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August 2020

Film Review - Random Acts of Violence


Jay Baruchel is best known as a voice of Hiccup in the “How to Train Your Dragon” film and television series, doing an amazing job bringing the character to life over the last decade, adding to the franchise’s sense of emotion and grandeur. However, it doesn’t seem like he wants to be known as a family friendly performer, making his directorial debut with the coarse hockey sequel, “Goon: Last of the Enforcers,” and he goes even darker with “Random Acts of Violence,” which is an adaptation of a 2010 comic book by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray. Examining the influence of grim genre art and entertainment, Baruchel (who co-scripts with Jesse Chabot) presents a savage picture that has a few provocative ideas to share, but not a whole lot of story to deliver. There’s a tremendous short movie in here, with “Random Acts of Violent” making salient points on the glorification of brutality. There’s just not enough to fill a feature. Read the rest at

Film Review - Words on Bathroom Walls


Director Thor Freudenthal built his career with family films, taking command of “Hotel for Dogs,” “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” and “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters.” He graduates to teenage concerns with “Words on Bathroom Walls,” an adaptation of 2017 book by Julia Walton. Previously dealing with broad comedy and high fantasy, Freudenthal now takes on the challenge of visualizing the experience of having schizophrenia, following one character’s battle to understand and manage his mental illness. “Words on Bathroom Walls” isn’t a gritty viewing experience, softened somewhat to reach the intended adolescent audience, but that the helmer is capable of communicating such confusion and frustration in a clear manner is a major creative breakthrough, resulting in a flawed but fascinating picture that takes special care of a sensitive subject. Read the rest at

Film Review - Tesla


Last year, “The Current War” finally made its way into theaters after a lengthy release delay. It explored the story of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla and their battle to control the future of electricity. It was a flashy feature that didn’t generate much interest from the public, but less than a year later, there’s “Tesla,” which also details power plays between two men devoted to the energy cause, but for entirely different reasons. While “The Current War” tried to get up and running with broad screen style, “Tesla” is more of a filmed play, with director Michael Almereyda inspecting the inner life of the titular character, using a theatrical presentation and anachronistic touches to provide creative fingerprints on a story that largely exists in legend. Almereyda remains true to his vision with the endeavor, which has its imaginative moments, but largely broods itself to a full stop on a few occasions. Read the rest at

Film Review - Love Express: The Disappearance of Walerian Borowczyk


Unlike many documentaries about filmmakers, “Love Express: The Disappearance of Walerian Borowczyk” offers extraordinarily little biographical information about the subject. Director Kuba Mikurda has limited interest in the life and times of the Polish director (who passed away in 2006), preferring to provide more of a grasp on his artistic interests, featuring interviews with collaborators and admirers. “Love Express” remains elusive, but that’s the idea, with Mikurda turning his movie into a Borowczyk production in many ways, delivering an idiosyncratic look at an avant-garde mind, supplying a general understanding of the man’s professional demands and his textured appreciation of screen eroticism, especially when offered an opportunity to take his vision wherever it needed to go. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Pale Door


There are multiple movies “The Pale Door” is reminiscent of, but there’s something about its blend of character building and horror freak-outs that recalls 1996’s “From Dusk till Dawn.” For Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, there was a budget to spread around and filmmaking confidence to braid a story that utilized stillness and absolute chaos, giving “From Duck till Dawn” its kicks. Director Aaron B. Koontz can’t offer the same balance of extremes with “The Pale Door,” unable to craft something that’s just as compelling dealing with feelings as it is ripping out intestines. It’s a violent effort, but only for a few short bursts of time, leaving the rest of this witch attack western too dull to compete with what does work in the endeavor. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Hummingbird Project


For those who've been lamenting a lack of originality in modern movies, I give you "The Hummingbird Project." It's the rare picture to delve into the world of High-Frequency Trading, with writer/director Kim Nguyen trying to squeeze suspense out of a race to build a nanosecond financial system, with warring sides in competition to either dig their way to a Wall Street fortune, or take the prize through microwave signals. There have been few films with such a plot, giving Nguyen an opportunity to do something striking with the work, surprising viewers with his examination of power plays and anxiety as secretive plans to rule the speed of time turn into war. "The Hummingbird Project" isn't quite that exciting, and the helmer doesn't dazzle with invention, but he offers an acceptable ride of corporate subterfuge and paranoia, striving to remain as close to character as possible as the rest of the feature becomes a Fincher-esque procedural. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Butt Boy


"Butt Boy" began life as a short film for Tiny Cinema, an online offering of very brief creative achievements, most made without care for structure or storytelling. Just oddity for the masses. The run time was sixty seconds, introducing viewers to a man who found his pleasures in anal play, drastically upping his game as desires and curiosity grew. And that was that. Co-writer/director/star Tyler Cornack had the idea to take a one-minute-long movie and develop it into a 99-minute-long movie, retaining the central idea while expanding it in wild ways that bring audiences into areas of the human body they probably never thought they would visit. The bigger, badder "Butt Boy" is certainly some type of low-budget triumph, with Cornack wisely avoiding a Tim & Eric-style take on the mysteries and unstoppable power of one man's rear end. He doesn't go Troma either, preferring to find his own way through this intentionally weird endeavor. And that way is padding. Lots and lots of padding. Something has to fill 98 minutes of screen time once the gimmick is revealed. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Line of Duty


Steven C. Miller hasn't enjoyed the most creatively fertile career, recently managing a string of VOD projects with basically the same title ("Submerged," "Marauders," "Arsenal," "First Kill"), while his last endeavor, 2018's "Escape Plan 2: Hades," was recently disowned by its star, Sylvester Stallone. Excitement isn't really Miller's specialty, but he does have an interest in violent encounters, finally connecting to a story in "Line of Duty" that demands a little more emphasis when it comes to bodily harm. Miller (not to be confused with colleague Brian A. Miller, who gifted the world "Vice," "Backtrace," and "Reprisal") seems alert with "Line of Duty" (which, amazingly, doesn't star Bruce Willis or Nicolas Cage), assembling a slightly energizing bruiser that's heavy on the stunt work and blessedly limited in scope. It's not a career rejuvenator, but it has a pulse, and that's good enough to pass. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Song of Names


22 years ago, director Francois Girard made "The Red Violin," which examined the extended history of a special musical instrument, following the creation as it touched many lives. The picture did surprising business during its art-house run, inspiring the helmer to return to a music world mystery with "The Song of Names," another tale of the unknown featuring heavy violin references. Considerably tamer than "The Red Violin," "The Son of Names" offers a more reflective mood, with the lead characters facing the passage of time as they deal with unresolved trauma. Girard strives for screen poetry here, attempting to find dramatic support while giving the feature over to extended scenes of musicianship. It's a handsome production, and the music, by Howard Shore, aims to please. It's the overall tautness of the endeavor that's in doubt, with Girard losing interest in pace as he tries to put together something sincere. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Trauma Center


Run times are climbing steadily in today's marketplace, with productions seemingly locked in battle to inflate theater sits just to be considered substantial, possibly justifying ticket prices while overloading storytelling requirements. And then there's "Trauma Center," which is 81-minutes long and isn't about anything of note. Such a picture begs the question: would you rather sit through an extended movie that's trying too hard or a slight endeavor that has nothing to share? "Trauma Center" has brevity, which is appealing, but writer Paul Da Silva and director Matt Eskandari don't have much else for their contained thriller, which could easily transform into a taut cat-and-mouse game set inside of a hospital, but the filmmakers don't share that ambition, taking things slowly to no particular destination, allowing cliché to support the whole feature. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Courier


Olga Kurylenko has participated in a number of action films ("Quantum of Solace," "Centurion"), but she's never been offered the opportunity to be the main attraction in bruiser entertainment. Kurylenko's wish is granted with "The Courier," which tracks a game of survival for a woman caught in a dangerous international incident. The actress is clearly the best thing in the production, displaying admirable commitment to all sorts of physical entanglements and bloody makeup. The rest of "The Courier" can't live up to her energy level, with co-writer/director Zackary Adler stumbling with a poorly plotted endeavor that plays into most VOD cliches, including the hiring of a major actor (in this case, Gary Oldman) to stand around, bark a few lines, and collect a fat paycheck. Read the rest at

Film Review - Magic Camp


It’s been a rough road to release for “Magic Camp.” The feature was actually shot three years ago, stuck in limbo ever since, bopping around release dates and corporate plans before finally being sent to Disney+ to help beef up content requirements for our quarantine times. It’s a smart play by the company, though it’s easy to see what they originally envisioned for the picture, which attempts to be a new variation on the world of Harry Potter, only without a sense of wonder, dramatic stakes, or, well, magic. It’s a connect-the-dots Disney endeavor that’s perfectly harmless and aimed directly at pre-teens, but there’s little enthusiasm from director Mark Waters (“Bad Santa 2,” “Vampire Academy”), who puts in a minimal effort when exploring the shenanigans and competitive escalation of life at a sleepaway camp for magically inclined children. Read the rest at

Film Review - Project Power


With the “X-Men” universe on a break after the poor box office performance of 2019’s “Dark Phoenix,” and the spin-off “New Mutants” playing a game of tag with release dates, it’s up to “Project Power” to meet any demand for superhuman action. There are no mutants in the movie, which details the spread of a special drug capable of turning the average user into a superhero or a supervillain for five minutes. Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (“Nerve”) are typically drawn to such an adrenalized event, laboring to make “Project Power” stylish, violent, and aware of some social and political issues of the day. There’s plenty to enjoy about the endeavor, and while it’s deeply flawed, the helmers do put on quite a show at times, bringing out the fury of the central premise in a way that would make Professor X proud. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sputnik


“Sputnik” is an unsettling picture. It’s a Russian production that’s out to challenge expectations for an alien invasion story, providing a more sinister ride of paranoia and panic without expanding to epic size. It also marks the return of actress Oksana Akinshina to American screens, having made her breakthrough in 2002’s “Lilya 4-Ever,” a shattering feature about human trafficking that promised great things from the young talent. While she made an appearance in “The Bourne Supremacy,” Akinshina has largely remained in Russian films, returning to western view in “Sputnik,” where she delivers a commanding performance as a medical mind put into contact with an extraterrestrial experience that overwhelms her before it begins to threaten her. Akinshina’s part of a strong cast who give director Egor Abramenko a firm dramatic foundation while the tale explores close encounters and government control with sharp cinematic highlights. Read the rest at

Film Review - Endless


A former music video director, Scott Speer has been on a professional tear recently, helming four movies over the last two years. He brings the features in for a low price, and the efforts are generally aimed at social media-savvy pre-teens looking for entertainment that fits their needs. Joining the likes of “Midnight Sun,” “Status Update,” and “I Still See You” is “Endless,” which moves Speer to the realm of Netflix filmmaking, in charge of a strange reworking of 1990’s “Ghost,” only without the charm, heart, or Swayze. Speer doesn’t have much style to share with the minor offering, and screenwriters Andre Case and Oneil Sharma head in the wrong direction with their work, sweating to bend the story into a tearjerker about the afterlife when it’s much more intriguing as a study of guilt. “Endless” is more of a promise than a title after the opening act, taking on some substantial feelings of loss with all the dramatic weight of a television pilot. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Godspell


It all started with an idea from writer John-Michael Tebelak, who wanted something more than the usual when it came to a celebration of faith. He dreamed of a way to reinvent such love, to give the story of Jesus and his teachings a different spin, helping to reach a new audience understandably bored with the rigid ways of Christian storytelling. Tebelak eventually teamed with composer Stephen Schwartz, coming up with "Godspell," a musical that proved its worth during its 1971 off-Broadway debut, even inspiring a 1972 production with a cast that included Martin Short, Eugene Levy, Gilda Radner, Victor Garber, and Andrea Martin (Paul Shaffer was the musical director). While enjoying popularity and profit, it didn't take long for the show to hit the big screen, with 1973's "Godspell" hoping to share its unique take on faith and love with a larger audience. It's a film that's eager to please, with director David Greene working to retain the theatrical presence of the material while unleashing it on New York City, setting his cast free to romp around hop spots as they emphatically deliver a hippie gospel for a new generation of believers. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Homeboy


Before his career began to take flight, there was a moment in the late 1970s when Mickey Rourke was just beginning to show interest in acting, but he wasn't sure Hollywood had interest in him. Playing bit roles in big movies such as "1941" and "Heaven's Gate," Rourke elected to pour his frustrations into a screenplay loosely based on his own experiences as a boxer, taking years to shape what would become the 1988 feature, "Homeboy." There's definitely a lived-in quality to the picture, which deals with desperate people and bruised minds, but Rourke works to achieve something profound through the art of aimlessness, coming up with static drama that fails to do little more than showcase the star's acting, also saving room for co-star Christopher Walken to do what Christopher Walken usually does. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Paris Is Burning


We currently live in a "RuPaul's Drag Race" world, where the pageant and attitude of drag cultural is zapped into living rooms everywhere, giving fans a weekly sampling of unparalleled glamour and often wickedly funny humor. In 1987, such showmanship was regulated to the underground, with "Paris Is Burning" presenting a peek into the ways of the Ball circuit in New York City, where those who dream of fame and fortune are gifted an all- day competition to "live the fantasy" and show off their inner wonderfulness. Director Jennie Livingston has the challenge to collect and assemble an understanding of what appears to be a widespread community of aspiring "realness," compacting such a dense world into 77 minutes of entertainment and information. There's immediacy to "Paris Is Burning," which doesn't offer documentary hospital corners, with Livingston presenting more of an in- the-moment picture with distinct LGBTQ personalities who live, love, hope, and dare to present themselves in the showiest manner possible. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Ugly Duckling


Doing well with their horror releases, Hammer Films stepped away from the scary stuff for 1959's "The Ugly Duckling." Taking inspiration (or "ideas stolen") from Robert Louis Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," the movie offers a comedic take on shifting identities, putting actor Bernard Bresslaw in charge of portraying a two personalities emerging from one man. While the source material is meant to deliver chills, "The Ugly Duckling" aims for laughs, ending up as more of a precursor to "The Nutty Professor," with a gentle slide into a British gangster picture. It's not exactly a distinctive creative detour for Hammer, but Bresslaw makes it all worthwhile, doing his part to act up a storm while the screenplay fumbles with funny business. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Murder in Greenwich Village


With a title like "Murder in Greenwich Village," there's a certain expectation for elements of violence, deception, and general evil. The 1937 Albert S. Rogell picture actually offers very little suspense, moving forward as something of a screwball comedy, with the near-misses of love the star of the show, not sinister business with shady characters. Thankfully, there's a cast here putting in their all to make the screenplay by Michael L. Simmons stand up and shout, delivering ideal finger-snap dialogue and thespian emphasis to generate a different sort of screen energy than what the title implies. Read the rest at