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January 2020

Film Review - Gretel & Hansel


As a tale of temptation and survival, “Hansel & Gretel” has been adapted and reimagined countless times since its debut in 1812. The Brother Grimm fairy tale has been transformed into light and dark entertainment, most recently in 2013’s “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters,” which endeavored to turn the storybook siblings into action heroes. For co-writer/director Oz Perkins, the original tale is an ideal fit for his helming interests, giving him another opportunity to explore slow-burn chills, only now he’s handed a little more marketplace visibility with “Gretel & Hansel,” which delves into Grimm Brother doom, but also keeps up genre trends set by Euro-flavored endeavors such as “The Witch” and “Hereditary.” Perkins aims for cinematic creep with the progressively titled “Gretel & Hansel,” and he’s capable of constructing arresting imagery. It’s storytelling stasis that often flattens the viewing experience. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Rhythm Section


Producing James Bond movies is a full-time job. The enormity of work often keeps the series out of service for years at a time these days, with Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson tasked with keeping the franchise on track, focusing their energies on a cinematic brand name that’s been around for almost 60 years. “The Rhythm Section” is a rare side project from the duo, with their EON Productions trying to get something started with this adaptation of a 1999 Mark Burnell novel, with the author also handling screenwriting duties. There’s a heavy spy atmosphere in the story, which does some globetrotting and assesses various levels of threat, but in the hands of director Reed Morano (“Meadowland,” “I Think We’re Alone Now”), “The Rhythm Section” goes darker than 007, offering emotional suffocation and a crisis of conscience instead of blockbuster action. It’s more artful than Broccoli and Wilson usually go, and they help to create an interesting feature, but one with more than a few storytelling issues. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Private School


Scoring a surprise hit with 1981's "Private Lessons," producer R. Ben Efraim quickly set out to capitalize on the success. While he couldn't put together a sequel (that would eventually come in 1993), Efraim managed to assemble "Private School" for a 1983 release, hoping to give young audiences a suitable R-rated distraction for the summer moviegoing season. The pictures have almost nothing in common (except the appearance of "Private Lessons" star Sylvia Kristel), but they share a common interest in titillation. With the teen horndog subgenre in full swing at this time in marketplace history, Efraim aims to play into the trend, with "Private School" more of a sketch comedy film, offering a string of pranks, mistakes, and tomfoolery to fill the time between topless activity. There's nothing to the endeavor, and that contributes a great deal to its modest appeal. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Rock 'n' Roll High School


Looking to update the high school rebellion picture, director Allan Arkush tries his luck with punk rock, bringing in the Ramones for 1979's "Rock 'n' Roll High School." It's teen antics from executive producer Roger Corman, who gives Arkush and his screenwriters (Richard Whitley, Russ Dvonch, and Joseph McBride) a chance to go crazy with this semi-satire of the subgenre, with the production team packing in as many gags as possible as they send-up educational hell features. What the helmer really has here is a scrappy, lovable ode to the freedoms and curiosities of youth, while the Ramones deliver their signature sound to support the endeavor's sonic dominance. "Rock 'n' Roll High School" is a pure delight, partially because Arkush allows it to roam wherever it wants to, and his timing with the Ramones, then at their peak of their powers, couldn't have been better. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Beyond the Door III


The good news is that one doesn't have to see 1974's "Beyond the Door" to fully understand anything in 1989's "Beyond the Door III." Producer Ovidio Assonitis is merely trying to cash-in on a brand name he helped to create, using the title to attract audiences to a production that could use all the marketplace help it can find. The original endeavor was an Italian "Exorcist" rip-off that managed to make some coin (and trigger a lawsuit from Warner Brothers), while the second sequel tries to continue a theme of demonic possession, this time finding a train in Yugoslavia trapped by an evil power. It doesn't get any sillier than that, but director Jeff Kwinty ("Iced," "Lightning in a Bottle") is trying to craft something approachable with "Beyond the Door III," turning to stunt work and runaway train suspense to add some excitement to yet another offering of cult influence in an isolated corner of the world. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Fan


"The Fan" was intended to be a calmer, more character-oriented endeavor at one point during its development. However, marketplace demands contributed to a tonal overhaul of the production, with producer Robert Stigwood interested in transforming a mild piece on the dangers of stalkers into a De Palma-esque freak-out featuring graphic violence, looking to attract more attention. Perhaps this is why "The Fan" plays so unevenly, as director Ed Bianchi has difficulty managing the extremes of the effort, with one side of the material dealing with sliced skin and vulgar threats, while the other explores the creation of a Broadway musical. It's a very strange picture, and not intentionally so, but outside of occasional ugliness, the film is reasonably entertaining, helped along by a supporting cast of acting veterans and the pressure point of obsession, which is always good for a few cheap thrills. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Devil Rides Out


While Hammer Films has taken on the wrath of the Devil before, they go all-in on Satanic happenings in 1968's "The Devil Rides Out" (aka "The Devil's Bride"). Directed by Terence Fisher ("Frankenstein Created Woman," "The Hound of the Baskervilles"), the feature takes the world of black magic seriously, as the adaptation of a 1934 novel by Dennis Wheatley strives to build a world where such evil exists and remains determined to become the dominant force of the world. However, matters start small in the story, and Fisher does a fine job expanding early suspicions into all-out panic, joined by star Christopher Lee, who receives a rare shot at playing a hero of sorts, taking on darkness with a reliably focused performance in what turns out to be a surprisingly eventful picture from Hammer. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Ophelia


"Hamlet" is a 400-year-old play that's been interpreted in many ways, with some taking great liberties with the source material, working to reconsider writer William Shakespeare's original text and find ways to reach a different audience. That's the thinking behind "Ophelia," which revisits the events of "Hamlet," only here a key supporting part into turned into the lead role, with Ophelia's perspective intended to refocus concern on the female characters. It's not exactly a daring undertaking, but the screenplay by Semi Chellas is trying to do something very specific, keeping things involving by altering Shakespeare's plotting and sense of power in Elsinore Castle. "Ophelia" isn't the most dynamic feature to be made with the concept, but director Claire McCarthy isn't in this for the pace. She wants to make a beautiful picture about a misunderstood young woman, and with those goals in mind, the effort is satisfactory. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Red Joan


"Red Joan" knows exactly how to play to its target audience. This is not a procedural spy thriller or a dissection of World War II political gamesmanship. There's nothing particularly edgy about the production. Instead, screenwriter Lindsay Shapero takes a more soap opera-ish approach to the subject, turning this tale of secrets and lies into acts of heartbreaking exposure to all-consuming love. For some, such mushiness is going to be a turn-off, with director Trevor Nunn (who hasn't helmed a big screen feature since 1986's "Lady Jane") creating a softer push of melodramatics to buffer a tale of treasonous behavior and patriotic confusion. For others, "Red Joan" will be cat nip, especially for older art-house crowds who enjoy their global conflict reduced to areas of romantic indecision, blended with some mild espionage action. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Turning


There’s been no shortage of media productions looking to adapt Henry James’s “The Turn of the Screw.” The 1898 horror novella certainly has a ghost story hook to fuel a proper nightmare machine, and such ambition is revived with “The Turning,” the latest attempt to stretch something small scale into something significant. Screenwriters Carey W. and Chad Hayes (“The Conjuring”) definitely have a take with their version of James’s story, but their intent is often mangled by director Floria Sigismondi (“The Runaways”), who doesn’t have style or patience to make an effective chiller. When “The Turning” isn’t obsessed with cheap scares and underwhelming performances, it falls asleep as a mystery, dragging through haunted house formula with limited appreciation for dynamic frights. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Last Full Measure


“The Last Full Measure” is a movie that means well enough. It examines the tattered state of veteran affairs, dramatizing the experience of William Pitsenbarger, a U.S. Air Force Pararescueman, who, in 1969, sacrificed his life during the Vietnam War to save others. The screenplay by Todd Robinson (who also directs) details the situation that led to Pitsenbarger’s demise, but primarily focuses on the action, 30 years later, of the survivors of the conflict, who deal with guilt and shame, adding their voices to a plan striving to upgrade the hero’s Air Force Cross to a Medal of Honor. “The Last Full Measure” makes a valiant effort to understand the confusion of war and its lasting scars, emotional and physical, and Robinson has quite a cast of acting pros and legends to support dramatic integrity, which is most successful when handling gut-rot pain, stumbling some when it slips into tearjerker mode. Read the rest at


Film Review - The Gentlemen


It’s been a long time since Guy Ritchie has made something that’s distinctly his own. He’s spent the last decade chasing blockbusters, trying to turn himself into a mega-director the studios love to employ, only to receive a few kicks in the teeth (“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”) and one lucky break from basically a sure thing (last year’s “Aladdin” remake). Initially making a name for himself with gangster cinema, Ritchie returns to form with “The Gentlemen,” which examines criminal conduct and games of intimidation from a community of bosses, lowlifes, and outsiders. Ritchie isn’t taking a tremendous creative gamble with the movie, but it feels like a man flushing the gunk out of his system, returning to his favorite genre to find his violent English playfulness again, which he hasn’t been near since 2008’s “RocknRolla.” Read the rest at

Film Review - Color Out of Space


“Color Out of Space” represents a long overdue return to feature-length filmmaking for writer/director Richard Stanley. Working in documentaries, shorts, and enduring one famously disastrous shoot (1996’s “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” which he was fired from) over the last 28 years, Stanley hasn’t been seen in full force since 1992’s “Dust Devil,” which followed his breakthrough picture, 1990’s “Hardware.” Stanley’s unusual vision has been missed from genre endeavors, but “Color Out of Space” is a fine return to form for the helmer, who takes the challenge of an H.P. Lovecraft short story adaptation seriously, making a distinct push to craft something horrifying, reaching beyond the earthly realm to do so. While it takes some time to get up to speed, the movie is a wild ride, teeming with evil energy and grotesque visuals, sustaining Stanley’s career interest in making the audience as uncomfortable as possible. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Fall from Grace


Writer/director Tyler Perry has slowed down his theatrical career in recent years, focusing on television productions and the creation of his own studio in Atlanta. It’s been a lucrative career change, and the small screen provides a proper home for Perry’s limited dramatic imagination, welcoming his soap opera obsessions. Perry returns to feature-length filmmaking with “A Fall from Grace,” but it’s no herculean creative endeavor, with the picture shot in just five days in the bitter cold, utilizing much of Perry’s T.V. crew and experience. And you know what? It shows. Striving to become the new Roger Corman, Perry once again clings to pure absurdity with his latest offering, which begins with legal procedure and concludes like a Blumhouse production, working swiftly and steadily to give viewers the very least when it comes to a moviemaking effort. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Squeeze


Michael Keaton broke big with 1982's "Night Shift," emerging as a fresh comic talent in need of suitable material. With 1983's "Mr. Mom," Keaton found himself with a real hit (starring in the 9th highest grossing feature of the year, besting "Risky Business" and "National Lampoon's Vacation"), becoming a hot commodity in Hollywood, but he couldn't capitalize on sudden fame, losing momentum with some efforts (including "Johnny Dangerously" and "Touch and Go") that couldn't do much with his unique screen presence. Part of the problem was 1987's "The Squeeze," which endeavored to stuff Keaton's jittery rhythms into a semi-noirish caper that tries to be twisty and mysterious, but also makes room for Keaton's on- brand tomfoolery. "The Squeeze" isn't a mess, but it doesn't feel complete, putting immense pressure on its leading man to cook up some sizable laughs while working on a production that's a bit more interested in noise than performance. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Covergirl


At the height of the television show "Dynasty" and the rise of the supermodel movement in pop culture, Canada decided it wanted in on the fun. 1984's "Covergirl" merges the glamour of runway domination with slight camp, though director Jean-Claude Lord doesn't exactly turn the production into a drag show. Instead, he treats the material (scripted by co-star Charles Dennis) with as much respect as possible, presenting the fantasy of attention and extraordinary style with the reality of predatory men and personal sacrifices, working to add some grit to the broad picture. "Covergirl" isn't high drama, but it has enough industry challenges to hold attention, delivering a decent examination of the price of fantasy, especially for the women who aspire to make a name for themselves in the world of modeling. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Talking Walls


The director of "The Lords of Flatbush," Stephen Verona returns to the concerns of young men and their inherent impatience with 1987's "Talking Walls," which finds the helmer in charge of making horndog cinema, only to fight this reality every step of the way. While it's credited as an adaptation of a Mike McGrady novel (1977's "The Motel Tapes"), the picture certainly doesn't play like literary cinema, working between a comedic overview of voyeurism involving improvisational play from a collection of actors and a dull romance between the lead character and the French woman he can't seem to possess in full. I'm not sure what the production history is on "Talking Walls," but it plays like a feature that was second-guessed days into production, with Verona scrambling to make something sellable on the VHS market when his original dramatic vision was quickly exposed as pure tedium. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - An Angel at My Table


A celebrated author in her native New Zealand, Janet Frame decided she didn't want others to tell her own story, eventually issuing three autobiographies to sufficiently cover the extent of her experiences in her homeland and beyond. With the release of "To the Is-Land," "An Angel at My Table," and "The Envoy from Mirror City," Frame offered a full understanding of the horrors and personal awakenings she experienced as she became a woman, richly detailing her memories and the perceptions. For direction Jane Campion, the opportunity to dramatize these tales was irresistible. Working from a screenplay by Laura Jones, Campion creates a "trilogy" with "An Angel at My Table," which was originally created as a television mini- series, soon reworked into a chapter-based feature film, bringing the scope of Frame's life to the screen with the lengthy run time it deserves. Protective of the subject's work, Campion shows extreme care for Frame's journey, providing remarkable casting and locations for the story, while Jones has the decidedly more pressurized job of condensing such extraordinary turns of fate into a cohesive endeavor. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Framing John DeLorean


"Framing John DeLorean" emphasizes early on that Hollywood has spent decades trying to figure out a way to bring the titular icon's story to the screen. And yet, with all these competing projects and various completed screenplays, nothing has come of it. Directors Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce ("Batman & Bill") step up to the plate with "Framing John DeLorean," but the duo isn't interested in a straightforward bio-pic of the automobile designer, electing to mix things up a bit by turning the production into a semi-documentary, blending informational stretches with dramatic recreations and behind-the-scenes activity during the shoot. It's a bizarre cocktail of perspectives and realities, but not an unappealing endeavor, with the helmers using such unconventional storytelling to showcase an unconventional man, finding a fresh way to chart the rise and fall of John DeLorean. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Beyond Evil


Hoping to participate in the supernatural horror craze of the late 1970s, co-writer/director Herb Freed delivers 1980's "Beyond Evil," which takes soul- possession horrors to the Philippines. However, such a location is the only exotic element of the production, which offers a fairly routine chiller about an evil spirit infiltrating a fresh body. Freed tries to fill the endeavor with some new age magic, but scares are limited here, as Freed often goes the pedestrian route when exploring a household haunting. Thankfully, there's a cast assembled here that works very hard to inject some life into the endeavor, but blandness tends to win out in the end, even with the presence of some slightly goofy B-movie violence. Read the rest at