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June 2020

Blu-ray Review - Bones


There was a point in the year 2000 where someone, somewhere wanted to turn rapper Snoop Dogg into a horror icon, delivering a new Freddy for fatigued genre fans, freshening up the roster of screen villains. 2001's "Bones" was meant to be the first of many movies starring Snoop Dogg as the undead pimp Jimmy Bones, but the feature failed to do any business during its initial theatrical run, condemning the endeavor to a life of cult appreciation. What was underwhelming two decades ago remains so today, with director Ernest Dickerson trying to work up a Euro-style nightmare with a screenplay by Adam Simon and Tim Metcalfe, and he makes a pretty picture, but not an appealing effort, losing "Bones" to noise and narrative disjointedness as he struggles to conjure an expressionistic viewing experience while managing decidedly literal material that doesn't have enough ferocity or imagination. Read the rest at

Film Review - Force of Nature (2020)


21 years after making his directorial debut (joined by his brother, Mark) with “Twin Falls Idaho,” Michael Polish has maintained a helming career largely comprised of odd and forgettable features. He’s gone arty and indulgent (2011’s “For Lovers Only”), and even tried out a faith-based picture (“90 Minutes in Heaven”), but now he’s testing the VOD action market with “Force of Nature,” with screenwriter Cory Miller trying to make a miniature “Die Hard” with this Puerto Rico-set tale of an apartment building takeover. This appears to be paycheck work for Polish, putting in limited effort with a feeble script that doesn’t come up with imaginative ways to deal with cops and crooks. “Force of Nature” is bland work all over, unable to conjure a necessary level of excitement with a familiar close-quarters crisis. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Frankenstein: The True Story


The title "Frankenstein: The True Story" promises something more biographical about original author Mary Shelley. The picture doesn't bother with the writer, instead using the titular promise as a way to revisit the central tale of man and monster, with the screenplay (by Don Bachardy and Christopher Isherwood) looking for a fresh way to approach old business, dialing back the Victor Frankenstein character, turning him into a driven man dealing with special influences that lead him to bad decisions concerning the ways of creation. A two-part television movie directed by Jack Smight, "Frankenstein: The True Story" is a lavish take on the core tale of danger, and while it's a relentlessly talky endeavor, it remains engrossing thanks to a large cast of acting greats, who do amazing work breathing life into a production that's very careful not to push too hard on horror. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Kill Team


"The Kill Team" was originally a 2013 documentary from director Dan Krauss, looking into the madness of the military in Afghanistan, singling out the story of Private Adam Winfield, who witnessed his fellow soldiers commit murder, taking down civilians, and felt powerless to stop it. After creating other documentaries, Krauss returns to the Winfield saga with "The Kill Team," this time dramatizing the events, giving real world agony to actors for interpretation. In a marketplace overwhelmed by tales of Middle East war and agony, Krauss brings intimacy to the screen, examining the moral ungluing of boy who wanted to become a man while in service, only to face his future as a monster. While there's little reason to revisit the story, Krauss makes his points vividly, finding an effective thriller this time around. Read the rest at

Film Review - Irresistible


At some point during the end of his run as the host of “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart decided he wanted to become a film director. In 2014, he delivered “Rosewater,” which wasn’t the comedy people were expecting from him, presenting a stark look at an Iranian prison story. It was a creative leap that didn’t attract an audience, but it cleared something out of Stewart’s system, establishing an interest in dodging expectations. Five years later, Stewart is back with “Irresistible,” which is exactly the kind of movie fans want from him. Taking a comedic look at the lunacy of the “election economy,” the picture uses a real-world incident of monetary mayhem surrounding a small-town election as inspiration, with Stewart (who also scripts) aiming to use a semi-farcical tone to expose a corrupt system. A few wilder ideas get away from him, but Stewart shows confidence with arguments and comfort with his approach, making a very funny feature about a chilling topic. Read the rest at

Film Review - Suzi Q


The legacy of Suzi Quatro is important to the history of rock music. She’s was a female performer in a male-dominated world, coming up in the 1970s, where such gender distinction was cause for dismissal. She powered her way to chart-topping hits and sold 55 million albums over the course of her career, becoming a top draw on the touring circuit in Europe and Australia. She conquered the recording industry and even found a place for herself on television, joining the cast of “Happy Days” for two seasons. Suzi influenced millions with her style and sound, yet director Liam Firmager has some concern that the kids of today don’t understand her importance to the music movement, assembling the documentary “Suzi Q” as a way to remind viewers what she represented for so many. “Suzy Q” is a highly engaging look at Suzi’s career and personal life, with Firmager trying to stay out of fan mode for as long as possible, aiming to understand exactly what made a large part of the world go crazy for Suzi Quatro. Read the rest at

Film Review - Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga


When one thinks of a well-directed American comedy, the name David Dobkin doesn’t immediately come to mind. He had a hit, a massive one, with 2005’s “Wedding Crashers,” and he’s been riding that credit over the last 15 years, making disappointments like “Fred Claus” and “The Judge,” and wiping out with 2011’s “The Change-Up.” Dobkin remains in the funny business for “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga,” which reunites him with “Wedding Crashers” stars Rachel McAdams and Will Ferrell (who co-scripts with Andrew Steele), this time setting the duo loose on the beloved international song competition. The idea offers a ripe opportunity for silly stuff, and Ferrell and Adams are certainly game to have some fun. There’s an unexpected gentleness to the picture as well, which isn’t completely obsessed with raunchy antics, but good heavens, Dobkin has no idea how to cut the feature, refusing to pare down an exhausting 123-minute-long run time, suffocating the endeavor, which could probably do wonders with tighter edit. Read the rest at

Film Review - Four Kids and It


As to be expected with a movie that concerns the daily life of a sand fairy, “Four Kids and It” is a very strange effort. However, the production gets even weirder the deeper one looks into the production. The 2020 feature is an adaptation of “Four Children and It,” a novel by Jacqueline Wilson, who’s updating a 1902 book called “Five Children and It,” by Edith Nesbit. One of the characters actually reads the nearly 100-year-old literary offering in the picture, which barely follows the plot of the Wilson’s YA endeavor. Layers of inspiration and motivation are a tad difficult to follow, but director Andy De Emmony’s push to make a palatable family film is quite clear, deliver a very mild take on emotionally broken kids and the magic they encounter while on a difficult mixed-family vacation. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Masked and Anonymous


The musical legacy and poetry of Bob Dylan tries to find any source of oxygen in 2003's "Masked and Anonymous." It's a dystopian western with periodic concert performances from Dylan, who also accepts a starring role in the picture, returning to dramatic interests after a long break from the movies. Co-writer/director Larry Charles (who collaborates with Dylan under pseudonyms for some reason) has the unenviable task of translating Dylan's thinking into a feature, and there's some sense of adventure with "Masked and Anonymous," which puts in a game effort to protect the beloved musician's head space. However, four minutes of Dylan is one thing, but Charles has to tap dance for 107 minutes here, and his fatigue is impossible to miss. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Primal


In this installment of "Nicolas Cage Doesn't Say No to Anything," attention turns to the arrival of "Primal," which, from the film's marketing efforts, appears to concern Cage's character as he does battle with a cargo ship full of wild animals secretly released from their cages by a very bad man. Oh, dear readers, if that were the actual picture, what a state of B-movie bliss we'd all be in. The screenplay by Richard Leder ("Christmas on Chestnut Street," "A Thousand Men and a Baby") isn't that bonkers, not even close. Instead of pure exhilaration as the hero(?) is forced to fight for his life against the animal kingdom, the production offers a prisoner escape feature instead, spending more time with a human protagonist. There's no zoo- gone-mad aspect to "Primal," but, as always, there's Cage, and he's in peak Cage-osity here, trying to give the blandness that surrounds him some much needed thespian spice. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Angel of Mine


Noomi Rapace is an intense actress. She rarely plays light roles that offer a peek at the sunnier side of cinematic fantasy. Instead, she takes on the gut-rot parts that have her screaming in pain or suppressing emotion to such a degree, she risks implosion. Rapace has been on a tear with darker material in recent years, acting herself into a frenzy in "Close," "What Happened to Monday," and "Rupture." She continues her career riot with "Angel of Mine," which asks the talented thespian to portray possible madness in escalating offerings of distress. Screenwriters Luke Davies and David Regal have plenty of agony for Rapace to work her hands through, and she's a magnetic lead for the picture, which has some issues with pace and the potency of reveals, but rarely falters when it comes to the primal scream Rapace provides without hesitation. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - House of Horrors


A poor sculptor with limited professional prospects, Marcel (Martin Kosleck) is ready to end it all when he happens to spot The Creeper (Rondo Hatton) drowning in a lake. Saving the man's life, Marcel hopes to use The Creeper's distorted facial features to inspire new work. However, when he learns of the stranger's propensity for violence, he decides to use The Creeper to murder art critics around town. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Climax


A doctor employed by the Vienna Royal Theater, Hohner (Boris Karloff) is in possession of a horrible secret. Some time ago, the man of medicine murdered his prima donna fiancée in a rage, trying to bottle his emotions ever since. A decade later, Angela (Susanna Foster) is the new singer on the scene, prepared to dominate audiences with her extraordinary vocal gifts. However, Angela sounds just like Hohner's dead lover, putting him in a troubling position as old obsessions return to view, keeping him close to the new hire and her protective fiancé, Franz (Turhan Bay). Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Night Monster


A man ruined by medical care, Ingston (Ralph Morgan) has elected to invite his doctors to his remote home for a gathering, joined by various employees and authorities, and there's Agar (Nils Asther), an Eastern mystic. Eager to showcase Agar's gifts with materialization, Ingston welcomes confusion from his guests, but when murder enters the picture, the push to locate the culprit proves more difficult than imagined, with evidence not matching to a possible suspect. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Night Key


Ranger Security offers its clients a revolutionary way to protect their businesses, using an electrical system to defend stores from thieves. Inventor David (Boris Karloff) has an upgrade for owner Stephen (Samuel S. Hinds), but the moneyman desires to screw the nearly blind genius out of a fortune. Upset with his treatment, David teams with lowlife Petty Louie (Alan Baxter) to showcase his ability to crack Ranger Security systems. However, what was once envisioned as protest turns into trouble for David when local gangsters try to take command of the technology. Read the rest at

Film Review - You Should Have Left


While primarily known for his screenwriting credits (including “Jurassic Park” and “Panic Room”), David Koepp has been quietly building a filmography as a director. Of course, his last effort was the maligned “Mortdecai” (silly fluff, nothing to get upset over), but his early years were devoted to genre efforts, taking great interest in the vastness of human paranoia and delusion. There was “Stir of Echoes” and “Secret Window,” and Koepp returns to his first love with “You Should Have Left.” It’s meant to be a spooky tale, adapting a novella by Daniel Kehlmann, but Koepp isn’t 100% committed to delivering scares, endeavoring to make a movie about the strangeness of relationships and the weight of guilt. “You Should Have Left” needs to be approached with lowered expectations, as it’s not much of a fright film, doing much better with troubled characters and the secrets they keep. Read the rest at

Film Review - 7500 (2020)

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“7500” offers an unusual blend of procedural drama and hijack chiller, and it manages to take on such a challenge with almost complete authority. It’s the feature-length directorial debut for Patrick Vollrath (who also co-scripts with Senad Halilbasic), who goes close-quarters while depicting a horrific terrorism event, only remaining inside the cockpit of a plane flying from Germany to France. The camera doesn’t leave the claustrophobic space for most of the run time, staying tight on the main character as he makes brutal choices concerning life and death, left with only training and remnants of compassion to see him through a situation that changes his life forever. “7500” is as nail-biting as a top-tier thriller gets, managing to shred viewer nerves with filmmaking precision before evolving into something else to defy expectations. It’s one heck of a breakout movie from Vollrath. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mr. Jones (2020)


“Mr. Jones” presents the story of journalist Gareth Jones, who not only managed to make his way into the Soviet Union during the early years of conflict before World War II, he witnessed the ravages of the Holodomor in Ukraine, exposed to the horrors of a man-made famine utilized by Joseph Stalin to destroy the country, using its riches to as “gold” to demonstrate power to the rest of the world. For 2020, such a dire tale of political exposure isn’t an easy sell, but in director Agnieszka Holland’s hands, the feature becomes a riveting study of reporting and corruption that greatly mirrors the world’s struggles of today. “Mr. Jones” maintains a steady pace and sense of dramatic urgency throughout, giving Holland one of her most effective movies in years, and one smartly designed by screenwriter Andrea Chalupa (making a fine debut), who encourages suspense while delivering a powerful message on the value of the press. Read the rest at

Film Review - Da 5 Bloods


With 2018’s “BlacKkKlansman,” director Spike Lee achieved something that’s actually been quite rare during his lengthy career: a big hit. The picture managed to wow critics, inspire the awards circuit, and lure audiences into theaters to see one of the helmer’s better features, which bristled with angry energy and indulged cop movie theatrics. Coming off the powerful “Chi-Raq,” Lee was suddenly on a roll again, ready to cash in some of his clout to make an epic for Netflix, the company eager to spend anything on anyone. “Da 5 Bloods” isn’t Lee’s most ambitious effort (1992’s “Malcolm X” wins that prize), but he’s swinging for the fences with this examination of the black experience in Vietnam, which is intertwined with more defined elements of wartime action and guilt-ridden madness. It’s a messy endeavor, overlong and yet somewhat ill-defined, but Lee’s mojo carries the project most of the way, offering a periodically vivid understanding of pure racial and political frustration. Read the rest at

Film Review - Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films of All‑Time ‑ Volume 3: Comedy and Camp


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. Next up is “Volume 3: Comedy and Camp,” examining the efforts that, for the most part, died during their initial theatrical runs trying to delight audiences with strangeness and satire the general public wasn’t ready to accept at the time. With the box office bloodshed over, Wolf is now taking on the endeavors that managed to hold on due to unique perspectives and low-budget ingenuity. Read the rest at