigued and overly expository, turning the central mystery into homework, unable to create a delicious cinematic stranglehold. The production wants the audience to know it understands the basics of classic noir, but it shows limited interest in becoming one. Read the rest at

Film Review - 6 Underground


One should probably never expect much from a Michael Bay movie. He’s made a fortune with his action epics, recycling stunts and explosions while changing the players, recently collecting bags of money for his “Transformers” productions, while mere piles of money for his foray into “serious” filmmaking, “13 Hours.” Bay has his formula, and nobody’s asking him to change his ways, least of all Netflix, who’ve brought the director to their streaming empire with “6 Underground,” hoping the repetitiveness of it all will translate to a large viewership. Bay doesn’t change anything for his latest endeavor, which is either a warning or a validation for fans of the helmer, who delivers another massive boom-a-thon, offering no surprises or thrills as he paints by numbers to deliver product, not cinema, finally reaching the self-parody phase of his career. Read the rest at

Film Review - Richard Jewell


While in possession of an unwieldly filmography, there was once a time when Clint Eastwood could be counted on to deliver compelling character studies with some degree of dramatic grit. He’s even made a few masterpieces along the way. However, the Eastwood of today doesn’t care much for nuanced understandings of behavior, now perfectly content to film community theater productions in the least amount of time possible. After last year’s head-slappingly clumsy “The Mule,” Eastwood returns with “Richard Jewell,” which offers a shockingly simplistic take on the 1996 Centennial Park Bombing, with the helmer (joined by screenwriter Billy Ray) peeling away any realistic complications as he turns the saga of Richard Jewell into his latest cartoon. Read the rest at

Film Review - Uncut Gems


In 2017, Josh and Benny Safdie unleashed “Good Time,” focusing all their cinematic powers to create a winding ode to brotherly protection, created with distinct visual and aural intensity, along with outstanding performances. The siblings return with “Uncut Gems,” and they go even deeper into the abyss of personal delusion and addiction, only this time they’re bringing Adam Sandler along for the ride, and he’s never had a role quite like this. Ferocious, hypnotic, and blissfully deranged, “Uncut Gems” is a singular viewing experience brought to life by the Safdies and their talented crew, offering 100% glorious chaos for 130 minutes as the story follows one trouble man’s desire for redemption he hasn’t earned. The illness of this endeavor is outstanding, and while the viewing experience is often akin to being buried alive, there’s not a moment in “Uncut Gems” that isn’t completely intoxicating. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jumanji: The Next Level


2017’s “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” wasn’t a towering achievement in fantasy filmmaking, but as a long overdue sequel to 1995’s “Jumanji,” it did the trick, finding a way to connect to the previous movie while establishing its own universe, transforming board game threats into video game mayhem. The picture delighted audiences in a major way, becoming a massive hit over the holiday season, and now the gang is back two years later with “Jumanji: The Next Level,” which is being sold as the next chapter in the franchise saga, but it’s more of a remake of “Welcome to the Jungle,” adding a few new characters to the mix to revive introductory confusion to the gaming realm, forgoing a thrilling new odyssey for the players from the last endeavor. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bombshell


Director Jay Roach has a history with politically minded moviemaking, enjoying the sometimes stranger-than-fiction details of American power plays, studied in such pictures as “Recount” (exploring the 2000 presidential election), “Game Change” (detailing the 2008 presidential election), and now “Bombshell,” which samples national illness during the 2016 presidential election. Roach certainly has a fetish for exposing the inner lives of leaders, and while his latest isn’t a Donald Trump expose, it tackles his biggest supporters, exploring the reign of Fox News founder Roger Ailes and his extended history of sexual harassment. Screenwriter Charles Randolph has an incredible story to tell, endeavoring to present it from a female point of view, gathering all the Fox News stars and sycophants to populate an engrossing tale of abuse, paranoia, and battered professionalism, examining how a cable network was challenged from within during a critical moment in the country’s history. Read the rest at

Film Review - Rabid


While director David Cronenberg mastered his own remake with 1986’s “The Fly,” it’s difficult to imagine anyone having the bravery to rework one of his pictures. Jen and Sylvia Soska step up to the challenge of reinterpretation with “Rabid,” which is an update of a 1977 Cronenberg hit, and a particularly gruesome one at that. The Soska Sisters are no strangers to the gore zone, and while they can’t possibly outgun Cronenberg, they remain respectful of his strangeness, doing very well with the ghoulish oddity of the material, finding some fresh ideas with old ideas. “Rabid” delivers the violent goods with enthusiasm, with the Soskas once again commanding an engaging, grotesque genre offering, continuing their impressive run of B-movie delights. Read the rest at

Film Review - Trauma Center


Run times are climbing steadily in today’s marketplace, with productions seemingly locked in battle to inflate theater sits just to be considered substantial, possibly justifying ticket prices while overloading storytelling requirements. And then there’s “Trauma Center,” which is 81-minutes long and isn’t about anything of note. Such a picture begs the question: would you rather sit through an extended movie that’s trying too hard or a slight endeavor that has nothing to share? “Trauma Center” has brevity, which is appealing, but writer Paul Da Silva and director Matt Eskandari don’t have much else for their contained thriller, which could easily transform into a taut cat-and-mouse game set inside of a hospital, but the filmmakers don’t share that ambition, taking things slowly to no particular destination, allowing cliché to support the whole feature. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Strays


1991's "Strays" was produced for the USA Network, with the channel hoping to provide some frights for the Christmas season, turning to the realm of feral cats and their special ways with torment to find necessary suspense. Cats are a common foe for animal attack features, offering a natural menace, especially when imagined as undomesticated villains only out to mark their territory and slaughter trespassers. The screenplay by Shaun Cassidy (the famous pop star from the 1970s makes his writing debut here) makes a game attempt to come up with something familiar yet sinister with the material, playing around with horror cliches as he concocts a rural battle between a pack of felines and an understandably overwhelmed family new to the area, unfamiliar with boundaries. "Strays" is mild when it comes to powerhouse frights, unable to reach beyond the confines of basic cable television and really go for broke when dealing with furry attackers, but Cassidy is working to make something spooky with the material, successfully dreaming up situations that either result in extended showdowns or painful death. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Moon in Scorpio


Director Gary Graver has gone on record saying that 1987's "Moon in Scorpio" is a compromised film. It was meant to be a low-budget chiller attempting to tie into Vietnam Veteran affairs, only to come up against a producer who wanted a slasher movie to help sell the effort to the home video market. Graver lost the battle, and "Moon in Scorpio" certainly plays like a compromised feature, making little sense while it attempts to survey murderous events and the reverberating horrors of post-war PTSD. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Youngblood


Screenwriter Paul Carter Harrison has something to say with 1978's "Youngblood," exploring the tale of a teenager in South Central, Los Angeles struggling to find his place in the pecking order of his neighborhood, exposing himself to troubling influences. It's not an especially fresh tale of poisoned maturation, but Harrison is trying to give the material a distinct sense of humanity as he works in more traditional elements of crime and family. "Youngblood" is certainly aiming to be exciting, but it's much more satisfying as a study of a troubled mind coming to realize the enormity of the world around him. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Assassinaut


The director of "The Taint," Drew Bolduc returns with a less provocative tale of interplanetary conflict. "Assassinaut" is a futuristic story of four children sent to a space station for diplomatic reasons, only to find themselves stranded on an alien planet, on the hunt for the President. It's a mix of "Ender's Game" and "Escape from New York," only realized with very little budgetary might, forcing Bolduc to go low-tech as much as possible. Fans of practical effects and kid-centric adventures might get the most out of "Assassinaut," which periodically highlights bloody events and monstrous encounters to maintain interest, staying true to B-movie aspirations. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Mummy's Revenge


A beloved horror icon, Paul Naschy's work ethic brought him to all corners of the genre. In 1975, Naschy elected to make "The Mummy's Revenge" with director Carlos Aured, not only taking a screenplay credit, but playing dual roles as well, including the monstrous Amenhotep, an Egyptian ghoul reawakened after centuries of rot, on the prowl for human blood. Naschy covers all the bases with "The Mummy's Revenge," striving to recreate some Hammer Film magic with his own vision of unholy resurrection. Unfortunately, the production doesn't focus exclusively on a case of the creeps, insisting banal exposition and absolute stillness take command of the viewing experience, which significantly dulls any potential scariness. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Crypto


Screenwriters Carlyle Eubank and David Frigerio apparently loved Oliver Stone's "Wall Street" and wanted to update the 1987 picture for today's audiences. "Crypto" doesn't have the sinister feel of Stone's endeavor, but it basically follows the same arc of moral and financial corruption, offering viewers a new playground of cryptocurrency and encrypted dealings featuring global criminal syndicates. The writing provides a deep dive into terminology and restless participants trying to make a fortune with digital loot, and "Crypto" isn't half-bad when focus turns to online detective work. Even some mild family dramatics are understood, but the material faces an uphill battle when transitioning from a cyber-thriller to a violent one, forcing director John Stalberg Jr. into helming stress positions that shut down the movie entirely. Read the rest at