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February 2020

Blu-ray Review - Vice Academy Part 2


Writer/director Rick Sloane doesn't have to go far when dreaming up a premise for 1990's "Vice Academy Part 2," giving lead characters Holly (Ginger Lynn) and Didi (Linnea Quigley) their first assignment, following the "Police Academy" franchise formula. The ladies go up against the evil vision of Spanish Fly (Marina Benvenga), who's threatening to roofie the L.A. water supply, triggering a battle of wits and tight outfits as Sloane ups the titillation factor for this second round, which actually opens with a promise from Lynn to add some va-voom to production. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Vice Academy


The director of "Hobgoblins" wants to make his own "Police Academy," coming up with "Vice Academy," which also details the misadventures of cops- in-training, only here such antics are handed a significantly reduced budget and customary Rick Sloane stiffness. The helmer certainly tries to be wacky with the endeavor, but he's mindful of exploitation interests. If he can't win over the audience with laughs, he captures attention with tight outfits, bare skin, and assignments to bust prostitutes and infiltrate the adult film industry. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Spookies


1986's "Spookies" has an incredible production history. It began life as "Twisted Souls," with directors Brendan Faulkner and Thomas Doran setting out to put their own stamp on horror offerings of the decade, loading the picture up with gruesome monsters and lighter, sexless elements of terror. After the movie's completion, production moneyman Michael Lee wanted something different, bringing in a different helmer to create his own footage, with plans to mix the work with footage from "Twisted Souls." The end result is a bewildering endeavor, but cat nip to genre fans, as "Spookies" offers plenty of violent encounters with rubber opponents, showcasing some real low-budget artistry in the midst of a highly confused but awfully determined feature. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Savage Dawn


"Savage Dawn" is a production from 1985 that surprisingly doesn't get much attention in cult film circles. It's a biker movie mixed with heavy western influences, also granting star Lance Henriksen the rare opportunity to play a heroic role, turning him into an action star for a brief shining moment. That alone is worth a viewing, but director Simon Nuchtern ("Silent Madness," "The Rejuvenator") also packs the effort with a strong collection of supporting actors who love to chew the scenery, including George Kennedy, Richard Lynch, Karen Black, and William Forsythe. There's another reason to take a look at the picture. Also helping "Savage Dawn" is its general nuttiness, with Nuchtern delivering strange violence, broad masculinity, and a cameo by pre-fame Sam Kinison to butter up the exploitation vibe. That should immediately trigger a viewing. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Candy Snatchers


1973's "The Candy Snatchers" is never really sure what type of viewing experience it wants to provide. While most of the movie remains in an exploitation holding pattern, working up the courage to present awful experiences for most of its characters, director Guerdon Trueblood also makes time for a little comedy, treating certain scenes with "Three Stooges"-like silliness. "The Candy Snatchers" is all over the place, but that's also part of its appeal with cult audiences, as Trueblood endeavors to supply uncomfortable situations of imprisonment, child abuse, and sexual assault, but he's also stretching to make something with a little style and a defined sense of criminal behavior. It's unwieldy, but also modestly engaging, especially when Trueblood follows through on a few of his more outrageous ideas. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fantasy Island (2020)


“Fantasy Island” began life as two television movies for ABC, quickly turned into a series that ran from 1978 to 1984, taking viewers to a special place of unknown magic where vacationers could live out their deepest desires or confront unfinished business. The show was a hit, securing pop culture domination and high ratings for the producers, who eventually returned to the brand name for a 1998 revival series that was anything but successful. While the program had its dark side, dealing with the mysteries of the human heart and the dangers of psychologically unstable characters, there was a dramatic pull to the stories, creating enjoyable T.V. For 2020, co-writer/director Jeff Wadlow tries to turn “Fantasy Island” into a horror film, showing some appreciation for the knotted reality of the original material, but he largely goes his own way with the picture. The director of “Cry Wolf,” “Never Back Down,” “Kick-Ass 2,” “True Memoirs of an International Assassin,” and “Truth or Dare,” Wadlow doesn’t have an inspired resume, and it should come as no surprise that his confused take on the series is downright painful to sit through. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sonic the Hedgehog


Sonic the Hedgehog has been around for nearly 30 years, so it seems a little strange that only now is the character receiving the blockbuster film treatment. Of course, the video game staple and Sega foundation doesn’t make the easiest transition to the big screen, posing a large challenge to screenwriters Patrick Casey and Josh Miller (“Dorm Daze,” “Dorm Daze 2,” and “Transylmania”), who struggle with Sonic’s earthly woes, hunting for a real reason to marry the CGI character with a live-action world. “Sonic the Hedgehog” isn’t about hospital corners when it comes to storytelling, but the fun factor of the picture is large enough to pass, with director Jeff Fowler (making his helming debut after years in animation) keeping the title character on the go in this fast-paced adventure, while dips into comedy and action manage to satisfy, giving Sonic the cinematic introduction he deserves. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon


After taking a box office dive with 2018’s “Early Man,” Aardman Animation is back to more reliable entertainment with “A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon.” Shaun the Sheep has enjoyed a vast amount of exposure over the years, doing especially well on television, while his jump to the big screen in 2015’s “Shaun the Sheep Movie” proved the character could do very well in the cinematic realm, supplying silent comedy-style slapstick over a longer runtime while still remaining fresh and exciting. Now comes the challenge of a sequel, and the production team looks to infuse some of Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.” for “Farmageddon,” which returns to the mischief of Shaun, Farmer John, and Bitzer, but adds an alien visitation element to increase comedic potential and offer a more direct emotional range. The filmmaking labor produces a better picture, with the follow-up scoring big on laughs and heartwarming elements while remaining true to the brand’s love of silliness. Read the rest at

Film Review - VFW


In recent years, “The Expendables” and its sequels have offered the premise of older actions heroes setting out to save the world, joined by members of a younger generation who don’t possess the same seasoning to help get the job done on their own. “VFW” loses the Hollywood hero approach to deliver a more grounded take on old fogey fire, offering the sight of war veterans taking on the drug-bombed youth of today. A Fangoria production, “VFW” isn’t interested in establishing a sensitive understanding of combat shock. It’s a genre smash-em-up production, with director Joe Begos prepared to deliver an absolute bloodbath with violent battles, but also wise enough to rely on the skills of his aged cast, who are happy to showcase the meatiness of their thespian charms, enjoying a rare opportunity to make a mess of things in this wild cinematic battle royal. Read the rest at

Film Review - Downhill


“Downhill” is a remake of Ruben Ostlund’s 2014 picture, “Force Majeure,” which took a darkly comedic look at the state of a troubled marriage attacked by a life-changing challenge of trust during a seemingly idyllic ski vacation. Ostlund had his laughs, but he was more interested in the fracture facing a seemingly settled couple, exploring the bonds and stasis of marriage, and the true nature of self-preservation. “Downhill” is more direct with its offerings of funny business, even bringing in stars Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus to butter up potentially rough characters with familiar mannerisms and delivery. There was no need to rework “Force Majeure,” but you already know that. The real surprise of the do-over is how much it misses the raw anxiety of the original, with co-writers/directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash unsure what exactly they want out of the feature, veering wildly between silliness and stillness. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Assistant


As the Harvey Weinstein scandal continues to unfold through lawsuits and revelations, the situation has exposed a terrible reality about life in the entertainment business. It’s a professional descent that has the potential to provide untold wealth and power, but there’s a price paid for such submission, with “The Assistant” joining a handful of movies about the making of movies that endeavors to showcase the soul-flattening nature of the job. Writer/director Kitty Green captures the Weinstein Experience from a careful distance, avoiding direct immersion into predatory behavior to explore what it’s like on the outside, where moral choices have no place with specialized employment. “The Assistant” isn’t urgent, far from it at times, but it does generate an appreciation for the emotional toll of the titular position, especially when it’s in service of corrupt individuals and a protective industry. Read the rest at

Film Review - Olympic Dreams


In 2017, Alexi Pappas teamed with Jeremy Teicher for “Tracktown,” which utilized her natural athletic abilities and experience in track to create an authentic understanding of sporting focus and emotional pains, with Pappas making a fine first impression with a lived-in performance and co-directing credit to preserve the long distance running mood. Pappas and Teicher reteam for “Olympic Dreams,” which offers a similar appreciation for the concerns of those who devote their lives to the pursuit of a sporting goal, but dials up the romantic near-miss confusion and some feel-goods while following two characters trying to get to know each other in a short amount of time, bonding during the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Again aiming to execute a small movie with a big heart, Pappas and Teicher achieve most of their creative goals, crafting a gentle ride of new relationship excitement and heartache in the middle of a unique location for new love messiness. Read the rest at

Film Review - Come As You Are


Asta Philpot is a physically disabled man who, in 2006, decided to visit a legal brothel catering to men in wheelchairs, sharing his experience in a 2007 BBC documentary. His story was transformed into a 2011 Belgian film, which has now been remade for American audiences, with “Come As You Are” looking to provide a similar balance of comedy and drama, adding sensitivity when it comes to the topics of sexuality and the physically disabled. Director Richard Wong and screenwriter Erik Linthorst have the opportunity to go broad with the material, which invites a level of wackiness to help it compete in the crowded marketplace. Thankfully, they mostly avoid primary colors, endeavoring to remain respectful to the situation and attentive to the emotional nuances of the characters, creating a satisfying sit. Read the rest at

Film Review - Horse Girl


Co-writer/director Jeff Baena likes to make very strange movies. He’s the helmer of “Life After Beth” and “Joshy,” and made a particularly strong impression with 2017’s “The Little Hours,” a Middle Ages farce that managed to score with particularly tricky material and tone. Never one to turn down a challenge, Baena returns with “Horse Girl,” a picture that begins with quirk and comedy before getting deadly serious about the depths of mental illness. Naturally drawn to dark humor, Baena hopes to offer some type of entry point to the story, and he works well with star Allison Brie (who also scripts), giving her the space she needs to form a character living in the growing shadow of encroaching madness. It’s the second half of “Horse Girl” that loses rhythm and tension, finding the writing irritatingly light on detail when it comes time to submerge the lead character in complete insanity. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Photograph


It’s Valentine’s Day weekend, and writer/director Stella Meghie has been tasked with providing some romantic warmth for moviegoers seeking a little tenderness. The helmer of "Everything, Everything," Meghie goes very soft with “The Photograph,” a new-love viewing experience that’s buttressed by melodrama and staring contests from lead actors Issa Rae and LaKeith Stanfield. The picture pushes a fairly safe sense of PG-13 sensuality and conflict, and while the actors are game to follow Meghie’s slow dance style of filmmaking, they can’t bring the feature any sense of urgency. The jazzy mood and delayed response tends to make “The Photograph” sleepy, which does little to pull viewers in tightly with the story’s blend of relationship worry, sexual response, and generational influence. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Chuck Berry Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll


Chuck Berry is often referred to as the "Godfather of Rock 'n' Roll," enjoying a major career as singer and guitar player, with his influence reaching across the industry, with The Beatles personally citing Berry as inspiration during their early years. The Chuck Berry on display in 1987's "Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll" isn't quite as god-like as some respected musicians suggest, with director Taylor Hackford not exactly filming the legend as he prepares for his 60th birthday concert at the Fox Theater in St. Louis. The helmer is mostly chasing the subject, seemingly one step behind as the man who gave the world songs like "Nadine," "Johnny B. Goode," "Rock and Roll Music," and "Roll Over Beethoven." Berry is a complicated man, as strange as can be, and Hackford uses this bizarre energy for the concert picture, which attempts to blend sections of personal history with rehearsal time, working toward the big Fox Theater show, where Berry is joined by a list of all-stars to help him bang out the hits. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Prophecy


The intent of 1979's "Prophecy" is to generate awareness of environmental damage, with "The Omen" screenwriter David Seltzer returning to horror to help inspire an understanding of industrial pollution, using the threat of a mutated bear running wild to ease viewers into the writing's message. What director John Frankenheimer ultimately offers with "Prophecy" is a B-movie filled with lackluster special effects and a confused sense of thematic importance. It's not a messy film, more of a non-starter, with Seltzer's ideas hammered into place by Frankenheimer, who brings in a capable cast, an important subject, and gorgeous Canadian locations, only to tank the entire endeavor through editorial inertia and a climatic monster that should inspire a complex range of emotions, but only triggers unintended laughs. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Bunuel and the Labyrinth of the Turtles


"Bunuel and the Labyrinth of the Turtles" began life as a graphic novel by Fermin Solis, providing inspiration for co-writer/director Salvador Simo to bring this odd story of a filmmaker in crisis to the screen. However, instead of a live-action realization of the tale, Simo retains a certain level of artistic fluidity through animation, giving the tale, which works through heavy doses of reality and the depths of the subconscious, a chance to come alive. While it examines Luis Bunuel and his journey to make his 1933 documentary, "Land Without Bread," there's more to "Labyrinth of the Turtles," exploring the moviemaker's relationships, passions, and drive to develop as a cinematic artist. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Wild Pear Tree


The director of "Winter Sleep," Nuri Bilge Ceylan returns with another extended look at the personal problems of Turkish characters in "The Wild Pear Tree," this time exploring rising tensions and dashed dreams within a troubled family. With a 188-minute-long run time, Ceylan clears a massive amount of screen space to detail his modest dramatics, with "The Wild Pear Tree" unfolding like a novel, examining various personalities trying to make sense of limitations and especially disappointments, with Ceylan creating a compelling portrait of generational divide and relationship obligations challenged by the realities of life itself. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Man Who Killed Don Quixote


Co-writer/director Terry Gilliam has been dreaming of making "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" for 30 years, craving the chance to bring Miguel de Cervantes's novel to the big screen. Famously, in 2000, Gilliam almost managed to make such a miracle happen, with stars Jean Rochefort and Johnny Depp joining forces to give the helmer's unusual vision dramatic life. However, a disaster ensued, with schedules, location problems, and actor unreliability shutting down the shoot, crushing Gilliam's plans to make one of his weirdest movies to date (the experience was chronicled in the 2002 documentary, "Lost in La Mancha"). The project was left for dead, branded cursed, but such toxicity didn't bother Gilliam, who remained obsessed with the material, emerging in 2019 with a completed interpretation of "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote," finally freeing himself from the burden of having to prove himself. Read the rest at