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February 2020

Blu-ray Review - Killers Anonymous


There's a lesson to be learned from "Killers Anonymous." Its marketing boasts the participation of Gary Oldman and Jessica Alba, pushing the stars up front to secure some attention that wouldn't be otherwise afforded to the low-budget endeavor. Predictably, Alba's barely in the effort, while nearly all of Oldman's screentime finds the Oscar-winner in a seated position, looking through binoculars. It's a common deception, especially with B-movies, which need something to lure innocent viewers in, especially fans of the actors hoping to keep up with filmographies. It would be grand if there was something more to "Killers Anonymous" that's worth paying attention to, but director Martin Owen doesn't have a prize for those willing to sit through the picture. He loads up on colored lighting and scattered violence, but the feature is actually a series of audition pieces, not a cohesive thriller, and it's an absolute chore to sit through. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Harvesters


While it deals with feelings of isolation and disillusionment, "The Harvesters" is immediately striking due to its setting, bringing viewers to the world of Afrikaner farmers in South Africa, where cultural pressure and changing times are making it difficult for families in a troubled part of the world. Writer/director Etienne Kallos isn't making a political picture, but he doesn't exactly ignore the cultural strain, which helps the film to tighten its grip as it explores the difficulties facing a young man caught in a troubling position of guardianship while working through his own issues. "The Harvesters" is an unsettling feature at times, but also intensely atmospheric, as Kallos often shows more interest in the cinematic qualities of his endeavor than he does characterization, which grows choppier as the movie unfolds. Read the rest at

Film Review - Cleanin' Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters


Certainly the topic of “Ghostbusters” and its unusual production history has been covered quite a bit through featurettes, magazine articles, and books, which have all delved into the minutiae of the creative labor required to manufacture one of the biggest film releases of 1984, and one of the most beloved movies of all time. Directors Anthony and Claire Bueno appear to recognize such an informational challenge, making very careful moves to help their documentary, “Cleanin’ Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters,” become something special for fans who’ve been handed almost everything over the last 36 years. Being a homegrown project for the duo, who’ve been carefully crafting the picture for the last 12 years, there are certain limitations in play when it comes to the full breadth of access to the world of “Ghostbusters,” but what’s here is often stunning, collecting interviews, evidence, and anecdotes to best celebrate the feature’s genesis. While there’s plenty here that’s familiar, there’s even more from the Buenos that reignites passion for “Ghostbusters” and the extraordinary effort to bring the picture to life. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ordinary Love


Directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn don’t take it easy on their audience with “Ordinary Love.” It’s a tough sit, charting the progression of a breast cancer diagnosis shared between a loving couple who’ve already been through enough hell during their life together, newly attacked by a discovery that pulls them through the gears of the medical industry and the pushes the limits of their emotional health. With such a subject matter, D’Sa and Leyburn have a distinct creative challenge, tasked with making the odyssey compelling despite the inherent discomfort of it all. Mercifully, “Ordinary Love” is a thoughtful study of a relationship tested and reinforced, with screenwriter Owen McCafferty making sure to communicate the little moments of feeling without burying the whole thing in melodrama. It’s heartbreaking, but never calculating, paying close attention to character as it paints a larger portrait of health care and partnership. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Invisible Man


Universal Pictures spent a lot of time and money trying to revisit their horror history, hoping to trigger a new wave of creature features with expensive productions such as “Dracula Untold” and, most recently, 2017’s “The Mummy.” Unable to make something significant happen at the box office, the studio now turns to Blumhouse Productions to produce a hit, leaning on their frugal nature and fright film formula to resurrect “The Invisible Man” for contemporary audiences. Made for roughly half of Tom Cruise’s salary for “The Mummy,” “The Invisible Man” isn’t big on visual effects or flashy set pieces. It’s a Blumhouse endeavor, and they really only do long walks in dark hallways and the occasional bit of unsavory business. And that’s what they provide with the new release, which goes the minimalist route, with writer/director Leigh Whannell keeping to mild psychological freak-outs as he aims to rework the titular menace for 2020. Read the rest at

Film Review - Disappearance at Clifton Hill


“Disappearance at Clifton Hill” supplies a lot of strange atmospheres for what’s trying to be a murder mystery. Co-writer/director Albert Shin appears to be inspired by “Twin Peaks,” aiming for border oddity with a collection of idiosyncratic characters and their unusual jobs. The production also takes inspiration from the world of true crime podcasts, embracing the slow showcase of twists and turns as a seemingly simple act of violence becomes a hundred different motivations and backstories. At the very least, “Disappearance at Clifton Hill” strives to be something, with Shin constructing a winding journey into a specialized situation of guilt, aiming to deliver a particular detective story that’s not entirely compelling, but has moments of inspiration, especially in casting and while setting a broadcast mood of sleuthing. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Jesus Rolls


While many fans of 1998’s “The Big Lebowski” want a sequel to the cult hit, they’re going to have to settle for “The Jesus Rolls,” which represents star John Turturro’s attempt to do something with his character from the Coen Brothers’ picture, revisiting the bowling ball-licking, convicted pedophile for a spin-off. The Coens don’t have anything to do with the new production, and there’s a good reason for that, with Turturro trading the Brothers’ clockwork filmmaking skills for an episodic, wandering endeavor that’s actually a remake of “Going Places,” a 1974 Bertrand Blier movie. Turturro is clearly having a blast with this chance to roll around in Euro cinema mood, chasing any and all whims, but his enthusiasm doesn’t translate into a fascinating feature. Instead of inspired whimsy, “The Jesus Rolls” is a mostly leaden affair that’s distanced from “The Big Lebowski” in style, humor, and personality. It’s indulgent work, intentionally so, and never as entertaining as Turturro believes. Read the rest at

Film Review - Seberg


A fine movie could be made out of the life and times of actress Jean Seberg, but “Seberg” isn’t it. Writers Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse have eschewed the promise of a bio-pic to focus on the 1960s, where the subject was tormented by the U.S. Government after going public with her support of the Black Panthers and associated black charities, showing pride in racial harmony during a time of country divide. It’s a potent decade for Seberg, and while the film grasps the growing paranoia surrounding the public figure’s movements, it also endeavors to explore the emotional weariness that gradually takes down an F.B.I. agent assigned to shadow her every move. “Seberg” eventually ceases to be about Seberg, adding a thick layer of confusion when it comes to decoding the ultimate purpose of the feature, which tries to sympathize with the predator and the prey without providing much depth into either character’s inner life. Read the rest at

Film Review - Emma (2020)


It’s debatable if the world actually needs another adaptation of the Jane Austen novel, “Emma,” as the 1815 book has been revisited on stage and screen numerous times, while reworks are just as common, perhaps most famously found in 1995’s “Clueless.” The ‘90s were a big decade for the source material, with 1996 providing two versions alone, including a box office hit starring Gwyneth Paltrow, which secured a sort of “Austenaissance” during the decade, encouraging producers to revisit her bibliography with hopes to meet audience demand. And now director Autumn de Wilde (a music video maestro who’s done fine work with Jenny Lewis) and screenwriter Eleanor Catton (making her debut) feel the need to return to this world of social positioning, rumor, and romantic near-misses. They offer “Emma” (stylized as “Emma.”), which endeavors to revive all the costume drama luxury and aching hearts for fans of the original work, while presenting the whole thing with extreme attention to technical credits. There’s a reason for that as well, as the new take on old material isn’t fresh, offering sameness all around, with visual extremes easily to most interesting element of the production. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Amityville Dollhouse


1996's "Amityville Dollhouse" isn't interested in coloring outside the lines when it comes to brand name horror. The eight installment of the "Amityville Horror" series, "Dollhouse" returns with a new cursed object and a fresh batch of family members to pick off. After the muted ways of the last picture, "Amityville: A New Generation," the next adventure tries to be a more active nightmare for fans of franchise, serving up wicked possession, dangerous desires, and a demonic showdown to restore some of the madness that was lost in the last round. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Amityville: A New Generation


For the seventh entry in the "Amityville Horror" saga, the producers are forced to best previous selections for the central cursed object, trying to top a lamp and a clock with a mirror for 1993's "Amityville: A New Generation." The ways of a reflective nightmare are presented a little slower this time around, as director John Murlowski isn't interested in creating a pulse-pounding descent into madness. He goes for a pokier viewing experience, trying to milk suspense out of mirror-based madness while screenwriters Christopher DeFaria and Antonio Toro make moves to connect the material to "Amityville Horror" origins, restoring some of the family shooting panic that's been lost to supernatural threats. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Amityville 1992: It's About Time


For the sixth descent into "Amityville Horror" happenings, "Amityville 1992: It's About Time" picks up where 1989's "The Evil Escapes" left off, once again returning to a John G. Jones book to explore the power of a cursed object as it's placed inside a seemingly normal household. This time, it's a clock, and the screenplay strives to play with time and personal issues as it cooks up another round of "Amityville Horror" hauntings, which, for this round, are guided by director Tony Randel, who knows a thing or two about nutso scares after his work on "Hellbound: Hellraiser II." Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Amityville Horror: The Evil Escapes


After dealing with dwindling theatrical revenues, the saga of "The Amityville Horror" turns to television for "Amityville Horror: The Evil Escapes." The 1989 production doesn't have the gory potential of its cinematic predecessors, but writer/director Sandor Stern (who scripted the original 1979 film) supplies an acceptable ride of evil events, electing to transform a haunted house experience into a murderous lamp event, which is as silly as it sounds. Wackiness aside, "The Evil Escapes" is interested in creating some excitement for fans of the franchise, doing relatively well with small-scale frights. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Call of the Wild (2020)


There have been several screen adaptations of the 1903 Jack London novel, “The Call of the Wild,” dating back to a silent film released in 1923. Even Charlie Brown and Snoopy had their way with the source material in 1978. For the 2020 version of the story, director Chris Sanders remains in a cartoon realm of sorts, merging heavy amounts of CGI with human actors to explore the animal instinct of London’s celebrated book. The director of “How to Train Your Dragon” and “The Croods,” Sanders knows his way around CG animation, and he’s quite good with adventure as well, giving his take on “The Call of the Wild” an enjoyable feel of naturalistic glorification and Alaskan peril, finding a fresh way to communicate London’s appreciation of instinct and survival. Read the rest at

Film Review - Brahms: The Boy II


2016’s “The Boy” wasn’t a major hit, but the low-budget feature enticed enough people into multiplexes to turn a profit, giving producers the idea to return to the brand name. They took their time, but “Brahms: The Boy II” is finally ready for exhibition, and the idea seems to be a gentle reworking of the central concept to feed future sequels and spin-offs, giving the material a “Conjuring”-style marketplace trajectory. Director William Brent Bell and screenwriter Stacey Menear return to duty, and why wouldn’t they? The teat-pulling vibe is in full effect during “Boy II,” which trades corporeal terror for a supernatural hoedown in the English countryside, laboring to revive the basic terror beats of the original effort while inventing dark magic to keep things interesting. Of course, nothing in the picture is interesting, but that doesn’t stop the filmmakers, who serve up jump scares and loose mythology while presenting a more mean-spirited take on violence, which is almost exclusively focused on children and animals. Read the rest at

Film Review - Top End Wedding


Actress Miranda Tapsell enjoyed a breakthrough role in “The Sapphires,” a 2012 musical comedy that didn’t stick its landing, but it managed to make Tapsell memorable. The Australian native returns to screen power with “Top End Wedding,” which also marks her screenwriting debut, gifting herself the lead role in a slightly zany but mostly heartfelt appreciation for married life and cultural reflection. There have been many Aussie wedding comedies, and while Tapsell and co-writer Joshua Tyler don’t score with huge laughs, they create a consistently engaging viewing experience that embraces formula, and also remains mindful of character, trying to dig into unusual personalities as they craft what’s more of an Australian adventure than a celebratory romp with oddball types and mishaps. Read the rest at

Film Review - Standing Up, Falling Down


Screenwriter Peter Hoare isn’t trying to move the world with “Standing Up, Falling Down.” Instead, he offers a small-scale relationship drama about an unlikely friendship developing between two aimless men struggling with private issues, bonding over a shared sense of humor. The material has very little wow factor, but it’s sincere, and that’s most important with a picture like this, which tends to do its best when aiming to be meaningful instead of volcanically dramatic. “Standing Up, Falling Down” has its humor, and it’s very funny at times, but director Matt Ratner (making his debut) is more attentive to chemistry, letting his actors interpret Hoare’s vision for camaraderie and personal inventory, resulting in a mild but effective dramedy. Read the rest at

Film Review - Buffaloed


Zoey Deutch deserves a lot of credit for trying to do something with her acting career in recent years. She’s worked in teen cinema and romantic comedies, but with last year’s “Zombieland: Double Tap,” Deutch went full-tilt silly, exposing impressive timing and a sense of adventure when it came time to bring weirdness to a somewhat stale feature. She’s back in “Buffaloed,” which supplies her with a true acting challenge, tasked with portraying an absolutely manic human being while also being attentive to the quirks of Brian Sacca’s screenplay, which plays around in the sobering world of debt collection. “Buffaloed” is amusing, and director Tanya Wexler gives it an appealing velocity, rarely slowing down with skin-crawling displays of predatory criminal behavior. And she has Deutch, who gives the part her all, submitting her finest performance to date, keeping characterization compelling and mischief spinning at top speed. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Night Clerk


Michael Cristofer hasn’t directed a film for nearly twenty years. He was briefly active with a success in the cable movie “Gia,” but stumbled when trying to move to the big screen, guiding messy efforts such as “Body Shots” and “Original Sin,” unable to deliver the hits required to keep his career going. With “The Night Clerk,” Cristofer returns to duty, and he remains in line with previous cinematic interests, once again mounting a mystery of sorts with this hidden camera version of “Rear Window.” However, instead of summoning Hitchcockian thunder, Cristofer creates a tepid ride of temptation and obsession, striving to add a little real-world unsteadiness to the screenplay’s formula. “The Night Clerk” isn’t a creative wipeout, but there’s always a feeling it could be better, often skipping chances to tighten its grip on the audience to deal with feeble character business. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Vice Academy Part 3


Inching away from the relatively gritty ways of 1989's "Vice Academy," 1993's "Vice Academy Part 3" is basically a Troma Entertainment production, with writer/director Rick Slone preferring more of a schlock approach to his ongoing police series. While broad villainy hasn't been an issue before, Sloane constructs his own ode to comic book cinema with this second sequel, pitting the Joker-style Malathion (a woman sprayed with poisonous chemicals) against Holly (Ginger Lynn) and new addition, Candy (Elizabeth Kaitan). Of course, this is a Sloane production, which doesn't allow for superhero expanse, but he's trying to amuse himself with extremes in antagonism, going cartoon to best support a return trip to this franchise. Read the rest at