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March 2020

Blu-ray Review - Brewster's Millions (1985)


While not known for his interest in comedies, director Walter Hill aims for a little more marketplace visibility with 1985's "Brewster's Millions." Many have been here before, as the original 1903 novel by George Barr McCutcheon has been turned into various plays and movies, with many drawn to the premise of a month-long secretive spending spree, offering a direct level of wish fulfillment and dramatic panic. For his take on the source material, Hill brings in Richard Pryor, and while the actor was in the midst of his take-all-jobs career craze during the 1980s, he makes for an appealing Montgomery Brewster, delivering one of his most assured performances as the titular man-with-millions, offered ideal support from John Candy, who provides his own nervous energy to keep the picture buzzing along. "Brewster's Millions" isn't broad or manic, as Hill finds a way to capture monetary excitement without slipping into excess, creating an entertaining endeavor that delivers pure charm, not necessarily huge laughs. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Stand Alone


Movie productions in the 1980s were filled with crazy ideas. Someone, somewhere saw sixtysomething Charles Bronson taking on bad guys and thought, "Maybe we can get Charles Durning to do the same thing!" 1985's "Stand Alone" doesn't replicate the stone-faced approach of a typical Bronson endeavor, but it does have Durning in American hero mode, battling members of a Mexican cartel who've invaded a Californian suburb. Durning as a gun-toting man of action isn't the easiest buy in terms of screen fantasy, but he's a terrific actor, and that's what really counts here. "Stand Alone" isn't big on brawling, but it does offer plenty of opportunities for the cast to showcase their skills, with Durning doing what he can to transform himself into a semi-credible mean machine. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Feast of the Seven Fishes


Family is the theme of "Feast of the Seven Fishes," and it's a shame writer/director Robert Tinnell ("Kids of the Round Table," "Frankenstein and Me") doesn't focus enough on domestic interactions. While primed for holiday viewings, the picture doesn't always embrace its festive mood, striving to attach a romantic element featuring younger characters to material that connects best as a study of older people working to keep traditions alive. Tinnell seems a little too concerned with the marketplace appeal of "Feast of the Seven Fishes," taking time away from the core vibe of the movie to deal with uninteresting characters and their problems. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Funan


Denis Do makes his directorial debut with "Funan," an animated picture about the innocent lives caught up in the Khmer Rouge revolution during the 1970s. Do doesn't play it safe for his first offering as a helmer, delivering a profoundly unsettling study of survival and anguish during a time of absolute horror, using animation as a way to provide a distinct understanding of emotion, yet he still respects the scale of atrocities going on. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hotel by the River


Keeping up with his interest in the strangeness of relationships, writer/director Hong Sang-soo delves into slightly darker emotional territory with "Hotel by the River." It's more of an exploration of family issues and friendships, but, in keeping with the helmer's creative ways, it remains largely meditative, with stretches of poeticism and tourism breaking up the potential for heated encounters. Hong creates very specific movies for a specific audience, and "Hotel by the River" is no different, only this time he's ready to probe a little deeper into the disappointments of life, coming up with a denser feature than what he's typically interested in creating. Read the rest at

Film Review - International Falls


To successfully examine lost souls struggling with a sense of emotional isolation, it makes perfect sense to visit Minnesota, with “International Falls” using the titular town to explore the wants and needs of characters dealing with heavy psychological burdens. A trip to the “Icebox of the Nation” proves to be an evocative choice from director Amber McGinnis, who’s gifted a seldom-seen location for her movie, while all the freezing temps, snowfall, and distance supports screenwriter Thomas Ward’s vision for personal connection in the midst of dire living situations. That’s not to suggest “International Falls” is a bummer, as McGinnis is careful to avoid such complete darkness, leaning on stars Rachael Harris and Rob Huebel to explore their characters with a sense of humor and atypical vulnerability for two actors used to playing more sarcastic personalities. Read the rest at

Film Review - Banana Split


There’s likely one reason while “Banana Split” is finding a release nearly two years after its initial film festival debut. While last summer’s “Booksmart” didn’t break box office records, it did find an appreciative audience who welcomed the feature’s sense of humor and respect for female relationships, with director Olivia Wilde managing to make something very funny and genuine when it came to characterization. And thank goodness for “Booksmart,” which has brought “Banana Split” into distribution, offering a similarly enjoyable tale of adolescent panic, decorated with distinct personalities, big feelings, and occasional blasts of silliness. Director Benjamin Kasulke finds the right rhythm for the picture, while writers Hannah Marks and Joey Power put in the effort to give the players in this game of maturation and romantic need a bright sense of confusion and camaraderie. Read the rest at

Film Review - Vivarium


Director Lorcan Finnegan and writer Garret Shanley strive to create a major brain-bleeder with “Vivarium,” which presents a puzzle of isolation and antagonism that mixes elements of satire and sci-fi to come up with something supremely odd. There’s success with the production’s limited goals of disorientation, as the movie provides a decent ride into confusion and paranoia, offering viewers a sense of uneasiness similar to a “Twilight Zone” episode, only without the tidiness of television storytelling. Finnegan and Shanley come up with a terrific short film in “Vivarium,” conjuring a genuine sense of the unknown. It’s their efforts to transform the endeavor into a feature that proves to be problematic, as pacing eventually slows to a crawl and the core mystery loses appeal. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Inside Moves


Director Richard Donner was in an incredible professional position in 1979. In 1976, he helmed "The Omen," giving Donner his first major box office and creative success. In 1978, he guided "Superman" to pop culture dominance, emerging with another monster moneymaker and one of the few masterpieces found in comic book cinema. Donner was riding high, electing to cash in some of his power to make 1980's "Inside Moves," which is as far away from Satan and Krypton as possible. Dialing down blockbuster sensibilities, Donner aims for a decidedly human story about friendship and community support, taking inspiration from Todd Walton's novel, adapted here by Valerie Curtin and Barry Levinson. "Inside Moves" is a frustratingly disjointed endeavor, but there's real passion to the filmmaking, with Donner working hard to share his love for the material and the participants, giving the effort a spiritual boost when basic storytelling is often ignored. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Automation


While the world faces a future of increasing workplace automation, removing humans from jobs, the film "Automation" is here to…not really comment on any of that. Instead of sinking his teeth into the juicy politics and fear factor of robotic replacement, co-writer/director Garo Setian makes a horror/comedy with "Automation," wasting a wonderful idea on limp B-movie production achievements and a story that falls far short of its potential. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Red Letter Day


While it gives off "Purge" fumes, there's potential in the premise of "Red Letter Day." It's a story about a suburban community infiltrated by a digital terrorist group working to arrange a special day where residents are forced to kill their neighbors. Clocking in at 76 minutes, one would expect writer/director Cameron Macgowan to establish his characters and go full speed ahead into excessive violence and mild social commentary, managing B-movie expectations. Unfortunately, Macgowan wants to sit awhile before the bloodshed begins. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Blinded by the Light


In a year that's already celebrated the music of The Beatles through fantasy (in June's "Yesterday"), it seems only natural to make way for Bruce Springsteen and his working class perspective for "Blinded by the Light," a tale of fandom in the 1980s and something of a bio-pic for writer Sarfraz Manzoor, whose book, "Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N' Roll," has inspired the screenplay. The film isn't explicitly a jukebox musical working through Springsteen's ample discography, but it certainly threatens to become one. Co-writer/director Gurinder Chadha ("Bend It Like Beckham") is making a coming-of-age drama, but guitar spirit often takes command of the feature, which is even more of an audience-pleaser than "Yesterday," even while working with far more sobering tunes. "Blinded by the Light" doesn't know when to quit, but it's loaded with charm and always attentive to heart, offering viewers the ride of life in motion, backed by the rock poetry of The Boss. Read the rest at

Film Review - Blow the Man Down


The first half of “Blow the Man Down” is as close to a replication of an early Coen Brothers effort as we’re likely to see in this day and age. Surprises are plentiful, violence is abrupt, and characters are thickly sliced, while the action takes place in a distinct setting few productions choose to explore. Writer/directors Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy don’t expand their tribute for the entire endeavor, electing to use such an appealing launch to develop their own take on crime and punishment, finding freshness with an original vision for community history and pressure. “Blow the Man Down” delivers an intriguing dramatic evolution during its run time, with Cole and Krudy (making their feature-length helming debut) proving themselves to be exciting storytellers and wise when it comes to assembling their cast of young actresses and seasoned players. Read the rest at

Film Review - Lost Transmissions


Making her directorial debut, Katharine O’Brien (who also scripts) appears to put a lot of personal experience into “Lost Transmissions,” or at least defined consideration to give the effort a sense of lived-in pain. The story examines the state of mental health when it’s denied care from a system built to deal with it, detailing the confusion and panic when such necessary support is lost, leaving the burden of supervision on those ill-equipped to handle it. There’s a lot of passion in O’Brien’s work that’s slightly torpedoed by the feature’s unwillingness to commit to a fully developed story, preferring to be a movie about experiences, keeping episodic. The viewing experience wavers, but core elements of concern are showcased with ideal sharpness, keeping O’Brien on a mission to communicate a feeling of helplessness from those actively searching for help. Read the rest at

Film Review - Human Capital


“Human Capital” is very reminiscent of the Oscar-winning 2005 feature, “Crash.” I know just the mere mention of “Crash” gets many a cineaste’s blood boiling, but the screenplay by Oren Moverman (adapting a book by Stephen Amidon and an Italian film from director Paolo Virzi) offers a look at the interconnected lives of desperate souls dealing with pain, shame, and loss, with a central event of violence acting as a sort of hub of mystery that permits examination of all the participants. Director Marc Meyes doesn’t aim for pretentiousness with his picture, but he does get caught up in few overcooked passions, striving to find a storytelling balance that periodically eludes him. “Human Capital” is very broad at times, but Moverman has interest in these individuals, and Meyes assembles an impressive cast capable of finding behaviors and feelings the production has trouble reaching. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hooking Up


“Hooking Up” offers a very dramatic premise, but the feature is more interested in surveying the comedic potential of the material. The writing presents troubling experiences involving two very anxious characters, both facing incredible attacks on their sanity and health as they try to keep things cool on a day-to-day basis. There’s a great deal of potential in tracking the challenges found in these lives. However, co-writer/director Nico Raineau isn’t comfortable remaining in the bubble of worry, searching for ways to make “Hooking Up” approachable, often going silly with the effort when there’s a distinctly sobering tone waiting to claim the picture. Thankfully, Raineau has his cast, with leads Brittany Snow and Sam Richardson adding enough charisma and timing to stabilize the tonal imbalance the helmer struggles with as he tries to find his way through murky psychological spaces. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Silver Bullet


1985's "Silver Bullet" is an adaptation of 1983's "Cycle of the Werewolf," a "novelette" from Stephen King, who tried to do something with the slight idea of a monster on a monthly prowl, terrorizing a small town. And who better to pull together the screenplay than King himself, working to make something substantial for the screen, mixing traditional stabs of horror with observant scenes of family life, creating an unusual genre effort. Directed by Dan Attias, "Silver Bullet" closely follows the King template, paying reverence to the author, trusting him to deliver something spooky and strange. The movie gets most of the way there, benefiting from King's contributions, which preserve his idiosyncratic vision for a literary-minded creature feature. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Tammy and the T-Rex


With B-movie buffs on a never-ending quest to get ahead of potential cult craziness, their latest discovery is 1994's "Tammy and the T-Rex," celebrating the wonders of a film that dares to mix the adolescent pains of a T-NBC sitcom and the unleashed gore of a Herschell Gordon Lewis production. While it's a stretch to claim the feature as any sort of professional accomplishment, it's certainly Crazy Times, U.S.A., with co- writer/director Stuart Raffill protecting his vision for a campy, bloody adventure that's big on weird science and light on laughs. Considering Raffill's previous helming endeavors (the troubling "Mac and Me" and "Mannequin Two: On the Move"), the directness of "Tammy and the T-Rex" is welcome, giving fans of schlock a heaping helping of over-the-top performances, limited production means, and a big mechanical dinosaur who lives to tear its enemies apart. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Candy


For 2006's "Candy," director Neil Armfield delivers an adaptation of a novel by Luke Davies, who collaborates on the production's screenplay, which details the life of two heroin junkies trying to remain in a functional relationship during the extremes of their self-harm. There's nothing about Davies's story that's pleasant, giving Armfield a particularly difficult creative challenge, asking viewers to remain with two highly damaged people who often find themselves out of control. The movie's solution is to identify and amplify the love story between Candy (Abbie Cornish) and Dan (Heath Ledger), adding a certain level of dewy poeticism before dropping the hammer of reality on the twentysomethings repeatedly throughout the effort. The attempt is laudable, but "Candy" isn't always as interesting as Armfield believes it to be, giving himself an excessive runtime to oversee the cycle of addiction while trying to transform the picture into a Malickian viewing experience of beauty and wonder while descending into the pits of Hell. Read the rest at