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May 2020

Blu-ray Review - Public Affairs


Co-writer/director Henri Pachard aims to skewer politics with 1983's "Public Affairs." He's not exactly remaking "The Candidate," but Pachard has distinct ideas to share when exploring the absurdity of politicians and their behavior on and off the stage. Being an adult movie, there's time set aside for all sorts of couplings and randy behavior, but "Public Affairs" is a cynical picture, often using its offerings of sex to help define corrupt behavior and examine the gamesmanship involved when manipulations come for the press and the people of America. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Legend of the White Snake


Taking the essential elements of "The Legend of the White Snake," a Chinese fable (inspiring many interpretations, including Tsui Hark's "Green Snake"), directors Amp Wong and Ji Zhao try to create an animated epic with "White Snake." The picture delivers a lush realm of visual possibilities, dealing with towering offerings of fantasy and intimate moments of romance. "White Snake" is striking, but it's always more impressive as spectacle, unable to connect on an emotional level. Read the rest at

Film Review - The High Note


Just last summer, director Nisha Ganatra delivered “Late Night,” a study of power and gender within the talk show circuit. It was meant to be a big thing, but it ended up a very small thing when it was finally released, ignored by audiences, who couldn’t quite find their way into a mediocre picture. Ganatra is back with more vanilla in “The High Note,” this time exploring the ways of power and gender in the music industry, with a young, naďve woman struggling to navigate the anxieties of a powerful, older woman trying to compete in a cutthroat business. Okay, so she’s basically made the same movie twice, and “The High Note” is equally bland but not entirely unpleasant. It’s the rare film where most of the supporting characters are more interesting than the main players, and while Ganatra is skilled at creating softness, she’s lost with dramatic urgency, allowing the feature to slowly evaporate. Read the rest at

Film Review - Survive the Night


Just six months ago, director Matt Eskandari and star Bruce Willis were working on their VOD game with “Trauma Center.” It wasn’t an inspired feature, with plenty of lackluster filmmaking and casting choices, but it was marginally better than what’s typically made for the home video market, dialing down hyperactive action antics to try its luck as a thriller. Eskandari is back with “Survive the Night,” reteaming with Willis for a home invasion chiller that’s big on keeping costs down, containing most of the action to a basic household setting. Willis continues down his career path of picking roles that require the least amount of standing, and though the picture doesn’t provide an extended run of screen tension, Eskandari does relatively well for the first hour of the endeavor, especially with lowered expectations for a brisk display of antagonism and family issues. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Clear Shot


“A Clear Shot” is “inspired by” the true story of a 1991 Sacramento hostage crisis, where a group of four armed Vietnamese men stormed into a Good Guys electronic shop, demanding strange ransoms and immediate satisfaction. Writer/director Nick Leisure doesn’t have the budget to deal with the chaos of the day in a satisfactory manner, offering a low-budget version of the events, spruced up with more active characterizations and charged encounters between gunmen and hostages. Leisure has a few ideas he wants to sell on the immigration experience in America, but he doesn’t have much of a game plan to achieve his vision. “A Clear Shot” emerges as weirdly ambitious in some areas and far too low wattage in others, with Leisure unable to reach any noticeable levels of suspense as he wages war with limited budgetary coin. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Vast of Night


On the IMDB page for “The Vast of Night,” under the trivia section, someone has added a list of film festivals that passed on the feature as it was making its rounds. As with anything on the website, it’s difficult to tell if this informational addition is either a source of shame or a point of pride. However, such rejection makes sense with this endeavor, which is meant to play like a tribute to television from the 1960s, and is often executed like a podcast, more interested in telling tales than showing them. “The Vast of Night” marks the directorial debut for Andrew Patterson, and it’s clear he has talent, as the effort showcases a sure moviemaking approach. It’s the overall urgency of the feature that’s more in doubt, with the slow-burn viewing experience strictly reserved for those already interested in the art of oral storytelling. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Pet Sematary Two


An adaptation of a Stephen King novel, 1989's "Pet Sematary" (scripted by the author) had a defined beginning, middle, and end. There was little room for a sequel, but the movie ended up a surprise hit for Paramount Picture, who craved a return to Ludlow, Maine, hoping to scoop up some easy sequel bucks. 1992's "Pet Sematary Two" (identified as "Pet Sematary II" in the film) isn't blessed with the return of King to help keep the story on track. Actually, King took is name off the feature, and it's easy to understand why, with returning helmer Mary Lambert trying to make her own bloody mess with the brand name, eschewing franchise intensity to fool around with a semi-comedic tone for a premise that doesn't trigger many laughs. Lambert doesn't really have a creative direction with "Pet Sematary Two," showing little control over tone, performance, and message as she tanks the sequel, almost on purpose. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Peace Killers


It's Hippies vs. Bikers for 1971's "The Peace Killers," with director Douglas Schwartz and screenwriter Michael Berk (the pair would go on to co-create "Baywatch") trying to locate some sense of moral and philosophical foundation as they detail all sorts of behavioral awfulness. It's heavy-handed all the way, but interestingly ambitious, watching the production attempt to comment on the futility of violence while indulging it for the drive-in crowds. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Nightingale


Writer/director Jennifer Kent made a dynamic impression with her feature-length filmmaking debut, 2014's "The Babadook." It was a masterful picture, marrying the extremes of horror and parenthood into a suffocating, frightening viewing experience, presenting Kent as a major talent to watch. It's unfair to pin expectations to Kent's follow-up, but it's impossible to escape the efficiency of "The Babadook" while watching "The Nightingale," which retains the helmer's fondness for suffering, but also remains an overlong, somewhat repetitive effort, trying to master period Australian ruin without tight editing. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - A Thousand and One Erotic Nights


1982's "A Thousand and One Erotic Nights" makes a valiant attempt to be a respectable, borderline epic adult movie, and one that tries to treat its source material with some degree of respect. Writer/director Edwin Brown sets out to do something saucy with "One Thousand and One Nights," a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales that doesn't immediately translate to sexual interplay, but the production puts in the effort to create something entertaining, varied, and, whenever possible, technically proficient, with Brown hoping to elevate his endeavor with cinematic emphasis wherever he can get away with it. Read the rest at

Film Review - Villain


The poster for “Villain” promises a blistering action viewing experience. There’s star Craig Fairbrass in full brutalizer pose, clutching a gun while walking away from a wall of flame and scattered sparks. Gotta have those sparks. The marketing for the feature is presenting a distinct image for revenge cinema, so it comes as something of a surprise to find out that “Villain” isn’t anywhere near the bone-breaker offering initially imagined. Writers Greg Hall and George Russo keep their distance from displays of aggression, with the story concerning the emotional toil of a life of crime, with the lead character spending his hours trying to pick up the pieces after experiencing a stint in prison, locked away while the world changed. Promotional efforts want to sell some slam-bang entertainment, but this movie is far from that, offering a compellingly emotional journey, boosted by a terrific turn from Fairbrass. Read the rest at

Film Review - Military Wives


In 1997, Peter Cattaneo directed “The Full Monty.” The little picture about working class blues and male nudity became a big deal, enjoying critical acclaim and sizable box office, also starting a trend of sorts, with studios suddenly ordering their own tales of miserable people overcoming great odds through peculiar hobbies. Cattaneo couldn’t capitalize on the hit film (bottoming out with the awful 2008 comedy, “The Rocker”), and now he’s attempting a similar viewing experience 23 years later. “Military Wives” is based on the true story of female choirs who pour their heart and soul into song while their significant others are away on duty, and the premise is ripe for feel-good entertainment, observing emotionally wounded people coming together for a greater good. While the whole thing seems unbearably contrived, Cattaneo actually locates a pulse for “Military Wives,” finding a sincere way to approach pure cliché. Read the rest at

Film Review - Inheritance


Two years ago, director Vaughn Stein delivered “Terminal.” It was his attempt at a stylish crime thriller, boosted by star power from Margo Robbie and a rare turn from Mike Myers, but the feature was seriously underwhelming, falling apart long before it reached its crescendo. Stein returns with “Inheritance,” which happens to peak way too soon, delivering an intriguingly twisted premise from screenwriter Matthew Kennedy (making his debut) before it doesn’t do anything of note with it. Stein once again provides a dearth of thrills with his twists and turns, and his feel for casting is way off this time around, finding the wrong people in the wrong roles trying to make a tepid, anticlimactic tale of dark secrets connect on some level. If “Terminal” was slow-burn stroll into tedium, “Inheritance” is in a hurry to get there, making a series of poor creative choices on the way down. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Lovebirds


Fighting a fledgling directing career, Michael Showalter scored a hit with 2017’s “The Big Sick,” impressing many with his ability to balance frightening elements of medical uncertainty with silliness, going for big heart with a side of wackiness. Showalter also turned comedian Kumail Nanjiani into a leading man, as viewed in last year’s bomb, “Stuber.” The pair reteam for “The Lovebirds,” though sensitivity is really the last priority for the production, which intends to play as more of a farce, with brief elements of romance to preserve the date movie appeal of the picture. “The Lovebirds” doesn’t possess any noticeable depth, and its sense of humor is seriously lacking, with Showalter in more of a coaching position, cheering on Nanjiani and so-star Issa Rae as they stumble through terrible improvisations, trying to cover for the lack of a complete script. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hot Dog...The Movie


Sensing a gap in the marketplace, writer/producer Mike Marvin attempts to use the world of freestyle skiing for his own take on "Animal House," dreaming up 1984's "Hot Dog…The Movie." What Marvin lacks in screenwriting prowess he makes up for in sheer enthusiasm for the sport and horndog cinema, working to assemble his own take on the subgenre, blending copious amounts of nudity and high jinks with a distinct display of athleticism, stunts, and speed. "Hot Dog…The Movie" isn't high art by any means, and the film often believes it's more amusing than it really is, but it does retain entertainment value as the production figures out what kind of story it wants to tell between mountain battles, coming up with a slightly meandering endeavor that periodically comes to life when it achieves even a mild amount of focus on sellable elements. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Slumber Party Massacre


While it's not highly lauded in horror circles, there's something about 1982's "The Slumber Party Massacre" that's kept the film alive and kicking for almost 40 years, enjoying modest cult appreciation. The project began life as a parody, and one written by feminist author Rita Mae Brown, who endeavored to pants the slasher genre with her own take on abusive happenings with young girls and the men who enjoy killing them. Such ambition didn't make its way to the big screen, with Brown's vision soon reworked by director Amy Holden Jones, who ditched satiric interests to make a relatively straightforward chiller for executive producer Roger Corman. Instead of poking fun at horror formula, Jones simply utilizes it to complete her helming debut, laboring to fill a 76-minute-long run time with basic chases and casualties, depending on actor Michael Villella to do his duty at the villain Russ Thorn, who terrorizes a collection of high school girls with an industrial drill. "The Slumber Party Massacre" doesn't offer anything fresh or exciting, with Holden keeping to a tight schedule of panic and expiration, clinging to the obvious symbolism of the drill and its phallic representation. Sadly, the movie doesn't have much in the way of pace or scares, only finding intermittent inspiration when violence does occur, giving Holden something to concentrate on as the rest of the picture flattens when dealing with dull characters, weak banter, and a primary threat who should be featured with more regularity. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The House That Jack Built


Throughout his career, writer/director Lars von Trier has treasured every chance to upset his audience. He's an artful filmmaker, but one who enjoys being provocative, taking viewers to dark, strange places where human barbarity can thrive. Sometimes, this makes for unforgettable cinema. "The House That Jack Built" is not one of those golden occasions, with von Trier going inward to craft a tale about a serial killer struggling with his own vision for savagery. "The House That Jack Built" is repellant, but predictably so, taking a torturous 153 minutes to keep hitting the same beats of mutilation and commentary, while von Trier puts this thinly veiled examination of his own career into the hands of star Matt Dillon, who's not built for the uniquely suffocating screen spaces European cinema is capable of producing. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Another Day of Life


Spending a whopping ten years in production, "Another Day of Life" endeavors to share the experiences of Ryszard Kapuscinski, a Polish journalist who strived to dissect and report on the Angolan Civil War in 1975. Aiming for a more artful (and less expensive) way to detail such a perilous journey, directors Raul de la Fuente and Damian Nenow turn to motion capture animation to bring the tale to life, giving them access to visual elasticity as the story winds through bitter realities and growing nightmares. Read the rest at

Film Review - Scoob!


“Scoob!” marks the return of the “Scooby-Doo” franchise to the big screen (at least that was the original release plan), arriving after 2004’s “Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed” failed to match the gross of its 2002 predecessor. However, there’s been no shortage of “Scooby-Doo” entertainment over the years, with Warner Brothers mining the brand name for everything it’s worth, churning out DTV animated movies (where the Mystery Machine gang has paired up with pro-wrestlers, Batman, and KISS) and television shows, making sure there’s a Scooby-themed offering for every star in the sky. And now there’s “Scoob!” Instead of ordering up a uniquely spooky adventure for the characters, the producers have decided to launch the Hanna-Barbera Cinematic Universe, blending known cartoon personalities to help give Scooby-Doo and Shaggy the big-budget formula to inspire future sequels and spin-offs. Read the rest at

Film Review - Capone


After scoring a commercial success with 2012’s “Chronicle,” director Josh Trank lost almost all of his critical and industry goodwill with his follow-up endeavor, the disastrous “Fantastic Four” do-over. While such a public flameout would kill most careers, Trank has managed to hang on to his employability by his fingertips, returning five years later with “Capone,” a much smaller picture for the helmer. While there was a lot of speculation as to who was really behind the colossal failure of “Fantastic Four,” “Capone” basically underlines Trank’s shortcomings as a storyteller, getting lost in his own unpleasant whims with the feature, which gradually becomes a prison sentence for viewers as it tracks the steady decay of Al Capone -- a tale nobody asked for, especially from Trank. Read the rest at