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October 2020

Blu-ray Review - Marriage Story


Writer/director Noah Baumbach has always permitted pieces of himself to inform his work, assessing stages of his life and experience with family through mostly effective dramedies, including his last endeavor, 2017's "The Meyerowitz Stories." With "Marriage Story," Baumbach goes to a dark place to assess the end of a life shared by two unhappy people, taking over two hours of screentime to assess the difficulties of a specifically challenged marital union. This one plays like Baumbach is flipping through pages of his diary, delivering frighteningly intimate work that remains focused on troubling psychological spaces, with the fingerprints of personal experience found all over the effort. "Marriage Story" is richly detailed, tastefully balanced with some needed comedy, and consistently attentive to the inner lives of the lead characters, who endure all the dehumanization of the divorce process in America. And yet, through the gloom and rising anxiety, Baumbach always preserves the heart of the moment, fleshing out the struggle of legal and emotional separation. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Starfish


Writer/director A.T. White attempts to craft a low-budget brain-bleeder with "Starfish," his take on a creature feature where the odyssey of monsterdom is contained within. There are wild visions presented here, but as freak-out cinema goes, it's not a picture for those with limited patience. White moves forward carefully with his psychological free dive, keeping up with trends in digital cinema that deliver more visual detail than dramatic lure, working to disturb the traditional viewing experience with concentration on imagery and mental distortion, keeping common storytelling away from the endeavor. White certainly knows how to put together a sharp-looking movie, and "Starfish" is ideal for those who enjoy meditative missions into the interpretive unknown. Dramatically, it's intermittently compelling, but after about 30 minutes of this ambling effort, this very well may White's intention with his feature-length helming debut. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mortal (2020)


Last year, “Brightburn” attempted to subvert the superhero cinema norm, taking the low-budget route to detail the creation of a supervillain in a real-world setting. It had the right idea, tweaking “Superman” formula, but the execution was off, resulting in a lumpy mess of comic book worship and horror interests. “Mortal” isn’t the same movie, but the Norwegian production has a similar plan to position the incredible in the middle of the mundane, turning attention to Norse mythology for a twisted take on an origin story. Andre Ovredal, director of “Trollhunter” and “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” offers a far more enigmatic and interesting version for superhuman distress with “Mortal,” impressively managing the strange and the electrifying with an unusual exploration of one man’s traumatic awakening to a possible god-like future. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Craft: Legacy


In 1996, “The Craft” managed to surprise Hollywood by becoming the number one movie at the box office during its opening weekend, exposing an audience for a female-led, teen-centric chiller. The picture went on to develop a loyal cult following, and for a good reason, as the feature understood adolescent concerns and high school issues while mixing in wish-fulfillment elements before the whole thing was turned over to horror. “The Craft” worked. “The Craft: Legacy” does not, with writer/director Zoe Lister-Jones (“Lola Versus”) put into a position of remaking the original effort while also sequelizing it, often missing the point of the 1996 endeavor as she tries to recapture its sense of mystery and friendship. “The Craft: Legacy” is limp and misguided, sure to leave fans disappointed after a 24-year-long wait for a follow-up, while newcomers to this universe are only receiving a surface understanding of Wiccan mischief. Read the rest at

Film Review - Come Play


“Come Play” began life as “Larry,” a short film from writer/director Jacob Chase. It was a five-minute-long calling card for horror moviemaking, following a parking lot attendant’s experience with a special monster from an app-based storybook who’s looking for companionship with or without permission from its victim. The effort paid off for Chase, who’s now in command of “Come Play,” tasked with taking a small-scale idea and turning it into a 90-minute-long horror experience for a PG-13 audience. Such an endeavor requires a substantial upgrade in plot and character, and while Chase is eager to assemble a frightening viewing experience, his screenplay falls short in many areas, and his liberal lifting from other genre offerings doesn’t magically bring his work to life. Read the rest at

Film Review - Spell


“Spell” is a film that appears to know what it wants to do to frighten its audience, at least during its first hour. The screenplay by Kurt Wimmer (who recently wrote the “Point Break” and “Total Recall” remakes, also the director of “Ultraviolet”) delivers a compelling introduction to an unfolding nightmare, mixing elements of voodoo and cult violence to establish an economical chiller that largely takes place in a single room. Wimmer isn’t known for nuance, and “Spell” doesn’t deliver it, which is generally a good thing when dealing with B-movie agony, keeping things ugly and disturbing. The picture eventually abandons a creeping sense of doom as it works toward a conclusion that’s more Fred Williamson than freak-out, but for an extended period of time, the endeavor has some imagination for nasty business, giving viewers a claustrophobic sense of horror involving the deep south and fantasy powers. It’s a shame it doesn’t end there. Read the rest at

Film Review - Holidate


“Holidate” is written by Tiffany Paulsen, who previously scripted the 2007 “Nancy Drew” update and the 2016 remake of “Adventures in Babysitting.” She was also an actress for a few years, appearing as Suzi in the best “Friday the 13th” sequel of 1989, “Jason Takes Manhattan.” Paulsen has an idea with “Holidate,” looking to make a bitter version of a Hallmark Channel production, complete with R-rated shenanigans and rough language, trying her best to create an edgy take on known entertainment. Well, Paulsen’s not exactly putting in an effort with the movie, starting with a perfectly reasonable gimmick before she wears it down with consistently lame jokes and characterizations. The idea here is to create a romantic comedy that touches on all the holidays, providing a full calendar of funny business. Only Paulsen doesn’t land anything with authority, often going crude because it’s too much work to be clever. Read the rest at

Film Review - The True Adventures of Wolfboy


2017’s “Wonder” surprised many when it became a major hit in 2017, with its message of kindness concerning a young boy with a facial deformity connecting to a wide audience eager to enjoy a rare blast of positivity at the multiplex. “The True Adventures of Wolfboy” initially appears to follow the same idea, studying the pains of a 13-year-old kid with a special condition that prevents him from feeling accepted by others. However, after an opening act that seeks to understand the struggle for self-worth and the agony of isolation, “The True Adventures of Wolfboy” becomes overwhelmed with quirk masquerading as a study of liberation. There should be something more to the screenplay by Olivia Dufault, but the writing come up short with meaningful interactions, and director Martin Krejci tends to only deal with cartoonish performances and exaggerated behavior, losing heart along the way. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Orca


1977's "Orca" was created to cash-in on the massive, industry-changing success of 1975's "Jaws," with executive producer Dino De Laurentiis trying to get in on a developing trend with his own take on man vs. sea creature. He can't quite shake the shark envy out of his system (the film opens with sequence involving a Great White), but De Laurentiis elects to head in a slightly different direction with the picture, overseeing a screenplay that puts a killer whale on the hunt for revenge against a particularly selfish human hunter. Director Michael Anderson strives to make something somber with "Orca," dealing with an intelligent apex predator and a screenplay that endeavors to use some sense of marine science to inspire a suspenseful tale of vengeance. The feature wants to be sensitive and deliver a B-movie event, and while Anderson tries to mount an extravaganza featuring "Jaws"-like attacks and conflicted characters, this effort wipes out when it attempts anything more than cheap thrills. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - 3:15


Perhaps the first mistake the producers made was titling the film "3:15" (aka "3:15 the Moment of Truth"). It's a poor title, doing little to sell what the viewing experience involves, offering numbers when swinging fist imagery was in order. The screenplay by Sam Bernard and Michael Jacobs explores gang warfare in a Los Angeles high school, downplaying real-world violence to make a graphic novel-style revenge picture, which blends in a little of "The Warriors" for taste. "3:15" is a broad offering of teen aggression, and while it gets a little too silly at times, director Larry Gross (who knows his Walter Hill stuff, co-scripting "Streets of Fire" and "48 Hrs.") has a certain level of authority with the pulpy aspects of the plot, trying to reinforce the danger of the central situation of intimidation. The feature gets away from him at times, but the entertainment value of the endeavor is present, especially for viewers who enjoy their mid-'80s offerings of juvenile delinquency. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Death Warrant


1990's "Death Warrant" is a dramatic reminder of Jean-Claude Van Damme's rise to screen glory, starring in a kooky B-list prison picture that attempts to merge the subgenre's propensity for violence and community intimidation with a mystery of modest means. The endeavor permits the martial artist an opportunity to branch out as an actor, playing traditional fist-first beats while working on his range of reactions to uncovered clues. For this type of entertainment, "Death Warrant" is actually quite engaging, with an amusing supporting cast of the trained and the terrible. Nevertheless, the glue here is Van Damme, offering his pronounced concentration and his kick-happy athleticism to what might've been a dreary viewing experience, bringing a funky foreign energy to a movie that's in need of all the oddity it can get its hands on. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Body and Soul


Receiving a career boost with his work on 1979's "Penitentiary," Leon Isaac Kennedy keeps the boxing gloves on for 1981's "Body and Soul," which returns the actor to the ring to portray another underdog battling his own demons. However, instead of toplining a scrappy B-movie, Kennedy tries to bend this production into something with more mainstream appeal, also scripting this loose remake of a 1947 Robert Rossen picture. With a blazing, triumphant score and story that concerns the efforts of a man to better himself and his life, it's clear Kennedy was hunting for another "Rocky"-style success. "Body and Soul" isn't as friendly as the Sylvester Stallone smash, offering harder behavioral edges and a strange sense of honor. The boxing is there, complete with a supporting turn from Muhammed Ali, but Kennedy doesn't crack the challenge of likability, giving his feature a distractingly weird assessment of nobility. Read the rest at

Film Review - Borat Subsequent Moviefilm


In 2006, 20th Century Fox worked extremely hard to make “Borat” something special in the marketplace. They screened the feature like crazy and kept star/creator Sacha Baron Cohen on a relentless publicity tour, laboring to sell an odd character from a cult television show to the masses. The blood, sweat, and tears actually worked, with “Borat” generating enormous word-of-mouth praise and substantial pre-release curiosity, ultimately making a fortune for the studio and turning Cohen into a star, despite his preference for being a chameleon-like performer. Borat impressions were plentiful, DVD sales were astronomical, and Cohen tried his best to burn off his newfound fame with a more pointed exercise in shock value: 2009’s “Bruno.” Now, 14 years later, Cohen returns to his most famous creation (sorry Ali G) for “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” with the most famous Kazakhstan reporter returning to duty to achieve a better understanding of 2020 and all the chaos it’s provided. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Witches (2020)


This isn’t the first trip to the screen for Roald Dahl’s 1983 book, “The Witches.” In 1990, director Nicolas Roeg and co-producer Jim Henson had their way with the source material, combing nutty Euro filmmaking sensibilities with glorious Henson-y practical magic for their take on evildoing inside a luxury hotel, with mice making life difficult for dangerous witches. It was a very strange adaptation of a very strange book, and now 30 years later director Robert Zemeckis and co-writer Guillermo del Toro try their luck with a second adaptation, and one that’s strictly CGI-heavy in execution. While the thrill of puppetry and makeup effects is gone, the new version of “The Witches” doesn’t take it easy when it comes to the demented activities found in Dahl’s work, and while the endeavor is more adrenalized with chases and near-misses, it remains an entertaining sit for brave young audiences. Read the rest at

Film Review - Synchronic


Directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead won accolades for their tiny 2017 effort, “The Endless,” which the helmers pushed through the system with a DIY attitude, even taking the starring roles. The partners graduate to a more pressurized professional situation with “Synchronic,” a production that offers a little more money for the pair to work with, while luring stars Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan into the main roles. They also return to their brain-bleeding interests in psychedelic cinema, this time exploring the miracle of time travel as found in the formula of a dangerous synthetic drug. “Synchronic” tries to be a visual feast, and it’s most successful there, offering the audience a threatening ride through the bowels of New Orleans and the dangers of the past, with Benson and Moorhead more assured with camerawork than storytelling as the picture periodically loses its way. Read the rest at

Film Review - Friendsgiving


Holiday movies emerge every year, all questing to be the one chosen for classic status, becoming a perennial choice for viewers in the mood to conjure seasonal feelings via the magic of filmmaking. “Friendsgiving” fails to become anything of note, but it does offer a Thanksgiving atmosphere filled with lots of characters, dysfunction, and slowly eroding patience. Writer/director Nicol Paone goes the improvisational route for her helming debut, and it’s not the best choice, permitting the feature to go slack while it hunts for jokes, abandoning a prime opportunity to sort through emotional baggage and the various anxieties that come with large social gatherings. I’m sure “Friendsgiving” was a hoot to make, putting a collection of actors together to see what sticks, but the fun factor of this production is alarmingly low. Read the rest at

Film Review - Rebecca (2020)


“Rebecca” is an adaptation of a 1938 novel by Daphne du Maurier, but real ownership of the material tends to belong to Alfred Hitchcock. In 1940, the director delivered a premiere interpretation of the book, finding style and suspense with a movie that went on to collect an Oscar for Best Picture and cement itself as one of the helmer’s finest efforts. Of course, others have had their way with du Maurier’s story, with “Rebecca” enjoying life on stage, television, in song, and the tale has even been expanded in literary sequels. There’s no shortage of visions when it comes this psychological study, which returns to screens courtesy of director Ben Wheatley, who’s not known for his subtle ways with refined horror. If there’s a reason to revisit “Rebecca,” it’s lost in the new version, which puts on a fine display of technical achievements, but offers little life behind the routine of suspicion and torment. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Mechanic (1972)


Entering the 1970s, a decade that would see his star power rise to its greatest level, Charles Bronson wanted to do one thing, and he did it exceedingly well. 1972's "The Mechanic" contributes greatly to his reputation as an actor of few words and less facial reactions, taking such restraint to the extreme with an opening sequence that doesn't include any dialogue for the first 16 minutes of the movie. The material (scripted by Lewis John Carlito, who went on to direct "The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea") is unnervingly suited to Bronson's thespian abilities, offering him a chance to act hard, kill people, and remain as perfectly still as possible. "The Mechanic" is a peculiar picture, but it does have defined highlights of intimidation and action, while the procedural aspects of the feature are fascinating, presenting a cooler overview of the assassin workday while director Michael Winner (who struck gold with Bronson in 1974's "Death Wish") fiddles with editorial and scoring dials to give a straightforward story some intrusive avant-garde touches. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Kiss of the Vampire


Trying to keep their success with all things Dracula going, Hammer Films aims for a slightly different tale of monstrous menace with 1963's "The Kiss of the Vampire." Instead of mounting another take a single force of evil, the production heads into a more psychological direction for this period chiller, taking the slow road to the command of innocents, keeping more explosive genre elements to the final moments of the movie. Hammer isn't shy about using filler to get their run times where they need to be, and "The Kiss of the Vampire" certainly isn't a pulse-pounder. It does retain some eeriness courtesy of director Don Sharp, who guides a capable cast through compelling mysteries and unnerving acts of submission, coming up with an engaging genre offering that actually works best when dealing with silent horrors. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Spider


Keeping up his interest in large things destroying little things, director Bert I. Gordon tries to top his work on "The Amazing Colossal Man" with 1958's "The Spider" ("Earth vs. The Spider" is the title on the print), chasing moviemaking trends for giant terrors with his offering of a massive arachnid making a mess of a mountain community. It's not a slick special effects display, but the crudeness of Gordon's vision is nearly enough to keep the viewing experience engaging, watching the actors do battle with oversized props and spider photography as they try to get a monsterpalooza going. It's the filler that isn't nearly as welcome, as Gordon has difficulty reaching a paltry 73-minute run time, throttling enjoyable nonsense as the feature wheezes to a close. Read the rest at