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March 2020

Blu-ray Review - Skin


"Skin" has the benefit of timing, put into production during a hectic time in American history, with the country experiencing an uptick in exposure to hate groups and crimes, with near daily reminders of unrest brewing across the U.S. Writer/director Guy Nattiv doesn't shy away from the plain danger of such an uprising, but he's interested in drilling to the core of the neo-Nazi issue, finding the true story of Bryon Widner to dramatize, giving an impressive tale of evolution a semi-suspenseful approach. "Skin" is frightening, especially when examining how organized hate is managed and unleashed, but the picture isn't offering an overview of a movement. It's much more intimate, with Widner's tale working through tight situations of survival, emerging as an understanding of awareness expanding under impossible living conditions. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Satanic Panic


"Satanic Panic" is a film that's all over the place when it really doesn't have to be. Screenwriter Grady Hendrix attempts to blend extreme horror with silly comedy, aiming for a darkly hilarious take on black magic, offering bits of shock and slapstick to help swat down expectations for a simple genre ride. Trouble is, the picture is certainly gross at times, but never funny, flailing whenever it feels the need to be wacky to help settle an audience that might not be so welcoming to a feature that's solely interested in horror. "Satanic Panic" isn't a mess, but it's mostly uninspired, and from casting to one-liners, it falls short of its potential to be a brutal B-movie that's willing to go to some strange places when detailing the ways of a coven on the prowl for their virginal sacrifice. Read the rest at

Film Review - Swallow


“Swallow” appears intended to be a major showcase for the acting skills of Haley Bennett, who takes a producing role on the picture, gifting herself a little more control over the final product. It’s been a rocky road for the talent, who failed to breakout in efforts such as “The Girl on the Train” and “The Magnificent Seven,” with “Swallow” delivering a juicy leading part that’s completely focused on her abilities, offering a tonal challenge with strange material that deals uncomfortably with obsessive compulsive disorder and depression. The good news about the movie is that it truly makes the most of Bennett’s screen appeal, and she delivers refreshingly alert work for director Carlo Mirabella-Davis, skillfully reaching some interesting psychological spaces as the feature conjures plenty of compelling darkness. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bloodshot


As actors scramble to find their place in superhero cinema, Vin Diesel takes a chance on “Bloodshot,” a big-budget adaptation of the cult comic book character, trying to bring his sludgy charisma to a sci-fi tale about a super soldier on the loose. As with most Diesel endeavors, he’s the least interesting element in the production, but this take on the titular bruiser (who’s been around since the early 1990s) has a few surprises to share before it becomes another tepid actioner for the star. A sense of the unexpected is what “Bloodshot” needs more of, and additional mayhem would be nice too, as so much of the feature is devoted to expositional needs, keeping what promises to be a roller coaster ride of death and revenge into a largely talky effort that’s constantly attentive to explaining its complicated premise. The end result doesn’t do much for Diesel’s filmography, but at least the man still has Groot. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Hunt (2020)


“The Hunt” was originally due for release last September before it was hastily shelved by Universal Pictures, who didn’t want to be responsible for the film at that time. Some blame real-world violence for the cancellation, while others suggest the charged political content found in Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof’s screenplay may have been the reason for its dismissal, with the studio unsure such material had a place in an increasingly divided country. Now, six months later, the movie is finally being released, or perhaps toss hastily into theaters, and while the project carries a certain air of danger, it’s mostly dreadful, offering an underwhelming sense of humor and horror, perhaps revealing that any delay wasn’t ordered due to fear, but out of growing shame. Read the rest at

Film Review - Big Time Adolescence


Writer/director Jason Orley is trying to go a little softer with his take on bad influences in “Big Time Adolescence.” It’s a comedy, showcasing all sorts of tomfoolery from young men unable to grow up, but the screenplay is attentive to the sensitivities of the situation, striving to approach the reality of a corrupting presence in a teenager’s life without losing the entertainment value of the whole offering. “Big Time Adolescence” battles superficiality at times, but there are laughs to be had and hearts to be squeezed, as Orley understands the primary crisis of the movie, where a teenager is caught between the person he was raised to be and the toxic attention he receives from an unlikely source of friendship. It’s been done before, but the helmer provides dramatic stability to best understand the issues at hand. Read the rest at

Film Review - Wendy


Writer/director Benh Zeitlin made his big debut with “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” a restless study of fantasy and childhood that managed to trigger a response at the box office and collect a handful of Oscar nominations. But that was 2012. It’s been quite some time since Zeitlin made a movie, building expectations for his follow-up, and he’s settled on the story of “Peter Pan” for “Wendy,” a reworking of J.M. Barrie’s beloved book and play, which once again returns the helmer to a restless study of fantasy and childhood. Content to repeat himself, Zeitlin uses “Wendy” to dig deeper into his favorite themes of youth and aging, working with an amateur cast to best summon a special level of excitement and raw emotion. The vision for the feature is there, but the execution is fatigued and familiar, straining to summon a dark magic with screen poetry we’ve seen before, and in a much better film. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Postcard Killings


In 2017, there was “The Snowman.” Intended to be the beginning of a detective series for the character Harry Hole, his initial outing was plagued with production and editing problems, turning an adaptation of a Jo Nesbo book into a bizarre mess. “The Postcard Killings” doesn’t have the same marketplace profile or notable cast, but it shares a cluelessness with “The Snowman,” trying to make something noteworthy from a book (titled “The Postcard Killers”) by James Patterson and Liza Marklund (who co-scripts with Andrew Stern), but nothing seems to go right for the production. Burdened by a severely limited cast, strangely self-destructive editing, and poor direction from Danis Tanovic, “The Postcard Killings” is quite tedious before it becomes unintentionally hilarious, with its drive to be a sincere serial killer mystery at odds with its poor execution. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Delivery Boys


Sold as a breakdance movie in 1985, "Delivery Boys" isn't exactly the next cinematic step after the two "Breakin'" features from 1984. It's a much weirder concoction from writer/director Ken Handler, who's best known as the inspiration for the Ken doll. Perhaps out to make a breezy good time with slick moves and hot music from the era, Handler ends up with something far more laborious instead, joining forces with co-producer Chuck Vincent, an adult film helmer. Merging the electricity of youth and the production vibe of pornography, Handler gets awfully confused with "Delivery Boys," ending up with a sluggish non-comedy filled with amateur actors doing their best to generate a homoerotic vibe for the primarily heterosexual teen horndog subgenre. Where's Turbo and Ozone when you need them? Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Horror Island


Bill (Dick Foran) is in possession of Morgan's Island, but he doesn't know what to do with it. Out with pal Stuff (Fuzzy Knight), Bill saves sailor Tobias (Leo Carrillo) from trouble, with the trio coming into contact with half of a treasure map. Realizing he could make a few bucks selling Morgan's Island has a treasure hunter destination, Bill takes his first group to the dilapidated estate on the property, only to encounter a phantom individual who wants to disrupt any search for buried loot. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Black Cat


Henrietta (Cecilia Loftus) is an old woman who refuses to die. While nearing the end of her life, Henrietta is joined by her family, including Montague (Basil Rathbone), inside her mansion, with the gathered relatives waiting for her expiration to get their hands on their inheritances. When the matriarch is murdered, the money goes to her housekeeper, Abigail (Gale Sondergaard), leaving the family unsettled. Joining the gathering are antique dealers Mr. Penny (Hugh Herbert) and Smith (Broderick Crawford), with the men leading the charge to find out who killed Henrietta. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Man Made Monster


After surviving a horrible accident where a bus slams into a power line, sideshow performer Dan (Lon Chaney, Jr.) is lucky to be alive, having built up an immunity to electricity due to his specialized act. Brought in for study by Dr. John (Samuel S. Hinds), Dan is soon claimed by Dr. Paul (Lionel Atwill), a mad scientist looking to experiment on Dan's ease with electricity, creating a murderous monster along the way. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Tower of London


As the lead offering on "The Universal Horror Collection: Volume 3," 1939's "Tower of London" has the distinction of not being a horror film. Murders are common in this retelling of Richard, Duke of Gloucester's (Basil Rathbone) merciless rise to power, working with Mord (the great Boris Karloff), his enforcer, to clear the way to royal glory. It's a nightmarish scenario, but director Rowland V. Lee doesn't push the material into a fright zone, more interested in Shakespearian lunges for power and control as Richard works his way through rivals to achieve his lust for the crown. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Return to Return to Nuke 'Em High AKA Vol. 2


Originally conceived as a two-part extravaganza from Troma Entertainment, "Return to Nuke 'Em High" was intended to be an all-new blowout screen party from a company that hasn't had one in a long time. Director Lloyd Kaufman was so certain of fan interest, he doubled down on Tromaville chaos, shooting two movies concurrently, aiming to create an epic to top all other Troma epics. Unfortunately, few showed up to the party. "Return to Nuke 'Em High: Vol. 1" was released in 2014, with the cult experience well-received by loyal followers of Troma, but failed to make much of a dent beyond the core audience, who were offered a teaser for a follow-up planned for 2015. The year came and went, as did a few more, but Kaufman couldn't finish the feature, ultimately turning to Kickstarter to help pay for completion. Now five years after "Vol. 1" provided a goopy, gory ride of hyper-violent nonsense, "Return to Return to Nuke 'Em High AKA Vol. 2" is finally here, and good heavens, it's not worth the extended wait. Read the rest at

Film Review - Spenser Confidential


It’s been a strange last four years for director Peter Berg. A helmer with wild swings of quality in his filmography, Berg hit career highlights with 2016’s “Patriots Day” and “Deepwater Horizon,” proving his ability to stick with dramatic study and mute his invasively impish sense of humor, slowing down his often chaotic stylistics. Such creative success was short-lived, with Berg returning to the land of excess with 2018’s “Mile 22,” a box office bomb that failed to launch an action franchise. Berg is back with “Spenser Confidential,” reuniting with star Mark Wahlberg to attempt another screen series, this time utilizing the well-worn pages of Robert B. Parker’s “Spenser” line of books for inspiration. The helmer comes up with a minor success in “Spenser Confidential,” which digs into the Boston attitude for a shallow but satisfying mystery/actioner, keeping Berg on task as he tries very carefully to create a feature that will inspire more features to come. Read the rest at

Film Review - Onward


For their latest production, Pixar Animation Studios turns to the world of “Dungeons & Dragons” to inspire screen adventure. It’s not a true homage to the classic role-playing game, but there’s enough of an influence to give “Onward” a charmingly nerdy vibe to go with the company’s formula of family and heart. Director Dan Scanlon (“Monsters University”) gets a little sneaky with his sentimentality, and that’s one of the many charms found in the feature, which has a way of being predictable, reliable Pixar entertainment before it makes a noticeable effort to do some things a little differently when it comes to character and message. There’s a rich animated realm to explore in “Onward,” which plays mirthfully with fantasy, delivering terrific character designs and broad voice work to bring an odd adventure to life. Read the rest at

Film Review - Extra Ordinary


While the world anticipates the release of a new “Ghostbusters” sequel this summer, the comedy “Extra Ordinary” comes out of nowhere to actually deliver all kinds of supernatural happenings and consistently hilarious comedy. Co-writers/directors Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman present an Irish take on demonic problems, but instead of going wild with visual effects and sheer noise, the duo plays everything with a terrific dryness, enjoying the weirdness of the material instead of trying to emphasize all levels of quirk. “Extra Ordinary” isn’t a massive production, but it uses its moments well, creating a snowballing sense of the absurd while tending to the genre aspects of the story, finding a near-perfect balance of outrageousness and subtlety. It’s a special film with a large imagination, and Loughman and Ahern do whatever they can to protect the project’s stealthy charms. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Way Back


Four years ago, director Gavin O’Connor and actor Ben Affleck tried to do something different with the thriller genre with “The Accountant.” The attempt was admirable but the execution was flawed. The pair reteams for “The Way Back,” which hopes to bring something different to the underdog sports movie, adding some grit to formula that’s typically about broad highs and lows. The partnership is more effective the second time around, and while Brad Ingelsby’s screenplay isn’t entirely concentrated on providing dramatic hospital corners, O’Connor endeavors to supply deep feeling to the proceedings, while Affleck delivers one of his very best performances, tasked with playing a profoundly depressed and angry man, while still working to keep the character open for inspection. “The Way Back” is no classic, but there’s power in small moments and performances, rising above cliché to provide a sincere study of burning introspection. Read the rest at

Film Review - Corpus Christi


While “Corpus Christi” is a study of faith as it takes many forms, it’s more surprising as a tale of survival, tracking the ways of a juvenile murderer as he experiences an awakening of sorts while perpetuating fraud on a small Polish town. Director Jan Komasa and screenwriter Mateusz Pacewicz don’t have an original idea with the feature, but they have distinct execution, endeavoring to inspect the evolution of a troubled teen as he’s immersed in a community that’s possibly more distorted than he is, finding purpose while trying to stay out of sight. “Corpus Christi” is unexpected in the way it looks at crime and punishment, taking great care to be mindful of character nuance and reaction, while the general misdirection of the movie is thrilling in a way, maintaining distance from cliché that’s right there for the taking, heading to a more profound sense of feeling instead. Read the rest at

Film Review - Escape from Pretoria


“Escape from Pretoria” is based on the true story of Tim Jenkin, who, in 1979, joined two other inmates on a mission to break out of a South African prison. The event occurred during a politically charged time in the country’s history, and the act itself was viewed as an ultimate statement of defiance during an era of violent divide. Co-writer/director Francis Annan isn’t afraid of exploring the tension of South Africa during a volatile decade, but he’s also attentive to thriller cinema, keeping “Escape from Pretoria” involving as portrait of corruption and gripping as a prison escape extravaganza, dealing with all sorts of near-misses and sweaty momentum, making the feature livelier than it initially appears. The effort is never preachy or throttled by unnecessary asides, going full charge as a nail-biting ride of impossible planning and luck, with Annan finding the thrills and chills in Jenkin’s tale of survival. Read the rest at