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June 2020

Film Review - The Ghost of Peter Sellers


In 1973, Peter Medak directed “Ghost in the Noonday Sun,” a pirate adventure starring Peter Sellers. In truth, he didn’t really direct the feature, he survived it, and barely that, going into the project with slight hesitation, coming out a changed man with a profound fear that his career was killed by the experience. Over four decades later, Medak’s blood still boils at the thought of the endeavor, wrestling with unresolved issues pertaining to Sellers and his atrocious behavior on-set, showing little care for anything but himself. With hopes to reconcile with the past and see if there’s a way back into the time lost while making “Ghost in the Noonday Sun,” Medak turns to documentary therapy for “The Ghost of Peter Sellers,” where he recounts his days spent on the doomed project, managing a star who hired him but ultimately didn’t want to participate, methodically destroying the movie in the process. Read the rest at

Film Review - Babyteeth


Screenwriter Rita Kalnejais has her heart in the right place with “Babyteeth,” constructing a lived-in ode to adolescent heartbreak and parental anxiety. It’s an Australian production that aims to explore painful relationships exploding under one roof, delving into all sorts of uncomfortable realities and stunted interactions, with the story basically out to understand the mindset of frustrated people who can’t communicate with the precision they hope for. It’s about messiness, and director Shannon Murphy tries to respect the free spirit nature of the material, securing a loose feel for characters experiencing the highs and lows of life. Murphy also spreads the roaming narrative over two hours, which tends to strangle elements of intimacy that work so well for the effort. “Babyteeth” has moments of emotional clarity that are exquisite, but there’s also a large portion of the overlong feature that resembles a filmed acting class. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Wizard


Dismissed as a 100-minute-long commercial for Nintendo during its initial 1989 theatrical release, "The Wizard" has managed to shed such contempt over the last three decades of cult appreciation. Make no mistake, the feature is one big plug for the video game company, with the production making sure to highlight new games and controllers, while nearly every character has a fever for the NES and all the video adventure it provides. However, there's a bit more to "The Wizard" than promotion, with screenwriter David Chisholm and director Todd Holland making an effort to get the picture to a point of emotional connection, trying to stuff as much family business as possible into the corners of the endeavor. It's up to the viewer to decide how successful the creative vision is, as the movie isn't the sturdiest dramatic offering, often struggling with tonal extremes as the sugar rush of gaming meets the sobering reality of death and familial denial. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Gerry


After experiencing success with "Good Will Hunting" and "Finding Forrester," director Gus Van Sant decided to cleanse his filmmaking system with 2003's "Gerry," a deliberate attempt from the helmer to get back to his experimental roots. Taking inspiration from the work of Euro talent such as Bela Tarr, Van Sant delivers a purely observational viewing experience with "Gerry," which consists of lengthy takes and limited dialogue, examining the gradual deterioration of two men (Casey Affleck and Matt Damon) lost in the desert, left with nothing to do but walk as they search hopelessly for a rescue. It's as spare as it gets, which is exactly what Van Sant wants for this initial installment of his "Death Trilogy." Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hollywood Horror House


While 1970's "Hollywood Horror House" provides a lively cult movie viewing experience, it never quite tops its opening sequence. Writer/director Donald Wolfe introduces the audience to the Hollywood of yesterday, which was fueled by star power, with actors selling their glamour and polish to the masses, creating a unique time in the entertainment industry when such incredible fame could be achieved just by appearing in features, creating tremendous excitement. Wolfe cooks up an introductory montage of glitz before cutting to the then-current state of the Hollywood Sign, carefully photographed by the production, using main title time to study its rusted, peeling appearance, signaling the end of Old Hollywood and the dead splendor of the town. It's a powerful statement on the changing times, and the last bit of intelligent commentary from Wolfe, who quickly leaps into the B-movie muck with this riff on multiple dramas and thrillers, endeavoring to create a nightmare for the drive-in audience using the remnants of a bygone era of stardom and filmmaking. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - 47 Meters Down: Uncaged


Three years ago, "47 Meters Down" enjoyed a movie release miracle, rescued from a DTV fate by Entertainment Studios, who purchased the film on the day of its DVD debut, with the company trying to cash in on shark fever at the cinema. The plan worked, with "47 Meters Down" managing to find an audience, keeping the subgenre alive for another season. This summer, the real aquatic action remains with alligators (from last July's excellent thriller, "Crawl"), but the suits aren't about to leave money on the table, returning to the deep with "47 Meters Down: Uncaged," which has nothing to do with the first picture, merely taking its title and sharks for another underwater joyride. Co-writer/director Johannes Roberts returns as well, newly empowered to dump character work and suspense, focused primarily on making a cheap scare machine that's brainless and joyless, sticking with limp exploitation basics. Read the rest at

Film Review - Artemis Fowl


There’s a bit of nostalgia tied to the release of “Artemis Fowl,” which returns viewers back to a time when “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” managed to become a bigger hit than anyone was expecting, triggering a gold rush from studios trying to get their hands on similar properties. It’s hard to remember the specifics of “Eragon,” “The Seeker,” and “The Mortal Instruments,” but they all wanted in on the YA fantasy lottery. “Artemis Fowl” is cut from the same cloth, presenting a complicated universe of humans, fairies, trolls, and dwarves, all on the hunt for a special weapon of power while a shadowy figure plans multiverse domination. The mixture seemed to work for author Eoin Colfer, who turned his 2001 book into a popular literary series, but the film adaptation from director Kenneth Branagh is baffling for much of its run time, burdened with way too much story to tell and only 88 minutes to work with. It’s “Exposition: The Movie,” and while visual might is there, this picture is a chore to sit through. Read the rest at

Film Review - The King of Staten Island


It’s no secret that writer/director Judd Apatow has a filmmaking formula. He takes biographical scraps from the lives of his stars and uses comedy to press a story into place, going for emotional authenticity while trying to score laughs with improvisational humor. He did it with Adam Sandler in “Funny People,” himself in “This Is 40,” and, most recently, with Amy Schumer in the 2015 hit, “Trainwreck.” He’s been away from the screen for five years, but Apatow returns with “The King of Staten Island,” which pairs his helming habits with “Saturday Night Live” player, Pete Davidson. The combo is more effective than it initially appears, finding Apatow not only able to make Davidson likeable, but understood in many ways, creating a seriocomic journey into the man’s personal history and professional charms, which were previously a source of heated debate. “The King of Staten Island” isn’t fresh, but it’s lived-in and amusing, with Apatow coloring inside the lines with a cozy vision for childhood trauma and maturation blues. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Last Days of American Crime


How director Olivier Megaton still finds work as a filmmaker is an industry mystery that might never be solved. He’s a franchise killer, ruining “The Transporter” and “Taken” brand names with awful sequels, and he’s done dreadfully on his own, guiding “Columbiana.” Now fully departed from the ruins of Luc Besson’s company, EuropaCorp, Megaton is back with “The Last Days of American Crime,” and, no shock here, it’s an abysmal picture. Actually, it’s the worst movie he’s ever made, put in charge of visualizing a graphic novel adaptation that perhaps didn’t need cinematic representation, dealing with blank characters and a non-starter of a plot. It’s all coated in grungy style and ultraviolence, while casting is atrocious, unleashing bad actors on worse material. I’m sure the production is aiming to shine a light on the failings of American society (the effort was shot in South Africa), but the first mistake was hiring the graceless Megaton, who has no idea how to put together a scene, much less a punishing 150-minute-long viewing experience that can’t successfully put one foot in front of the other. Read the rest at

Film Review - Darkness Falls (2020)


“Darkness Falls” runs a hair over 80 minutes. It’s a lean run time for a serial killer drama, and what’s so odd about the movie is how it portions out the horrors it wants to share. Director Julien Seri spends the first ten minutes of the endeavor highlighting a slow, agonizing murder involving the forced digestion of sleeping pills and a staged suicide, never introducing the characters beyond their crude depiction as predator and prey. It’s just ugliness without context, which does nothing for tension or storytelling. However, what initially seems like a single offering of editorial mismanagement becomes a feature-long problem for the helmer, who merely supplies select scenes of rage and reflection, not a nail-biting viewing experience involving a haunted cop and two deranged individuals causing problems for the women of Los Angeles. It’s an 80-minute-long time commitment, and nothing really happens in “Darkness Falls.” Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Xtro 3: Watch the Skies


1982's "Xtro" is just one of those genre movies that benefited from the VHS boom of the 1980s. It offered provocative box art and provided a gruesome ride, with co-writer/director Harry Bromley Davenport ignoring good taste to deliver something nasty and sellable, trying to make his mark. It's not a memorable feature, but it did inspire ire from the likes of Roger Ebert, who described the film as "one of the most mean-spirited and ugly thrillers I've seen in a long time." Whatever it was to fans and detractors, it was a meal ticket for Davenport, who returned to the saga with 1990's "Xtro II: The Second Encounter," trying to restart the brand name. In 1995, he finally cried uncle with "Xtro 3: Watch the Skies," which hoped to offer the faithful more creature anarchy, only here Davenport tries to go all "Aliens" with the project, bringing in big guns, explosions, and Hanks. Well, Jim Hanks. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Terror Firmer


1999's "Terror Firmer" is often sold by Troma Entertainment as a satire of their usual production mayhem, with co-writers Patrick Cassidy and Douglas Buck using parts of director Lloyd Kauffman's book, "All I Need to Know About Filmmaking I Learned from the Toxic Avenger" (sharing authorship duties with James Gunn), as a starting point for the company's usual outrageousness, this time focusing on the chaos of no-budget moviemaking. It's not easy to identify the cleverness of such a creative attempt, because all Troma really does is provide noise, and their runaway train sense of humor frequently destroys anything imaginative about "Terror Firmer," which could be an illuminating study of Kaufman's lifelong pursuit of independent freedom in the film world, but it mostly wants to be a grotesque serial killer endeavor with a wafer-thin plot and boundless appreciation for all things disgusting. It's certainly one of the more extreme efforts from Troma, and one of their most disappointing, with sections of satiric clarity quickly clouded by every single bodily fluid imaginable. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Parts You Lose


There are no major displays of dramatic firepower in "The Parts You Lose," and the plot is simple, dealing with issues facing the main characters, without going beyond the core dynamic to pad the runtime. Writer Darren Lemke doesn't go for flash with his screenplay, trying to land more of a literary atmosphere to the feature, which often resembles an adaptation of a young adult novel. "The Parts You Lose" may not have a fireworks display, but there's consistency to the picture, providing a full sense of character and heart. The modest nature of the production isn't a problem, as director Christopher Cantwell creates an inviting sense of tension and interaction, always preserving the human side of the story to best retain viewer attention. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Luz


It doesn't come as a tremendous surprise to learn that "Luz" is actually a thesis film from writer/director Tilman Singer. The German production doesn't aim to go big with its tale of possession and obsession, preferring to play everything with a slow-burn study of performance as tensions rise in small rooms. It's largely inexplicable, with Singer playing homage to Euro cinema brain-bleeders of the 1980s with the picture trying to reach a specific audience with its avant-garde antics. It's all a great big question mark of behavior, history, and domination, and while "Luz" has something, it visibly struggles to fill a scant 65-minute-long run time, with Singer clearly trying to taffy-pull a minor idea into something major, leaning into the stillness of the effort instead of developing its level of dread. Read the rest at

Film Review - Becky


“Becky” is being sold as the dramatic debut for comedian Kevin James. I’m not sure if that’s accurate, as I saw “Grown Ups 2” on opening night in a half-full auditorium, and nobody was laughing. But who am I to get in the way of marketing? The great news is that James tries to be steely and humorless here, and he does a fantastic job playing a menacing character. Even better, “Becky” is an absolute blood-drenched joyride of a film; a revenge picture that’s lean, mean, and unexpectedly interested in the bodily harm a 13-year-old kid can inflict on the Nazi goons looking to destroy everything she holds dear. Directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion don’t pull any punches with their endeavor, offering a nightmarishly graphic descent into feral outbreaks of grief, going wild with B-movie rampaging from an unlikely source of rage. Read the rest at

Film Review - Judy and Punch


Perhaps the most surprising aspect of “Judy and Punch” is writer/director Mirrah Foulkes’s interest in returning to the past to examine a different origin story for a famous puppet show. Offering a feminist take on the saga of Punch and Judy, the feature winds back 400 years to a time of male dominance, religious fearmongering, and desperation for entertainment. Foulkes has something original with “Judy and Punch,” and something angry too, with the picture delivering an impressive level of violence to go with its pitch-black sense of humor and horror. It doesn’t always connect as it should, getting a little lost when it comes time to form a resolution, but Foulkes makes an impressive debut with the macabre endeavor, and while she’s not dealing in real history, her imagination is big enough to reconsider the state of art and gender balance during a chaotic time period. Read the rest at

Film Review - You Don't Nomi


1995’s “Showgirls” has experienced a true roller coaster ride of appreciation. When it was initially released in theaters, sold as a sinful NC-17 viewing experience, it was promptly dismissed by critics as unforgivable trash. Audiences were initially curious, bur horrible word-of-mouth spread fast, killing the picture in its second weekend. And then it was gone. All that hype and promotion was over just like that, sending the effort to the VHS afterlife, destined to live the rest of its days as a cinema curio from Paul Verhoeven, a mighty director. And then something happened to “Showgirls.” Around 2000, it started finding an audience, and one that responded to the extremity of the endeavor with absolute delight, giving the box office bomb a second wind on home video and around the world as a midnight movie oddity. “You Don’t Nomi” is fairly late to the party with its offering of admiration and deconstruction, but for those with a profound love for the production, director Jeffrey McHale strives to present an understanding of what went right, and what went oh-so-wrong. Read the rest at

Film Review - Shirley


“Shirley” isn’t a bio-pic of writer Shirley Jackson, author of “The Lottery” and “The Haunting of Hill House.” It’s an adaptation of the 2014 book by Susan Scarf Merrell, who used her admiration for Jackson’s work in psychological horror to create her own homage to the writer, imagining a complicated, almost parasitic relationship between Jackson and a pregnant woman who comes to lives with her for a significant amount of time. There’s a twinge of disappointment that the material isn’t more interested in history, with screenwriter Sarah Gubbins aiming to make more of a chiller, combining Merrell’s material, Jackson’s reputation, and her own dramatic interests to construct an unnerving exploration of mental illness, literary inspiration, and obsession. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Fraternity Vacation


Directorial careers can be very strange, with most helmers struggling to find work, jumping from project to project just to maintain a living. James Frawley (who passed away in 2019) is in possession of that kind of wild resume, primarily working in television, laboring to make lackluster shows presentable. And then, in 1979, Frawley was offered a shot to guide "The Muppet Movie," allowing Jim Henson a chance to focus on performance and puppet work while someone else managed day-to-day business. Frawley ended up with one of the best films of the year and arguably the finest Muppet cinematic endeavor of all time. However, he couldn't get anything going with such a credit, returning to television, with his next theatrical offering being 1985's "Fraternity Vacation," taking command of a teen horndog production meant to be made as cheaply and quickly as possible to compete with the rising tide of R-rated comedies that delivered juvenile antics and naked bodies. It's difficult to understand what Frawley was thinking when he accepted the job, besides collecting a paycheck, suddenly in charge of realizing a simplistic screenplay (by Lindsay Harrison) and supporting limited actors, stuck with pure formula to make multiplex (and VHS) fodder. Where's Kermit when you need him? Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Paradise Hills


Alice Waddington makes her feature-length directorial debut with "Paradise Hills," and it's a stunner in many ways. She's created a fantasy world of re- education with screenwriters Nacho Vigalondo and Brian DeLeeuw, finding a way to deal with gender submission troubles while creating a futureworld environment of hostility thinly veiled by hospitality. The production has its storytelling issues, happy to throw everything at the screen without explaining a great deal of it, but Waddington also strives for a visual experience, offering terrific design elements throughout. "Paradise Hills" has something to say about the state of oppressed females, heading into a sci-fi direction to explore a survival tale that's loaded with screen detail and summons the eternal burn of frustration as it transforms into revolution. Read the rest at