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April 2020

Blu-ray Review - Night Patrol


Murray Langston achieved a mild degree of success as a comedian in the 1970s, making the rounds on television variety shows and "Candid Camera," trying to build demand for his services. Fame was elusive, forcing Langston to take a gig on "The Gong Show," carrying such shame about the appearance, he decided to cover his head with the paper bag and tell jokes as "The Unknown Comic." The bit, meant to be a lark, ended up taking Langston to the big time, finding his hook as a speedy jester without an identity. "Night Patrol" is created to do something with that pop culture visibility, with Langston co-writing and starring in a picture that's meant to showcase his abilities as a leading man and celebrate his sense of humor, calling in comedy club pals to help boost the marketplace appeal of the feature. The 1984 endeavor is certainly the work of Langston, who puts his faith in director Jackie Kong (who also co-scripts) to translate his brand of funny business to the big screen. The result is an extraordinarily painful viewing experience, with "Night Patrol" intentionally striving to be odious and lazy, finding Kong way out of her element as a mastermind of silliness, while Langston's taste in punchlines is remarkably dire. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Assignment Terror


Horror fanatics love a monster battle royal, and 1970's "Assignment Terror" is happy to deliver one…eventually. The picture revives international concepts of the Wolfman, the Mummy, Dracula, and Frankenstein's Monster for a clash of the titans, with the enemies permitted a few showdowns during the runtime, giving the faithful some fantasy violence to feed daydreams. But, for some reason, creature clashes are not the entire focus of "Assignment Terror," which also manages a bizarre, borderline incomprehensible plot about an alien takeover of Earth. I don't think most audiences really care about storytelling when it comes to this type of entertainment. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Depraved


Many filmmakers have attempted to adapt the essentials of the 1818 novel, "Frankenstein," trying to remain respectful of author Mary Shelley's original work while embarking on narrative detours to best fit their movie's mood or setting. The basics are nothing new, but writer/director Larry Fessenden attempts to achieve a modern understanding of Shelley's nightmare, going the low-budget route with "Depraved," looking to pull together a gothic chiller with limited resources. The effort is commendable, and Fessenden has something to say about the human experience as it exists today in a cruel world, but he certainly takes his time to say it, working very deliberately with a picture that could use a few boosts of urgency, giving the central crisis a real cinematic grip. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - My Name is Myeisha


Joining the list of movies addressing police violence in America, "My Name is Myeisha" at least tries to do something different with its tale of a young life taken by a cop with an itchy trigger finger. Instead of generating a mournful understand of loss, co-writer/director Gus Krieger endeavors to explore events that shaped the deceased's experiences, adapting a play by Rickerby Hinds that's more about performance art than a gritty understanding of an oncoming crime. Read the rest at

Film Review - Beastie Boys Story


In 2018, the release of “Beastie Boys Book” was a surprising development for a band that prided itself on denying any closer inspection of its working parts. It was a massive tome (572 pages), filled with Beastie Boys history, guest commentators, photos, and even recipes, doing a fine job showcasing the lovable impishness of co-writers Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz as they strived to celebrate their professional achievements and highlight the fantastic mystery and humanity of Adam Yauch, who passed away in 2012. “Beastie Boys Book” was a smash success, inspiring Diamond and Horovitz to take the tale on a tour, transforming the pages into a multimedia presentation that delivers basically the same information, only with a bit more intimacy and visual evidence. Shot at the King’s Theater in Brooklyn last year, “Beastie Boys Story” is the document of the live show, offering those unable to see the event a chance to enjoy Diamond and Horovitz’s longstanding partnership, walking through the early years of the group as three teenagers with hardcore ambitions turned into one of the biggest rap acts in music history. Read the rest at

Film Review - Extraction


Chris Hemsworth is often cast in physical roles, with producers working very hard to transform him into an action-ready leading man. Recently, he’s done time in “Men in Black: International” and “12 Strong,” while continuing his work in the MCU as Thor in three recent features, but “Extraction” is meant to be his “John Wick.” Directed by Sam Hargrave, a veteran stuntman (in charge of the mayhem found in “Avengers: Endgame” and “Captain America: Civil War”), “Extraction’ makes a very specific attempt to deliver controlled chaos for its audience, going feral with extended chase sequences and moments of highly choreographed brawling. It’s Hargrave’s helming debut, and his instincts with editing leave much to be desired, but the raw power of the movie is impressive, making good use of Hemsworth’s non-Thor appeal, offering the performer a chance to pound bad guys and deal with his character’s potent sense of protection. Read the rest at

Film Review - Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films of All-Time - Volume 1: Midnight Madness


Cult movies aren’t born, they’re made by audiences willing to put in the time and money to celebrate features that either died while trying to be mainstream, or never stood a chance when offered for universal acceptance. Cult entertainment is a topic that’s been explored repeatedly in all forms of media (it’s bread-and-butter content for podcasts), but director Danny Wolf hopes to provide expanse and access with “Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films of All-Time,” which is a three-part examination of cinematic offerings that’ve become a secret language for some, creating legacies few could predict but millions adore. First up is “Volume 1: Midnight Madness,” which delves into the genesis of the cult film as we know it today, inspecting a handful of pictures that managed to survive distribution woes, studio mismanagement, and initial audience apathy to develop into special events that celebrate all the weirdness and wonderfulness of their filmmakers. Read the rest at

Film Review - To the Stars


Martha Stephens made a distinct impression in 2014 with “Land Ho,” a film she co-directed with Aaron Katz. A deeply idiosyncratic picture, “Land Ho” endeavored to understand the subtleties of male friendships, using the premise of a unique trip to Iceland to examine the interplay and extremes of such a pairing. Losing Katz, Stephens embarks on a solo flight with “To the Stars,” which takes a close look at the details of female relationships when pressure builds inside a rural community during the 1960s. “Land Ho” was a bit of a lark, funny and proudly weird, but “To the Stars” is far more sobering in its depiction of broken hearts and troubled times. Screenwriter Shannon Bradley-Colleary eventually turns to cliché to find a way to close the effort, but there’s true emotion winding through the movie, which takes its characters seriously, treating their wants and needs with a wonderful level of respect, gifting the feature refreshing power when it comes to primal emotions. Read the rest at

Film Review - True History of the Kelly Gang


Filmmakers love to make movies about the history of the Bushrangers, and the saga of Ned Kelly is a particular favorite, with his story repeatedly brought to screens of all sizes, presenting different creative visions a chance to get to the core of Kelly’s violence and bruised sense of honor. Talents from Mick Jagger (in 1970) to Heath Ledger (in 2003) have played the man, offering different takes on dangerous behavior, but it’s George McKay (recently seen in “1917”) who’s permitted to go bonkers with the part. “True History of the Kelly Gang” isn’t your average period outlaw experience, with director Justin Kurzel (2015’s “Macbeth,” “Assassin’s Creed”) looking to shake things up with his take on the Kelly Gang, blending in brash cinematic style and punk rock attitude to fully realize the primal instinct found within the screenplay by Shaun Grant, who adapts a 2001 novel by Peter Carey. Read the rest at

Film Review - Robert the Bruce


25 years ago, there was “Braveheart.” It was a passion project for director/star Mel Gibson, who delivered a lengthy take on Scottish history, with primary attention placed on masculine pursuits and vivid violence. It was the little epic that could, going on to strike oil at the box office, collect critical accolades, and dominate the Academy Awards, collecting a Best Picture trophy. While Gibson obviously benefited the most from the whole experience, he managed to launch a few acting careers along the way, bringing greater exposure to talents such as Brendan Gleeson, David O’Hara, and Catherine McCormack. And then there was Angus Macfayden, who was new to the big screen at the time, making his moments count in the important role of Robert the Bruce. Macfayden couldn’t maintain professional momentum (appearing in follow-up films such as “Warriors of Virtue” and the “Saw” series), inspiring him to return to Scotland for “Robert the Bruce,” which isn’t a sequel to “Braveheart,” but the producers probably won’t correct anybody believing it to be one. Read the rest at

Film Review - My Spy


30 years ago, there was “Kindergarten Cop.” The Ivan Reitman comedy presented a muscular star in Arnold Schwarzenegger in a picture that was sold as a family comedy, but was actually a hard-edged PG-13 thriller with some stretches of cuddly silliness and romantic tingles. Parents at the time weren’t pleased with the marketing switcheroo, and they probably won’t be delighted with “My Spy,” which also provides PG-13 surges of violence and language while trying to widen beefy star Dave Bautista’s screen appeal. The new release is very reminiscent of the 1990 hit, with the exception of entertainment value. Watching Schwarzenegger deal with little kids while blasting away at bad guys is one thing, seeing Bautista’s natural stiffness mingling with jokes and googly eyes is another, with the whole thing overseen by the director of “Second Act.” This is not progress. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Angel III: The Final Chapter


After experiencing a creative flame-out with 1985's "Avenging Angel," co-writer/director Robert Vincent O'Neil taps out of the franchise for 1988's "Angel III: The Final Chapter," replaced by Tom DeSimone, who brings his experience in the adult film business to the B-movie needs of the third Angel adventure. Any trace of L.A. grime has been wiped away for the second sequel, which delivers a flashier, shiner descent into the horrors of sexual exploitation, never straying far from formula. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Avenging Angel


In January, 1984, New World Pictures released "Angel." Not expecting much from the feature, it turned out to be a minor hit for the company and wildly profitable for its producer, Sandy Howard, who wanted a sequel right away. Exactly 12 months later, "Avenging Angel" was hurled into cinemas, with returning screenwriters Joseph Michael Cala and Robert Vincent O'Neil (who directs once again) tasked with recapturing the same box office levels, only without the same type of movie, inching the franchise toward actioner interests, while losing star Donna Wilkes, replaced here with Betsy Russell. "Angel" went to dark psychological spaces, laboring to avoid becoming just another sexploitation romp in a saturated marketplace. "Avenging Angel" is quick to become junk food, turning the main character into a Pam Grier type as the series quickly becomes traditional VHS fodder. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Angel


Sexploitation goes kind of sad in 1984's "Angel," which was marketed brilliantly by the folks at New World Pictures, promising audiences a sleazy endeavor tracking the daily life of a "High School Honor Student by Day, Hollywood Hooker by Night." It's quite the come-on, but the screenplay by Joseph Michael Cala and Robert Vincent O'Neil (who also directs) isn't interested in providing cheap thrills with this chiller. It's grittier than it initially appears, with "Angel" concentrating on the suspense of a serial killer story, but also the weariness of the titular character's life as she tries to keep her head above water. There's a certain level of realism to go with B-movie activity, which doesn't exactly welcome viewers to what's truly an incredible downer, but it does make the endeavor compelling to certain extent. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Very Bad Things


Throughout the 1980s and '90s, Peter Berg was a character actor trying to make his way through the industry, acquiring supporting roles and finding success as a cast member on the television series, "Chicago Hope." However, his real dream was to be a director, making his feature-length filmmaking debut with 1998's "Very Bad Things," also claiming credit for the screenplay. While often playing mild men as a thespian, Berg goes hog- wild as a helmer, creating a black comedy with profound depths of bad behavior, always trying to find the darkly humorous potential of characters engaged in destructive antics that involve multiple murders. Berg unleashes his id with "Very Bad Things," trying to make a distinct impression with a manic effort that's not short on macabre incidents, but remains laugh-free as it lovingly details ugliness. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bad Therapy


There’s been “Bad Grandpa,” “Bad Teacher,” and “Bad Moms,” with each of the films attempting to offer a level of crude comedy to support their blunt titles. And now there’s “Bad Therapy” (not to be confused with “Bad Education,” coming out in a few weeks), which isn’t a lowbrow comedy about the horrors of human behavior, but something darker, curious about the ways of psychological damage. At least that appears to be the original intent of the screenplay, credited to Nancy Doyne, adapting her own book. “Bad Therapy” has a game cast and a faint sense of marital engagement, but it’s also a thriller in roundabout way, attempting to explore a damaged person’s descent into obsession. There’s something promising at both ends of the story, and the movie is engaging for its first hour. However, director William Teitler has noticeable difficulty trying to marry the writing’s extremes, stumbling at times with material that’s perhaps too complex for a feature adaptation. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Quarry


“The Quarry” is not a film for the impatient. Co-writer/director Scott Teems (“That Evening Sun”) is in no hurry to get anywhere with this tale, which is an adaptation of the Damon Galgut novella, electing to pore over every frame detail and invest fully in the power of pregnant pauses. The story delivers a fascinating study of moral corruption and possible redemption, using the small town crime subgenre to attract attention to what’s more of a character drama, albeit one with burning issues of guilt that occasionally spill over into violence. “The Quarry” is so deliberate, it’s almost a slide show at times, with Teems putting his faith in viewers to remain with the feature as it crawls its way to a resolution. There’s an ending to reward those willing to take the lengthy journey, with the helmer wisely finding a way to conclude a picture that often feels endless. Read the rest at

Film Review - Endings, Beginnings


Writer/director Drake Doremus specializes in intimate studies of jealousy and heartbreak, finding some art-house success with 2011’s “Like Crazy.” Since then, he’s floundered, having trouble with pictures that struggle with inertia (“Equals”) or consistency (“Zoe”), unable to match previous creative achievements. Doremus isn’t coloring outside the lines with “Endings, Beginnings,” mounting yet another take on emotional distortion and the complications of love, presenting a contemporary, American take on classic Euro cinema interests. Unfortunately, the helmer comes dangerously close to self-parody with “Endings, Beginnings,” which is surprisingly unpleasant, with Doremus and co-writer Jardine Libaire staying close to cliché and tedium while trying to sell the story of an uninteresting woman and her easily avoidable problems. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - To the Devil a Daughter


Satan was the new black in the 1970s, and Hammer Films wasn't about to let such a trend get away from them without a distinct cinematic offering. "To the Devil a Daughter" is an adaptation of a Dennis Wheatley novel, pitting a writer against forces of evil who want to have their way with a teenage girl. While Hammer is trying to compete with "The Exorcist" and its numerous rip-offs, they also try to play up their particular brand of British horror, with director Peter Sykes in charge of restrained emotions and eerie encounters, bringing in studio legend Christopher Lee to make some macabre magic for the then-ailing company. Unfortunately, there's not enough shock value in "To the Devil a Daughter," which definitely has select moments of superb illness and tension, but also comes across incomplete, watching as a complicated story involving rebirth, protection, sacrifice, and temptation slowly marches toward a rushed ending that isn't the least bit satisfying. The greatest trick the Devil even pulled was convincing Hammer to enter production without a finished screenplay. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Mom


The idea behind 1991's "Mom" is a good one, with writer/director Patrick Rand (credited as an editor on "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure") attempting to make a monster movie with a sympathetic creature, turning a loving matriarch into an unwilling, but bloodthirsty menace. It's one thing to feel bad for Frankenstein's Monster, who was born into a world of pain and confusion, but here the villain is dear old mama, with the screenplay exploring how such a tender force of good is transformed into a big problem for her profoundly disturbed son. Read the rest at