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August 2020

Blu-ray Review - Idle Hands


1999's "Idle Hands" tries to be something different, which is an admirable task, especially in the post-"Scream" horror marketplace, where everything was looking to be younger and hipper, aimed at a teenage demographic. It remains an adolescent adventure, filled with pot humor, broheim interactions, and sudden sexuality, but director Rodman Flender tries to buck a few trends by making his movie disgusting. He's brought a large amount of bodily harm to "Idle Hands," and that's the good news. The bad news is the feature's sense of humor and casting interests, which cripples what clearly wants to be a rip-roaring genre ride of unpredictable behavior and violent highlights. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Lost Continent


For 1968's "The Lost Continent," Hammer Films endeavors to take viewers to a mysterious place on Earth where monsters live and dark civilizations have developed undisturbed. The excitement is all there, if viewers are comfortable sitting around for over an hour of screen time while dull edges of drama are polished by a production in no hurry to show off its horror extremes. Welcome to "The Lost Continent," which provides Hammer's customary padding to such a startling degree, the creature feature aspects of the story almost intrude on the interpersonal problems of doomed travelers on a danger-plagued ship. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Tea with the Dames


I can't think of a movie more perfectly suited for a Sunday afternoon matinee than "Tea with the Dames." It's a film about friendship, camaraderie, and memory, taking viewers to the English countryside to spend 80 minutes with Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, Maggie Smith, and Eileen Atkins as they discuss themselves and others for director Roger Michell. While not without some moments of gravity, "Tea with the Dames" is as delicious as its sounds, breezing through easy banter that's been in play for decades, with cameras capturing a friendship among actresses that's developed with care and respect. Michell knows what he's doing here, wisely getting out of the way as the Dames feel around for topics, digging up personal history as they discuss their lives, offering fascinating perspectives and triggering unexpected bellylaughs along the way. Read the rest at

Film Review - The New Mutants


When a movie sits on the shelf for two years, it’s usually a sign the picture isn’t very good. Actually, it’s always a sign the picture isn’t very good, with “The New Mutants” finally hitting theaters after a lengthy delay, having been shot over three years ago. It was intended to be a minor riff on the “X-Men” world, with co-writer/director Josh Boone (“The Fault in Our Stars”) trying to bring a little teenage drama to the superhuman superhero franchise, going very small to try something different when it comes to the daily drudgery of being a mutant. While Boone has a history with melodrama, he’s not a visual effects guy or even a horror maestro, painfully ill-equipped to handle the genre demands of “The New Mutants,” which ends up becoming 75% exposition and 25% underwhelming action. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bill & Ted Face the Music


In 1989, there was “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” a modest teen comedy that wasn’t expected to do much business, only to become one of the biggest hits of the winter. It offered the world two lovable goons who needed time travel to help finish their history homework and save the world. A sequel arrived in 1991, and “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey” was a risk, dialing back the cuddliness for an edgier take on time travel, sending the characters on a darkly comedic adventure to Heaven and Hell. It was magnificent fun. There was a cartoon, merchandise, and even a cereal, but the Bill & Ted experience was pronounced dead in 1992 (after an unwatchable live-action series rightfully tanked), leaving fans to dream about another lap around the circuits of time. 28 years later, the boys are back with “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” and while they’re older and not necessarily wiser, the chemistry shared between stars Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter remains delightful, while screenwriters Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon actually find a way to shake up this universe for one last round of musical unity. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Binge


“The Binge” is a semi-parody of “The Purge,” going fully ridiculous with the original picture’s premise, which had a frustrated nation accepting a one-night stand with legal murder, permitting participants to go hog wild as the powers that be cull the herd. For “The Binge,” future American leaders relax their policies toward drugs and drink, giving the nation an evening of complete permissiveness. Of course, screenwriter Jordan VanDina is a little late to the party, as “Purge” sequels have already brought the series down to the level of self-parody, but he tries to create something raucous and tasteless with the new film, looking for a younger audience that might appreciate such a raunchy endeavor. VanDina doesn’t reach the potential of his idea, and he has a funny way of making his adult characters more enjoyable to watch, creating a teen-centric feature where the adolescents only get in the way. Read the rest at

Film Review - Immortal (2020)


Anthology pictures typically remain in the world of horror, a genre that welcomes small bites of the macabre and the scary. “Immortal” has its moments of uneasiness, but screenwriter Jon Dabach aims for something different with the feature, concocting four tales of titular indestructibleness, viewed through characters experiencing great trauma, personal loss, and pure sadistic glee. The change in pace really suits the endeavor, which ebbs and flows like most omnibus efforts, but it has an offbeat approach to chills. “Immortal” is inventive and engaging, with more emotionality and surprise than similar offerings, as Dabach attempts to lead with strange tests of personality, not always shock value, giving the movie a pleasing unpredictability and comfort with small-scale fantasy. Read the rest at

Film Review - You Cannot Kill David Arquette


“You Cannot Kill David Arquette” welcomes viewers into the world of the titular actor as he tries to shake up his stagnant life with a return to the weirdness of professional wrestling. If you weren’t aware David Arquette was once a pro-wrestler, don’t feel too bad, nobody really did, with the actor claiming the WCW heavyweight championship title in 2000, forever marked as a fake titan of the squared circle. Following the “sports entertainment” lead of pro-wrestling, there’s nothing particularly real about “You Cannot Kill David Arquette,” with directors David Darg and Price James eschewing a firm documentarian focus to make a reality television pilot for the once and future Deputy Dewey. It’s a fairly obvious submission of career rehabilitation, with Arquette trying to downplay the circus his life has been for the last two decades by…jumping right back into the circus. Read the rest at

Film Review - Centigrade


“Centigrade” is a survival picture that’s based on true story, though the specifics of the inspiration are vague at best. It’s better to put the reality of the story aside and approach the feature as a two-hander drama, where the participants are stuck inside of a car buried in the snow for 85 minutes of screen time. Screenwriters Daley Nixon and Brendan Walsh (who also directs) have quite the creative task, trying to make near immobility into a nail-biting experience of panic. “Centigrade” doesn’t achieve a few of its limited goals, but the movie is largely successful as a claustrophobic mission of self-preservation and logic. It’s not the easiest film to sit through, presenting all sorts of anguish and argumentative behavior, but Walsh believes in the endeavor’s importance as an offering of emotionality and perseverance, even when he can’t communicate such urgency to the viewer. Read the rest at

Film Review - Robin's Wish


It’s difficult to fully comprehend what’s motivating the release of “Robin’s Wish,” which documents Robin Williams and his final days. The feature is basically hosted by Williams’s widow, Susan Schneider-Williams, who endeavors to explore Lewy body dementia, the degenerative disease the comedian was struggling with in the last years of his life, ultimately committing suicide in 2014. Perhaps Schneider-Williams means well enough, sharing the experience of the disease and its nightmarish takeover of the human brain, but she’s also making something of a commercial with director Tylor Norwood, selling the genius of Robin Williams (of course) and her relationship with Robin Williams, making a valentine to her husband that often feels self-serving. Despite its warm intentions, “Robin’s Wish” is a bleak viewing experience, and one that doesn’t feel particularly honest about the subject’s wants and needs, with the package more about Schneider-Williams and her experience with life, death, and self-appointed heroism. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Personal History of David Copperfield


Armando Iannucci is best known for his love of silliness, developing a reputation for smart funny business, which has evolved into a career in satire, expanding his fanbase with work on “The Thick of It,” “The Death of Stalin,” and “Veep,” which has awarded him a chance to take his imagination anywhere. He’s chosen to explore the world of Charles Dickens with “The Personal History of David Copperfield,” adding his fingerprint to material that’s been celebrated and reimagined many times since its publication in 1850. Iannucci has enormous production support for the feature, which intends to bend his career away from more politically minded endeavors, and “The Personal History of David Copperfield” is a gorgeous picture, filled with period details and blessed with the cast that’s greatly appealing. It’s the overall focus of the screenplay that’s less impressive, with Iannucci (and co-writer Simon Blackwell) juggling Dickensian structure with his comedy habits, emerging with a slightly deflated semi-farce. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Dolly Dearest


"Child's Play" was released in 1988, and the little horror movie about a possessed doll managed to make some money during its theatrical run. At least more than anyone expected from a picture with such a silly concept. It proved itself with smart execution and a memorable killer in Chucky, inspiring multiple productions looking to attract the same attention with their own visions of pint-sized terror. 1991's "Dolly Dearest" is the most distinct of the knock-offs, with writer/director Maria Lease aiming to recreate a similar feel to "Child's Play," pitting a demonic plaything against a family initially unaware of the danger they're in. In terms of scares and basic pace, Lease doesn't come anywhere near the 1988 genre triumph, but she has a few ideas that work, including the design of the titular threat, which hides malevolence behind mass-produced innocence. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Sleepless


Director Dario Argento tried to expand his career throughout the 1990s, inching away from his giallo productions to challenge himself and alter his reputation. The experiment didn't exactly work, and while some interesting endeavors were born during this decade, the Argento of old was back in business for 2001's "Sleepless," which returns the helmer to the business of black-gloved killers, eye-crossing mysteries, and plenty of gory events. "Sleepless" also delivers an unusually stately leading actor in Max Von Sydow, who classes up the joint with his usual professionalism and interest in character, giving the feature something extra while Argento sweats to fill an excessive run time. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Curse of the Werewolf


Aiming to put their own spin on a werewolf tale, Hammer Films turns to a novel by Guy Endore for inspiration, but the real spark of the production is the casting of a young Oliver Reed to portray the monster. In his first starring role, Reed delivers a passionate, full-sweat, eye-bulging performance using his natural charisma to spin this creature feature into a more dramatic direction. Indeed, the titular plague is barely present in director Terence Fisher's endeavor, and while that might disappoint some horror fans accustomed to seeing a werewolf in their werewolf entertainment, the trade-off is a more psychologically dense picture, with Hammer aiming for something more internalized than the average genre freak-out. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Pale Blood


With vampire entertainment going in all sorts of directions during the 1980s, 1990's "Pale Blood" makes a decision to remain at arm's length from the competition. Screenwriters Takashi Matsuoka and V.V. Dachin Hsu (who also directs) return to familiar stomping grounds with their vision of trouble within the L.A. nightlife scene, but they provide a different examination of vampire mythos and madness with their endeavor, which aims to be more of a psychological take on troubles involving the creatures of the night. "Pale Blood" offers an interesting first half, dealing with world-building and characterization, which is almost enough to support the entire viewing experience, as the production has difficulty sustaining mystery and excitement from start to finish. Read the rest at

Film Review - The One and Only Ivan


“The One and Only Ivan” presents itself as “Inspired by a true story,” only to introduce the main character, who’s a talking gorilla. It’s not clear how much reality is actually included in the feature, which is very much a modern Disney movie, keeping the story simple with cuddly characters and mild dramatic incidents. It’s easy on the senses but not especially satisfying, with screenwriter Mike White trying to create a picture aware of animal cruelty but not exactly condemning it, refusing a broader sense of villainy out of fear of losing young audiences getting their first sampling of confined creatures and the humans who exploit them. “The One and Only Ivan” is technically impressive, offering a lovely voice cast and excellent CGI, but as an offering of heart, the film remains cold to the touch, sticking with Disney formula to find its way to a conclusion. Read the rest at

Film Review - Unhinged


“Unhinged” had an opening to do something with the idea of thinning American patience hitting the open road, searching for a reason to explode. Other films have explored the idea (including 1993’s “Falling Down”), and the way things are going these days with citizens and their need to express themselves violently, there’s definitely a movie here for the taking. “Unhinged” tries to remain topical for the duration of its main title sequence (showcasing increasing roadway violence), but the rest is pure exploitation from screenwriter Carl Ellsworth, who previously showcased the limitations of his imagination with the “Red Dawn” remake, “The Last House on the Left” remake, and “Disturbia,” which was a loose remake of “Rear Window.” Aiming to create something efficient and ugly, Ellsworth succeeds for the first half of the feature, doing much better with setups than payoffs with this simple exercise in audience manipulation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hard Kill


Actor Bruce Willis and director Matt Eskandari have a friendly relationship, as “Hard Kill” is their third collaboration in the last year. And by collaboration, I mean Eskandari is in charge of creating low-budget mayhem while Willis sits comfortably somewhere away from the action, collecting what I assume to be a sizable paycheck. They teamed for “Trauma Center” and the reasonably engaging “Survive the Night,” but they press their luck with “Hard Kill,” which puts in next to no effort when it comes to creating even basic suspense or excitement. It’s a siege picture in a way, with the helmer in charge of making pennies spent on the production look like dimes. The production doesn’t have any fresh ideas or, at times, basic competency, staying weirdly small with a plot that welcomes a grander feel for B-movie escapism. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Sleepover


It’s been almost two decades since the release of “Spy Kids,” and it’s not been fun to watch director Robert Rodriguez run the bubblegum appeal of the original film into the ground, churning out increasingly disappointing sequels. Screenwriter Sarah Rothschild has the idea to semi-revive the concept with “The Sleepover,” and while the feature doesn’t oversee the spy-ening of spunky kids, it does follow the general idea of children getting to know the secret life of parents. Director Trish Sie isn’t the most visionary talent for this type of entertainment, but she handles the escapism adequately, overseeing a lighthearted adventure across Boston as a collection of little ones sample dangers once reserved for adults. “The Sleepover” doesn’t have a special snap, but it offers an amusing ride for family audiences. Read the rest at

Film Review - Cut Throat City


Considered the “de facto leader” of the Wu-Tang Clan, RZA has made his way from music to movie direction with mixed results. He attempted to scratch his genre filmmaking itches with 2012’s “The Man with the Iron Fists,” and addressed the power of personal expression in 2017’s “Love Beats Rhymes.” Now RZA is turning his attention to the plight of New Orleans during the shadow of Hurricane Katrina, coming up with a crime story to attract viewers to “Cut Throat City,” which has a lot of frustration to share. Taking on urban ruin and governmental indifference, the feature represents a primal scream from RZA, who’s working to highlight cycles of power and corruption while delivering a tale of thievery concerning reckless young men with no way out. “Cut Throat City” often moves as slow as possible to help underline its points, but there’s fury in the message, easily making it the best picture RZA has concocted during his burgeoning helming career. Read the rest at