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September 2020

Film Review - On the Rocks


Sofia Coppola doesn’t strike me as a filmmaker who wants to repeat herself, but in the years since her grand success with 2003’s “Lost in Translation,” she’s struggled to find heart and soul that came so effortlessly with that picture. Recently, she’s pushed her abilities with the gothic chiller “The Beguiled,” and toyed with the unpleasant world of rich kids in “The Bling Ring,” but her latest, “On the Rocks,” seems like an attempt to get back to the aura of “Lost in Translation,” reteaming Coppola with Bill Murray for another melancholy look at relationships. It should come as no surprise to read that “On the Rocks” is the helmer’s best feature in some time, with Coppola finding a game cast and using the atmosphere of New York City to support a charming but pointed look at familial influence, marriage, and parenthood, finding new ways to examine traditional matters of the heart. Read the rest at

Film Review - Possessor


Brandon Cronenberg is the son of celebrated director David Cronenberg, and he seems intent on maintaining the family business of creating bizarre features with incredible imagery. In 2012, Cronenberg made his debut with “Antiviral,” a sinister tale of obsession and extreme fandom that put him on the map in terms of macabre visions. He’s taken his time, but Cronenberg returns with “Possessor,” which builds on the educational experience of “Antiviral,” presenting a new story of characters altering their minds and bodies, only here there’s slightly more emotionality to the viewing experience. However, the helmer hasn’t gone soft, overseeing a sexually graphic and ultraviolent descent into sci-fi madness, kept fascinating through committed performances and Cronenberg’s wonderfully perverse vision for psychological and corporeal corruption. Read the rest at

Film Review - Spontaneous


Spontaneous human explosion isn’t a common subject for cinematic exploration, dealing with the horrible concept of life in full being snuffed out in the blink of an eye. Of course, there are offerings such as “This is Spinal Tap” that’ve used the event to add unusual comedic potential to projects, but “Spontaneous” isn’t interested in being silly. Writer/director Brian Duffield (“Underwater,” “The Babysitter”) hunts for a more human way to deal with heavy emotions pertaining to grief and new love, using a borderline sci-fi story to bring it all to life. “Spontaneous” is a strange feature, but one that successfully maintains a difficult tonal balance as it covers troubling areas of confusion. There are busting bodies everywhere in the movie, soaking the characters in blood, but Duffield maintains control of intimacy, which is exactly what this weird tale needs. Read the rest at

Film Review - Welcome to Sudden Death


2020 has introduced some extreme weirdness into our lives, coming through with constant surprises. I doubt few could’ve predicted the film year would involve the release of a comedic remake of “Sudden Death,” a 1995 “Die Hard” riff starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. Losing the original star, the producers bring in a different tough guy, Michael Jai White, to topline another tale concerning the terrorist takeover of a sporting event, forcing one security guard to protect an arena of spectators and his children. Van Damme’s thriller involved hockey playoffs, but “Welcome to Sudden Death” is about a basketball game – a sport that doesn’t even have a sudden death tiebreaker scenario. Careful attention to detail is missing from the do-over, which isn’t too concerned with polish, instead trying to give the VOD audience and their already lowered expectations a cheap-looking ride of fights and one-liners. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Call (2020)


When it comes to low-budget horror entertainment, having a few familiar faces around certainly helps to keep attention on the screen. For “The Call,” the production hires Lin Shaye and Tobin Bell to handle acting duties for the endeavor, with director Timothy Woodward Jr. wisely using his stars as much as possible before the feature is handed over to a younger, decidedly less seasoned cast. The bump in professionalism helps, but “The Call” isn’t worth saving, with writer Patrick Stibbs doing an adequate job setting up a disturbing story of punishment from beyond the grave, but the payoff is limited at best, recycling haunted house ideas and thinly defined psychological trauma to launch a fright film that doesn’t have much of a bite. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Rising Hawk


“The Rising Hawk” takes its inspiration from an 1883 historical fiction book by Ivan Franco, a Ukrainian author, which was previously explored in a 1971 production. For a new take on an old tale, director John Wynn focuses on upping the intensity of the war story, simplifying conflicts to connect with the audience, giving the material a slight “Braveheart” makeover. While other productions have attempted to deliver sword-and-arrow adventure, “The Rising Hawk” is unexpectedly successful with its offering of violent action and tensions between Carpathian Mountain villagers and an invading Mongol army. It’s basic in many respects, but the picture has an appealing handle on B-movie action and emotional content, while the performances find the vibe of the production with refreshing ease, supporting the effort with enjoyable thespian intensity. Read the rest at

Film Review - 2067

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Writer/director Seth Larney offers some gloom and doom for today’s audience with “2067,” which represents his attempt to create an epic sci-fi story about the end of the world. Missing from the endeavor is scale, with Larney losing budgetary dollars after an evocative first act, soon transitioning the tale into a time travel mystery, hoping to satisfy viewers with a brain-bleeder concerning one man’s visit to his future. The helmer isn’t exactly achieving anything original with “2067,” which starts off strong while focusing on a ruined Earth and a relationship facing an incredible challenge of separation. Larney can’t sustain what works well for the picture, which eventually becomes a video game-esque adventure that loses interesting elements of discovery as it goes on for much too long and without proper thespian support. Read the rest at

Film Review - Death of Me


Despite a 13-year-long break from box office performance, director Darren Lynn Bousman has managed to keep working, remaining in the horror genre, where the budgets are usually low and the distribution deals are marginally profitable. He’s not an inspired architect of doom, riding his early success with the “Saw” franchise into forgettable efforts such as “Abattoir,” “St. Agatha,” and “The Barrens.” He returns to spooky stuff yet again with “Death of Me,” and despite the presence of three screenwriters and 20 producers, Bousman is basically remaking “The Wicker Man,” hitting similar beats of dread and community coercion. “Death of Me” has the benefit of an exotic locale in Thailand and a story that details early confusion with a found-footage-y twist, but there’s little presented here that’s original or even all that interesting, with the script running out of ideas long before the movie reaches its climax. Read the rest at

Film Review - 12 Hour Shift


It’s probably not the best time to release a movie that depicts frontline health care workers as corrupt, depraved individuals bent on harming their patients, but “12 Hour Shift” isn’t a documentary. It’s a low-budget, darkly comedic thriller from writer/director Brea Grant, who’s in the mood to deliver something slightly twisted with the picture, offering time with dim-witted, addicted, and diseased characters dealing with a particularly active night inside an Arkansas hospital. “12 Hour Shift” isn’t sharply made, missing a roaring engine of chills and near-misses that normally accompanies such a viewing experience. Grant is trying for something more offbeat and unsteady, clearly enjoying a chance to play around with bad people and buckets of blood. Read the rest at

Film Review - Eternal Beauty


“Eternal Beauty” comes from writer/director Craig Roberts. He’s best known as an actor, appearing in the television show “Red Oaks” and movies such as “Neighbors,” “Submarine,” and “Tolkien.” He’s been in the business for quite some time, starting out as a kid, and now he’s trying to make something happen behind the camera, previously helming 2015’s “Just Jim,” and now he’s presenting the claustrophobic viewing experience of “Eternal Beauty.” A look at the winding ways of a paranoid schizophrenic woman and her family ties, the picture enjoys keeping the audience immersed in self-destructive behavior, with Roberts searching for the glory of empowerment in the darkest corners of the human mind. He hires top talent to realize such immense pain and confusion, and slams a visual stamp on the project, but this is a tough film to watch on many levels. It’s a respectable attempt to visualize mental illness, but asking people to sit through 105 minutes of restless hell is a big ask from Roberts. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Rad


It was a box office bomb during its initial theatrical release in 1986, but something has happened to "Rad" over the decades. The movie hit right when BMX culture was growing and landed on VHS when rentals were all the rage, soon becoming a cable staple, developing its cult appeal. Due to many reasons, "Rad" hasn't been available on disc until now, with the feature suddenly cleaned up and reissued to a rabid fan base that's been waiting a long time to see the endeavor in near-pristine condition. It's a glorious development for a picture that's often ridiculous but always fun to watch, especially when it bathes in a time period that treasured the coolness of dancing bikes and primal emotions from teenage characters. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Extra Ordinary


While the world anticipates the release of a new "Ghostbusters" sequel next year, the comedy "Extra Ordinary" comes out of nowhere to actually deliver all kinds of supernatural happenings and consistently hilarious comedy. Co-writers/directors Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman present an Irish take on demonic problems, but instead of going wild with visual effects and sheer noise, the duo plays everything with a terrific dryness, enjoying the weirdness of the material instead of trying to emphasize all levels of quirk. "Extra Ordinary" isn't a massive production, but it uses its moments well, creating a snowballing sense of the absurd while tending to the genre aspects of the story, finding a near-perfect balance of outrageousness and subtlety. It's a special film with a large imagination, and Loughman and Ahern do whatever they can to protect the project's stealthy charms. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Home


Co-writer/director Fine Troch goes where many moviemakers have gone before with 2016's "Home." It's the tale of troubled young people and their ill- formed support systems and coping mechanisms, with filmmakers such as Larry Clark spending their entire careers exploring the humiliations and explorations of adolescent characters. Troch doesn't go full exploitation with his picture, but she gets close, trying on some shock value for size as she examines a potent tale of abuse and despair. "Home" is compelling, helped along by an amateur cast capable of simulating teen troubles and beyond, and while Troch doesn't always have the best impulse control when depicting acts of domestic destruction, she taps into the feeling of powerlessness with striking precision at times. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Three Christs


While he made a promising directorial debut with 1991's "Fried Green Tomatoes," Jon Avnet hasn't managed to match his initial creative and box office success. He's worked primarily in television in recent years, but the lasting stench of disasters such as 2008's "Righteous Kill" and 2007's "88 Minutes" remains. "Three Christs" is meant to slip Avnet back into the warm waters of personal psychological problems, exploring one doctor's quest to achieve a greater understanding of paranoid schizophrenia during a research project in 1959. The subject is interesting, exploring the depths of troubled minds trapped in an unforgiving care system. However, Avnet can't get the material moving in any compelling direction, creating a disappointingly plodding endeavor that's too concerned with melodramatic asides to get to the heart of mental illness. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Glorias


An artist to her core, director Julie Taymor seldom makes movies, but when she does she puts in a muscular effort to visualize the extremes of drama and music. Taymor hasn’t made a feature since 2010’s “The Tempest,” making “The Glorias” a rare event, and one she clearly doesn’t want to overwhelm with her usual gusto. It’s the bio-pic for author and feminist Gloria Steinem, with writers Taymor and Sarah Ruhl adapting the icon’s 2015 autobiography, “My Life on the Road,” trying to transform an extensive list of experiences into a single picture. It’s not an easy task for the pair, but they come up with inventive ways to connect four eras from Steinem’s life, celebrating her accomplishments and leadership while feeling the pain of her upbringing. It’s a long haul at 150 minutes, but “The Glorias” is immensely respectful of its subject, with Taymor muting her need for bombast to craft a loving portrait of a woman who changed the world. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ava


While primarily dealing with intense dramas and topical thrillers, Jessica Chastain has attempted to expand her range in recent years, taking on a few genre pictures to seek new creative challenges and beef up her box office draw. Last year, Chastain participated in “Dark Phoenix” and “It: Chapter Two,” and for 2020, she takes control of “Ava,” an actioner that also finds the actress in a co-producer role. Reminiscent of the Europa Corp heyday of slick bruisers with unlikely stars, “Ava” strives to deliver a stunt show with plenty of character layering to help give the brawling some substance. Chastain is a good fit for this style of steely aggression, and the film does well with family ties and professional paranoia, giving the titular assassin plenty to deal with while destroying enemies. However, not everything works in the endeavor, and when it hits the wrong note, the script (by Matthew Newton) threatens to ruin the whole viewing experience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Misbehaviour


The messy art of revolution and the origins of a movement are charted in “Misbehaviour,” which recounts the efforts of the Women’s Liberation Movement as they attempted to disrupt the Miss World 1970 beauty pageant. The screenplay by Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe is based on a true story from 50 years ago, but it plays into topics of equality and objectification that remain in play today, creating a fascinating look at attitudes and offenses. Director Philippa Lowthorpe (“Call the Midwife” and “The Crown”) maintains a period look and guides a number of strong performances, but the core experience of “Misbehaviour” is unrest, watching those who dream of a better, more just world setting their sights on a British television institution, and, wisely, the writing manages to understand both sides of the argument while still remaining supportive of a team of twentysomething women and their battle to bring equality to England. Read the rest at

Film Review - Kajillionaire


Writer/director Miranda July enjoys making very strange movies about universal issues concerning relationships, but she hasn’t been around in quite some time. She won cult appreciation with 2005’s “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” and pushed her eccentricities to the breaking point in 2011’s “The Future.” July is back with “Kajillionaire,” which is a more mainstream effort from the artist, who hasn’t shed her obsessions with idiosyncrasy, merely muting them to a certain degree with her latest offering, which examines the eternal struggle of family from the POV of a young woman who doesn’t understand her precipitous situation. “Kajillionaire” is unusual, which is the July way, but it’s certainly the most approachable offering in her limited filmography, with much to share on the camouflaged ways of familial abuse and the healing power of love. Read the rest at

Film Review - LX 2048

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A vision for dystopian misery is interrupted by a domestic drama in “LX 2048,” which invites audiences into the future to observe the next generation of marital strife. Writer/director Guy Moshe attempts some early razzle-dazzle with visual effects and low-budget design ideas, trying to sell the dangers of the day after tomorrow, imagining Earth as a polluted hellhole where life only really exists after the sun goes down, while humans have tapped into cloning to solve a few of their problems. Moshe has provocative ideas on the state of household divide due to technological advancement, and he brings in James D’Arcy to deliver the most emphatic performance of his career in the lead role. However, initial promise and some degree of expanse slowly diminishes as the movie unfolds, with “LX 2048” having trouble developing what appears to be a short story idea into a fulfilling feature. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Radio Flyer


Released in 2010, the book "You're the Director…You Figure It Out: The Life and Films of Richard Donner" provides real insight into the mind of the successful filmmaker. He's touched greatness on multiple occasions, guiding "Superman," "Lethal Weapon," and "The Goonies," and he's enjoyed his share of misfires, including box office disappointments "Inside Moves" and "Ladyhawke." The biography (written by James Christie) paints a specific portrait of Donner in the early 1990s, with the creative force hungry for a meaningful, dramatically ambitious hit after years overseeing blockbusters. "Radio Flyer" was meant to be such an opportunity. Handed control of the project after David Mickey Evans (who also scripted the high profile undertaking) wasn't delivering the goods as a first-time moviemaker, Donner was suddenly in command of a story that dared to merge the magical pursuits of childhood with the real-world horrors of abuse, dealing with a tonal challenge unlike anything he's encountered before. He poured his heart and soul into the endeavor, only to see it destroyed in test screenings, trashed by critics, and dumped by the studio. The loss floored Donner, but "Radio Flyer" has managed to acquire something of a fanbase, with those sensitive to the director's earnest intent able to embrace all the shortcomings of the picture, and celebrate its unnervingly accurate read of resilient juvenile energy. Read the rest at