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July 2020

Film Review - The Secret: Dare to Dream


“The Secret: Dare to Dream” gathers the teachings found in Rhonda Byrne’s 2006 self-help book, “The Secret,” and brings them over to a Nicholas Sparks-style movie, mixing lessons on healing with ideas on love. It’s a painfully obvious film, but that appears to be the point of it, with director Andy Tennant trying to make comfy sweater cinema while keeping Byrne’s brand alive and well as the characters attack monumental problems with the power of positive thought. Byrne’s message has reached an enormous amount of readers, helped along by celebrity endorsements, but the basics of her central idea make for an awkward fit here, as Tennant spends some of the feature maintaining the author’s concepts and the rest managing a droopy romantic drama that feels more at home on Hallmark Channel. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Go-Go's


Identifying achievement appears the primary source of storytelling in the documentary “The Go-Go’s.” Director Alison Ellwood (“American Jihad,” “Spring Broke”) fixates on the overall groundbreaking glow of the world-famous band, identifying their position as the most successful all-female rock band and their domination of American media during the early 1980s. Of course, there’s so much more to the group, who enjoyed their first reign from 1978-1985, and “The Go-Go’s” is mostly interested in getting to the heart of success, personal relationships, and internal strife. Material is missing, but there’s a joyous sense of life and love to the feature, and also an incredible level of candor, with the band and past members and management returning to the early years of formation, charting the rise and fall (and rise again) of a group that made their wildest dreams come true, only to struggle monumentally with themselves and one another when it came time to sustain such magic. Read the rest at

Film Review - Summerland


Playwright Jessica Swale makes her directorial debut with “Summerland” (also scripting the effort), and she remains within the theatrical realm with the period British drama. Swale aims to examine characters as they react to hardships and surprises, using a fractured sense of time to dig up compelling motivations for the players as they embark on complicated tests of courage and responsibility. “Summerland” tries to be big, dealing with World War II survival challenges and the open world of the English countryside, but Swale is more successful with intimacy, tapping into silent fears as her personalities struggle to confront a few unthinkable turns of fate. It’s a satisfying feature that ultimately takes on a bit more than it can handle, but Swale keeps the film sincere, also supported by a capable cast who makes certain the heart of the material is protected. Read the rest at

Film Review - I Want My MTV


To do the story of Music Television justice, a production would probably need a limited series to even begin to scratch the surface of the entertainment empire. For “I Want My MTV,” directors Tyler Measom and Patrick Waldrop give themselves 80 minutes, and they only examine the highs and lows of the 1980s. Business world evils and nostalgia compete for attention in the documentary, which tries to understand how a cable channel initially promoted as “video radio” grew into the top force of pop culture domination during the ‘80s, working its way from a roster of 250 videos to complete control of a generation. It’s a fascinating tale of trial and error, brilliant marketing, and the sheer power of music. Measom and Waldrop don’t get anywhere near a satisfying understanding of the MTV experience, but they certainly achieve a compelling overview of technical hurdles and the evolution of a trendsetting media behemoth. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee


In 2018, a Super Bowl advertisement was created hinting a reboot of the 1986 smash hit, “Crocodile Dundee,” was coming in some form, with Danny McBride taking command of the role. It was eventually revealed to be an elaborate ad for Australian tourism, but the weird result of the mini-movie was excitement for a new “Crocodile Dundee” feature. Few could’ve predicted that response, especially original Mick Dundee, Paul Hogan (who cameoed in the commercial). Instead of capitalizing on the success of the ad with a fresh adventure for the once beloved Aussie icon, Hogan decides to do something smaller, blander, and possibly unfinished. With “The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee,” the actor plays himself living in a world of fading fame and sequel frenzy, participating in a comedy (scripted by Robert Mond and Dean Murphy, who also directs) that tries to be silly and self-referential, but mostly ends up uncomfortably odd. “The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee” plays like a tax shelter production, with Hogan offering the least amount of effort in a film that has no clear idea what it wants to be. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - V: The Final Battle


When it aired in May, 1983, "V" was an instant hit for NBC, with the network's careful promotional push, teasing the dickens out of the production, actually paying off, securing a large viewership for the two-part miniseries. The Kenneth Johnson creation made its way into the pop culture conversation, and the conclusion of "V" presented a tempting opening for a sequel, with the Resistance sending signals into deep space, hoping to attract the attention of an alien nation capable of triggering an independence day for Earth, taking care of the Visitors, ending their dastardly plans to strip the planet of its water and feast on its population. NBC immediately ordered a follow-up, only Johnson's vision for the next chapter was dismissed, with executives more interested in keeping things earthbound, reluctant to pay for an intergalactic battle royal. One year later, "V: The Final Battle" was unleashed on the public, with the story beefed up to a three-night stand (Part 1 – 90:13, Part 2 – 92:06, Part 3 – 84:59), while the story, now stripped of mystery, turns to war, eschewing Johnson's vision to stage chases and encourage more exploitative elements. It's all tremendously fun and a teensy bit lurid, and while "V: The Final Battle" isn't as passionate a project as its predecessor, it remains an active and invested continuation of the original series. And there's a character named Ham. What more do you need? Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Coneheads


1980's "The Blues Brothers" is credited as the first "Saturday Night Live" movie, becoming a hit during the summer season, proving to Hollywood there was gold in them thar hills. However, it would take another 12 years before producer Lorne Michaels would permit another pass at a big screen adaptation of a sketch, eventually shepherding a cinematic spin for "Wayne's World," hitting the comedy zeitgeist with fresh, devastatingly hilarious offering that gracefully expanded the world of "Saturday Night Live" for a young audience newly hooked on the program. Bizarrely, for his follow-up, Michaels didn't march forward in pop culture, he went back, all the way to the year 1977, selecting "Coneheads" as the next display of multiplex power from the "SNL" catalog. It's not exactly clear what motivated this creative direction, but Michaels manages to assemble something with 1993's "Coneheads," offering co-writer/star Dan Aykroyd a shot at alien-based craziness with a feature-length showcase of his weirdest creation, transforming the family from "France" into a picture that periodically reminds the viewer that the concept only works in five-minute-long offerings of oddness. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Olivia


With 1983's "Olivia," co-writer/director Ulli Lommel tries to create an homage to Alfred Hitchcock. He doesn't succeed in matching the master's way with suspense and psychological fracture, but Lommel gets somewhere with the material, which is more than I'm sure many might expect. Merging the worlds of "Psycho" and "Vertigo," Lommel aims to concoct a proper descent into the far reaches of madness, dealing with sexuality and violence as the titular character is hit with more trauma than she can handle. The set-up connects, and the midsection has some potency. It's the last act where Lommel bungles the endeavor, but for a good hour and change, "Olivia" remains engrossing, juggling just enough lurid detail and strangeness to entertain. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Malabimba


Attempting to participate in the rise of Satanic Panic features born from the success of "The Exorcist," 1979's "Malabimba" strives to replicate the same uncomfortable energy as a pure, young soul is corrupted by a special type of evil bent on using and destroying the innocence of its host. The Italian production, directed by Andrea Bianchi (1972's "Treasure Island," "Cry of a Prostitute"), isn't content to remain in a space of physical torment, working to amplify the horror of the situation as wickedness is unleashed inside of a castle. The production aims to go one step further, transforming "Malabimba" into adult entertainment, moving from softcore scenes of taboo temptation to hardcore inserts, aiming to sauce up the viewing experience by adding sexual conquests featuring the hired cast and intermittent views of genital close-ups. The picture is incredibly bizarre, and it's not entirely clear if Bianchi is even aware of what he's doing here, commencing the endeavor as a traditional fright film before veering off into a loopy dirty movie. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Rental


The company Airbnb has done a remarkable job transforming the vacation rental marketplace, and it’s even more impressive how much it’s influenced genre entertainment. Over the last few years, terror from the depths of luxury living has been explored in “Trespassers,” “Welcome Home,” “Tone-Deaf,” and the recent “You Should Have Left.” And now there’s “The Rental,” which also examines an unfolding nightmare facing a group of travelers looking for the perfect getaway, only to come up against an insidious enemy. The effort marks the feature-length directorial debut for Dave Franco (who co-scripts with Joe Swanberg), and he’s done his homework, endeavoring to provide a spooky ride of mysterious events while gently working in a greater appreciation for character connections. He’s making a relationship movie with a body count, and it’s effective, more so when dealing with people and their problems than acts of murder. Read the rest at

Film Review - Yes, God, Yes


In 2014, screenwriter Karen Maine made her debut with “Obvious Child,” creating richly defined characters and absolutely crushing an intimidating tonal challenge with a story that touched on abortion. Maine graduates to the director’s chair for “Yes, God, Yes,” and she’s not taking it easy on herself, this time taking at a look at the sexual curiosity of a teenage girl attending a Catholic school retreat. Much like “Obvious Child,” Maine has a special talent for understanding the specifics of people in deep with their own issues, managing dramatic clarity and hilarious offerings of comedy along the way. “Yes, God, Yes” is small picture (running just over 70 minutes), but Maine creates a vivid ode to the perils of adolescence, especially from a female perspective. Read the rest at

Film Review - Radioactive


Marjane Satrapi found her voice in the art of graphic novels. She won acclaim and awareness with her work on 2000’s “Persepolis,” eventually bringing the book to the screen (with Vincent Paronnaud) in a 2007 animated picture, which went on to great success, even claiming an Oscar nomination. She continued in the medium for 2011’s “Chicken with Plums,” which was also based on her writings, and now she returns with “Radioactive,” which is a live-action adaptation of a 2010 graphic novel by Lauren Redniss. Instead of manufacturing a formulaic bio-pic of Marie Curie and her brilliant mind, Satrapi tries to remain respectful of the source material, making a periodically dreamlike film that mixes in bits of history while studying Curie’s behaviors, hoping to understand the singular drive of a woman who wanted to change the world and receive credit for her work, coming up against an establishment that had little tolerance for her personality, while matters of love threatened to fog scientific exploration. Read the rest at

Film Review - Animal Crackers


Hollywood once made a movie about the board game Battleship, so the idea of creating one about a snack food for children isn’t too outrageous. Directors Scott Christian Sava and Tony Bancroft set out to make something memorable with “Animal Crackers,” turning crunchy treats into a world of magic, musical showmanship, and numerous offerings of villainy. It’s a very strange picture, but not without inspiration, presenting a noticeable amount of backstory and world-building to expand fairly straightforward source material. “Animal Crackers” is budget animation, but Bancroft and Sava make a clear attempt to do something with the work, creating an exciting, brightly colored family film, besting admittedly low expectations for cracker-based entertainment. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fisherman's Friends


Feel-good cinema receives a new offering in “Fisherman’s Friends.” After the recent release of “Military Wives,” here comes another U.K. tale of an unlikely musical success, presenting those in the mood for comfortable entertainment with a mild ride of fish-out-of-water comedy, family ties, and business world deviltry. And there’s plenty of music to help lift the production up. “Fisherman’s Friends” isn’t going to wow with originality, and thankfully director Chris Foggin has managed to preserve some level of charm, delivering a frightfully predictable but aimable movie that’s incredibly easy on the senses. There are a few laughs, an engaged cast, and big, clear vocal performances, which help to distract from a connect-the-dots screenplay that has no discernable interest in providing anything more than what the audience expects from a cheery good time with characters from a quaint corner of the world. Read the rest at

Film Review - Retaliation


“Retaliation” has endured a long road to release. It was shot five years ago, surfacing at 2017 film festivals as “Romans,” and it finally makes its North American debut in 2020, arriving with an angry title and a trailer that sells the feature as some type of British crime saga, emphasizing the brutality of the picture to hook viewers in the mood for a slice of revenge cinema. Well, “Retaliation” isn’t that movie. At all. What’s actually here is a brooding, reflective study of trauma, examining one man’s response to a reunion with the priest who raped him when he was a boy. The tale’s not about punishment, it concerns the long road to some semblance of forgiveness, staying true to its religious interests and character-based drama. War isn’t welcome here, with screenwriter Geoff Thompson supplying a theatrical-style inspection of profoundly painful psychological erosion. Read the rest at

Film Review - Amulet


“Amulet” marks the directorial debut for Romola Garai. An actress managing to sustain a career over the last two decades, Garai has worked largely in supporting roles, honing her craft with emotionally stunted characters, and perhaps she’s best known as the poor, unfortunate soul who was selected to become the next Baby for 2004’s “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights.” Making an effort to take command of her professional opportunities, Garai steps into the pilot’s seat for “Amulet,” a horror feature that has bits of the grotesque and the unknown, but mostly wants to comment on the troubling ways of toxic men and their destructive habits when riding around in full white knight mode. Garai invests in mood, and she takes her time with the picture, which doesn’t end up as anything much more than a demonstration of her abilities behind the camera, and that fails to impress. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Fit to Kill


In 1985, writer/director Andy Sidaris decided to create his own special universe of heroes and villains, using the ways of no-budget filmmaking to generate cheap thrills through the use of exotic locations, rough action, and nudity. "Malibu Express" wasn't trying to alter the curve of exploitation cinema, but it did the trick for the VHS generation, inspiring Sidaris to keep churning out titles to meet demand, reusing actors and hot tubs as he built the Malibu Bay Films empire (joined by his wife, Arlene Sidaris). 1993's "Fit to Kill" is the eighth installment of the loosely defined series, continuing the adventures of bikini-clad security agents as they defend America with their firepower, sleuthing, and distinct skills of seduction. There's certainly a "if you've seen one of these things, you've seen them all" vibe to the picture, but to criticize Sidaris for his unrepentant recycling is missing the point of the Malibu Bay experience. "Fit to Kill" isn't reinventing the wheel, but there's some cleverness to be found in the movie, and Sidaris is wise enough to introduce actress Julie Strain to the family, with the statuesque Penthouse Pet bringing needed attitude to the franchise, keeping others on their toes. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hard Hunted


In 1985, writer/director Andy Sidaris decided to create his own special universe of heroes and villains, using the ways of no-budget filmmaking to generate cheap thrills through the use of exotic locations, rough action, and nudity. "Malibu Express" wasn't trying to alter the curve of exploitation cinema, but it did the trick for the VHS generation, inspiring Sidaris to keep churning out titles to meet demand, reusing actors and hot tubs as he built the Malibu Bay Films empire (joined by his wife, Arlene Sidaris). 1993's "Hard Hunted" is the seventh installment of the loosely defined series, continuing the adventures of bikini-clad security agents as they defend America with their firepower, sleuthing, and distinct skills of seduction. There's certainly a "if you've seen one of these things, you've seen them all" vibe to the picture, but to criticize Sidaris for his unrepentant recycling is missing the point of the Malibu Bay experience. "Hard Hunted" is an effort that leans especially hard on the formula of the franchise, though this chapter is a little more interested in outside activity, charming audiences with bright locales and performances, while Andy gradually loses interest in providing a workable story, making the movie more of a highlight reel of Malibu Bay delights than an escalating adventure concerning a mission to prevent the end of the world. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Bad Manners


"Bad Manners" was reportedly conceived as a cult film for young audiences, giving an unrepresented audience a moment of midnight movie madness with an anti-authoritarian tale of terrible kids engaging in terrible behavior while in the care of terrible adults. The recipe is there, but someone, somewhere decided to turn the picture into an R-rated romp, making it nearly impossible for the target demographic to see the work without permission from a parent. It wasn't the brightest production choice, but there's not a lot of brain power going around "Bad Manners," which primarily details a war between obnoxious characters, decorated with uncomfortably aggressive behavior that makes it impossible to pick a side. Everyone should be institutionalized in this dreary comedy, which aspires to provide Mad Magazine-style shenanigans with rambunctious, cynical personalities, but can only muster a Cracked Magazine sense of humor. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Deadline


While the marketing for 1980's "Deadline" promises a ghoulish time with nightmare cinema, the actual feature isn't really about scares at all, at least the genre kind. Writers Richard Oleksiak and Mario Azzopardi (who also directs) aim to take the material into place of psychological horror and commentary, creating a criticism of the scary movie business while they, in a slight way, participate in it. "Deadline" is a fascinating picture, at least when it works up the energy to deliver a challenging assessment of media influence and artistic bankruptcy, creating a grim tale of a slow breakdown endured by a man who's spent his career inventing torturous situations for others. Overt frights aren't here, but something interesting is, even if Azzopardi has difficulty keeping the whole thing together at times. Read the rest at