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October 2020

Blu-ray Review - Torpedo U-235


"Torpedo U-235" is Belgium's attempt to create a Hollywood-style war story that's big on sweeping action and intense performances. More precisely, co-writer/director Sven Huybrechts wants his own "Inglourious Basterds," crafting a violent, history-bending WWII adventure that thrives on attitude and confrontation. It's a lively endeavor, with a distinct mission to please potential viewers with an assortment of dangerous doings and submarine movie formula, attempting to light up the screen with a much lower budget than any blockbuster would accept. Read the rest at

Film Review - Honest Thief


The Liam Neeson Thriller managed a short break over the last year, with the actor flexing some dramatic muscles again in offerings such as “Ordinary Love” and “Made in Italy.” And he was terrific in those pictures, showcasing renewed interest in playing human beings in various stages of reflection and distress. Neeson returns to paycheck duties for “Honest Thief,” putting him back behind the wheel of a mild actioner involving stolen money, rotten FBI agents, and true love, giving his core demographic a periodically exciting and highly implausible ride. Screenwriters Steve Allrich and Mark Williams (who also directs) try to reinforce the personalities involved in the maze of motivations, and the effort is appealing, adding some spirit to an otherwise generic but easily digestible endeavor. Read the rest at

Film Review - Love and Monsters


Brian Duffield (who recently served as writer/director of “Spontaneous”) and Matthew Robinson are credited as screenwriters on “Love and Monsters,” but the project has the feel of a graphic novel adaption. The features merges heartsickness felt by the lead character with his quest to cross a dangerous land populated with mutated creatures, using the power of love as the wind in his sails as he endures all types of challenges to his personal safety. The screenplay doesn’t actually have a literary origin, which might’ve come in handy, as “Love and Monsters” eventually loses its way when trying to give audiences a satisfying ending. Thankfully, the first half of the effort does a successful job managing tonal changes and visualizing threat, with director Michael Matthews getting the adventure up on its feet with personality and lively enemy attacks, offing just enough enthusiasm to sustain the viewing experience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Evil Eye


“Welcome to the Blumhouse” makes another attempt to turn Blumhouse Productions into a household name for horror. Partnering with Amazon Studios, Blumhouse delivers four films for streaming distribution, looking to clear out a few older titles from the company closet. The fourth offering of the series is “Evil Eye,” another television endeavor that deals with low-wattage scariness, delivering more of a heightened melodrama with a distinct cultural fingerprint. With such an ominous title, one might expect plenty of hellraising in “Evil Eye,” but the picture isn’t interested in overkill, dealing with familial issues that play into ideas on parental concern and Indian mysticism. Directors Elan and Rajeev Dassani aren’t here to pound on viewers, electing to guide a more restrained, slow-burn look at motherly paranoia, filling the effort with superb performances. Read the rest at

Film Review - Nocturne


“Welcome to the Blumhouse” makes another attempt to turn Blumhouse Productions into a household name for horror. Partnering with Amazon Studios, Blumhouse delivers four films for streaming distribution, looking to clear out a few older titles from the company closet. The third title out of the gate is “Nocturne,” a television movie that attempts to make classical piano playing not exactly terrifying, but at least unnerving. Writer/director Zu Quirke (making her feature-length debut) channels the unease of Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” for “Nocturne,” creating a competition picture that deals mostly with hallucinatory imagery and sisterly bitterness, stuffing in some Deal with the Devil business to keep up with genre demands. It’s not an especially striking effort from Quirke, but she has a decent command of evil influence to keep the endeavor reasonably alert. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Opening Act


“The Opening Act” comes from writer/director Steve Byrne, a longtime stand-up comedian. Ready to put his early experiences on film, Byrne concocts a small-scale ode the pains of the profession with the feature, calling in every favor possible to fill the endeavor with familiar faces from the scene. Such a lived-in quality helps “The Opening Act” greatly, with Byrne keeping to simple goals of character and mishaps, striving to give the viewer a larger understanding of what the stand-up comedy system is like for a newcomer who hasn’t found their voice yet. Stage time is plentiful in the effort, as are laughs, but the real appeal of the movie is its love for awkward situations, with Byrne creating a positive story about failure. Read the rest at

Film Review - Shithouse


“Shithouse” is Cooper Raiff’s debut feature as a writer/director/actor, going the triple threat route to secure as much creative control as possible. He has a lot to learn about editing, characterization, and the power of a good, approachable title that welcomes interest from a wide range of potential viewers. However, for his first at-bat, Raiff does understand unsettled feelings when it comes to a young person’s initial encounter with adulthood, with all the fear and worry that goes along with the journey, especially on a college campus. “Shithouse” (oof) might initially seem coarse and unpleasant, but Raiff is quick to establish a lived-in sensitivity to the endeavor, finding a semi-original take on loneliness and human connection that gives the effort deeper feeling as the story develops. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Devil Has a Name


Edward James Olmos is a respected actor who’s enjoyed a lengthy career in the industry, winning tremendous praise and a few awards for his efforts. As a director, he made a splash with 1992’s “American Me,” a controversial look at gang life in Los Angeles, which gifted him attention and mild box office, but follow-ups were sparse. Olmos turned in a few television productions over the years, but nothing quite recaptured the electricity of “American Me.” Back on the big screen, Olmos steers “The Devil Has a Name,” which examines the state of pollution and corporate intimidation in California, underlining the true power of greed. It’s a noble endeavor with something to share about corruption and environmental ruin, but Olmos doesn’t connect in full with the screenplay (credited to Robert McEveety), shooting for a quirky take on legal and planetary horror when the subject matter deserves a more sobering approach. Read the rest at

Film Review - Alone (2020)


It’s a bit risky to debut a pandemic horror movie in the midst of an actual pandemic, but it appears the producers of “Alone” (not to be confused with the other “Alone,” released a few weeks ago) are probably counting on morbid curiosity to fuel VOD purchases. It’s not a feature rooted in reality, with screenwriter Matt Naylor taking the material into genre territory, inspired by films such as “28 Days Later” and Zack Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead” remake. It’s a zombie movie more than a viral outbreak thriller, and after a shaky introduction from director Johnny Martin (“Hangman,” “Delirium”) that highlights awkward acting and trendy editorial ideas, the feature actually finds an appealing balance of human concern and monster attacks, becoming the rare endeavor that actually improves as it goes. There’s very little real-world illness in “Alone,” and while its release timing is suspect, the finished product is more than happy to be junk food for the masses. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea


It's always a tricky proposition to translate the work of Japanese author Yukio Mishima, and writer/director Lewis John Carlino has his hands full with "The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea." The 1976 production moves the action from Japan to England, trying to bring Mishima's interests in honor, obsession, and anger with it, doing a credible job keeping the tale's uneasiness alive while juggling some strangely polar-opposite performances. "The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea" deals with heavy eroticism and profound psychological issues, and it remains a specialized viewing experience for those interested in a disturbing picture, but one that also does a fine job connecting the behavioral dots, while Carlino's commitment to the story's impossibly bleak ending is astounding. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Trauma


"Trauma" has been classified by the experts as a giallo, but it's a stretch to keep it in the subgenre. Sure, there's something of a mystery going on during the feature, and hellraising is committed by a black-gloved killer wielding a straight razor. Elements are there, but the screenplay is more influenced by Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho," going the slasher route with its tale of a remote inn and the strange person who runs it. Perhaps this distance from strict giallo-ing is good for director Leon Klimovsky, who gets far enough with strange interactions and sexploitation interests here. "Trauma" isn't a nail-biter, but it holds together as an odd knock-off. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Police are Blundering in the Dark


The title, "The Police are Blundering in the Dark," is remarkably memorable, but doesn't quite describe the viewing experience of the 1975 picture. In fact, the cops aren't really involved in the story, which follows a series of murders involving beautiful women, and the ladies' man who's on the hunt for the perpetrator. Director Helia Colombo tries to deliver a traditional giallo event, tracking a deadly villain who preys on innocents, using long scissors to dispatch victims. There's a list of suspects and plenty of sexploitation. However, there's also a sci-fi element to the material, which has the potential to inspire some needed insanity, but Colombo is hesitant. He keeps the endeavor low to the ground, trusting in violence and nudity to sustain a movie that takes long breaks between moments of mayhem. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Killer is One of 13


1973's "The Killer is One of 13" has more in common with Agatha Christie than a true Euro ripper about a gloved killer. It's an extraordinarily patient production, with the screenplay locked in exposition and confrontation mode for a whopping 63 minutes of screen time before the first murder occurs. The wait for mayhem is actually the most shocking element of the picture, which provides more of a theatrical-style viewing experience, watching capable actors devour the motivations they've been assigned, offering hearty performances for a feature that promises horror, but doesn't make immediate plans to showcase genre highlights. "The Killer is One of 13" is not a movie for viewers who require their genre offerings to be relentless. Director Javier Aguirre takes the long way to bloodshed in this sluggish endeavor. Read the rest at

Film Review - The War with Grandpa


For “The War with Grandpa” to work as a movie, one has to have some comfort with the outrageous behavior exhibited by a troubled 12-year-old boy, who wants nothing more than to seek revenge on his ailing grandfather, who’s taken over his room after moving in due to mobility issues. There needs to be something friendly about the child to help enjoy his increasingly hostile pranks, giving viewers an understanding that the main character isn’t actually trying to murder his peepaw. Such insight into the juvenile mind isn’t presented by screenwriters Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember, who tend to focus on the allegedly lighthearted antics of the material, which originated in a 1984 Robert Kimmel Smith book. Unfortunately, “The War with Grandpa” isn’t amusing either, working through dismal high jinks with seemingly capable actors who push extra hard to make the film resemble the good time it desperately wants to be. Read the rest at

Film Review - Vampires vs. the Bronx


A veteran of comedy television and the digital shorts of “Saturday Night Live,” Oz Rodriguez jumped to film direction with 2016’s highly amusing “Brother Nature,” sharing credit with creative partner Matt Villines, who passed away that same year. Rodriguez returns to screens with “Vampires vs. the Bronx,” keeping up his interest in comedic mischief with the Halloween release, which pits the residents of a forgotten New York City block against the arrival of monsters who do their worst through the business of gentrification. There’s a body count and some bared fangs, but the screenplay by Blaise Hemingway (“Playmobil: The Movie”) tries to keep things light and East Coast with the endeavor, which offers a sharp sense of location while enjoying some big laughs and a fair amount of excitement. Rodriguez maintains his sense of humor, keeping matters quite playful, going for a genre ride instead of a bleak overview of horror happenings, with “Vampires vs. the Bronx” coming through as a wildly entertaining romp. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hubie Halloween


There was a brief, beautiful moment late last year, when the release of “Uncut Gems” delivered the best Adam Sandler performance of his career. It was a risk for the Happy Madison honcho too, working with indie filmmakers asking him to play a morally corrupt character. Sandler was fantastic in a masterful picture, but such a career victory wasn’t meant to last for very long. Less than a year later, Sandler returns with “Hubie Halloween,” heading right back to the warmth and softness of his professional wooby of bodily function jokes, friends and family employment, and a near absence of screenwriting. It’s an awful feature from start to finish, made all the worse by the distant memory of “Uncut Gems” and its magnificent use of Sandler’s unique screen presence. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Wolf of Snow Hollow


Writer/director Jim Cummings won critical raves and cult viewership with his last endeavor, 2018’s “Thunder Road,” and he’s back two years later with “The Wolf of Snow Hollow.” Continuing his interest in the wilds of mental illness, parenthood, and law enforcement, Cummings tries on a genre film for size, examining the pressures felt by a man on the edge who’s dealing with family failures, police mishaps, and the possible existence of a wolfman on the loose. The helmer brings a darkly comic edge to the effort, which introduces a wonderfully strong sense of danger with monstrous happenings, only to gradually drift away from such a compelling source of danger and grisly mystery. Cummings is after something a bit more nuanced and dramatically probing with “The Wolf of Snow Hollow,” which might disappoint horror hounds, but the reward is a feature that’s unexpected and unpredictable. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Trial of the Chicago 7


There have been many documentary deconstructions and dramatic interpretations of the Chicago Seven, with all sorts of filmmakers digging into the madness of the judicial and political system experienced by seven (originally eight) men on trial for their part in the 1968 Democratic National Convention riots in Illinois. It seems 2020 is an ideal time to revisit elements of the trial and its idiosyncratic defendants, with the case examining abuses of power at a law enforcement and Presidential level, capturing the restlessness of a country inching toward chaos. The event is also catnip to writer/director Aaron Sorkin, with the collection of personalities and confrontations gifting him a chance to present a loquacious reexamination of the facts through fiction, generating a high-energy overview of courtroom maneuvering and injustice, also dissecting the behind-the-scenes legal chess game. “The Trial of the Chicago 7” may be a bit too familiar and user friendly at times, but if there was ever a moment to take it all in again, it would be now. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Doorman


There have be a great number of films that’ve chased the cinematic high 1988’s “Die Hard” provided viewers. The knockoffs have been varied in premise and tone, and it’s wild they’re still being churned out to this day. “The Doorman” is the next offering of one-person-army action in a single setting, only instead of paying tribute to the John McTiernan masterpiece, screenwriters Lior Chefetz and Joe Swanson basically remake the feature with their vision of multi-floor antagonism inside an apartment building. The similarities are alarming (let’s hope the lawyers aren’t watching), but try as they might, the writers can’t capture that singular viewing experience with this low-budget effort, which pits diminutive Ruby Rose against an army of thieves, using every John McClane trick the production can repurpose to provide some cheap thrills to viewers who, hopefully, haven’t seen “Die Hard.” Read the rest at

Film Review - The Lie


“Welcome to the Blumhouse” makes another attempt to turn Blumhouse Productions into a household name for horror. Partnering with Amazon Studios, Blumhouse delivers four films for streaming distribution, looking to clear out a few older titles from the company closet. The second offering of the series is “The Lie,” which is a remake of a 2015 German production, with writer/director Veena Sub transferring austere European storytelling to snowbound Canada, hoping to get a little more atmospheric mileage out of the premise. “The Lie” asks some compelling questions about the evil nature of children and the reverberating destruction caused by a parental breakup, but Sub only has ridiculous answers to offer viewers with her remake. Instead of challenging her audience, the helmer manages to trigger major eye-rolls with the writing, destroying a picture with a provocative introduction. Read the rest at