Previous month:
October 2020
Next month:
December 2020

November 2020

Blu-ray Review - Apocalypto


Mel Gibson likes violence. It's mother's milk to him, especially with most of his directorial choices. There was 1995's "Braveheart," which hid tremendous bodily harm behind a traditional historical drama, also testing rear-ends with a three-hour run time. Gibson was rewarded with big box office and Oscar gold, empowering him to go deeper into the darkness of human behavior with 2004's "The Passion of the Christ," where he tried to visualize biblical suffering by showcasing all manner of torture and death. Gibson was once again rewarded with huge box office, with most of the bucks going directly to him after a self-financing leap of faith paid off enormously. Trying his luck once again with history and horror, Gibson captures Mayan mayhem with 2006's "Apocalypto," looking to mix cultural imagery with a B-movie-style survival/revenge picture, keeping up his interests in screen pain with another marathon of men facing certain doom from the ruling class. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - A Small Town in Texas


1976's "A Small Town in Texas" is often listed as an action film, but director Jack Starrett only really gets to the heat of the moment on a few occasions. The feature is more of a southern melodrama with a few flashes of suspense, offering viewers a more character-based understanding of community upheaval and shady law enforcement business. Excitement is limited in "A Small Town in Texas," which comes alive when arranging car chases, but falls a little flatter when attempting to conjure a battle of wills. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Naughty Victorians


1975's "The Naughty Victorians" is an adaptation of the 1908 novel, "The Way of a Man with a Maid." The book detailed the appetites of a gentleman named Jack who lured female victims into a private room known as "The Snuggery," exposing panicked ladies to all sorts of bondage devices while raping them. Why this material needed to be turned into a movie is a question for writer/director Robert Sickinger, who chases the porno chic movement of the decade with "The Naughty Victorians," trying to deliver a regal atmosphere of pained seduction, complete with broad acting and Gilbert and Sullivan on the soundtrack. I'm not convinced the feature is the refined erotic experience Sickinger imagines it to be, but he deserves some credit for his attempt to soften the hard edges of the source material, turning a parade of humiliation into a revenge film of sorts. Read the rest at

Film Review - Superintelligence


Collaborations between star Melissa McCarthy and her husband, director Ben Falcone haven’t gone well in the past. The pair has created “Tammy,” “The Boss,” and “Life of the Party,” trying to find a comfortable middle between formulaic screenwriting and McCarthy’s natural gift for comedic chaos. Falcone’s not one to offer much style or wit to a production, and McCarthy often hunts for a way out of silly business, making their latest endeavor, “Superintelligence” their best offering so far, simply because it plays directly to their career interests. Falcone keeps everything easily digestible, and McCarthy is offered a chance to play a romantic lead, while the plot, which details the end of the world, isn’t pushy, securing a softer, less strained effort from the married moviemakers. Read the rest at

Film Review - Uncle Frank


After spending much of his career finding ways to tangle storylines to help extend the life of his television shows, writer/director Alan Ball (“Six Feet Under,” “True Blood”) offers a simpler take on family antagonisms with “Uncle Frank.” Mixing a relationship drama with a coming out story, Ball tries to approach heavy concepts of acceptance and resistance with a somewhat lighter touch, at least for the first half of the endeavor. It’s not a comedy, but the picture remains interested in a few brighter moments of observation before it really sinks into the titular character’s experience as a frightened gay man in the 1970s dealing with a home life and a past he’s been trying to outrun for decades. “Uncle Frank” initially gives off the vibe of an engaging diversion, but Ball has a destination for the material, and it ultimately packs quite a punch. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Croods: A New Age


While it made a fortune at the box office, there’s never been a whole lot of chatter about 2013’s “The Croods.” One of the more entertaining and funny animated efforts of the last decade, “The Croods” really delivered on most fronts, with solid writing and dynamite voice work joining a beautiful fantasy world of prehistoric sights and wild creatures. There’s been a bit of a wait for a sequel, but “The Croods: A New Age” is finally here and it’s a relief to report that the follow-up is just a much fun and colorful as the original, also reuniting viewers with a terrifically engaged cast who genuinely seem to enjoy the characters they inhabit. Director Joel Crawford makes moves to offer a slightly bigger adventure for the titular family, but it doesn’t torpedo the simple joys of the premise, even while working with a more socially aware screenplay. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Christmas Chronicles 2


“The Christmas Chronicles” was one of the pleasant surprises of 2018 holiday season, with the production creating a slick but engaging family film that celebrated the wonders of Santa and his magical world. A large percentage of the picture’s appeal came from star Kurt Russell, who committed to the role with complete enthusiasm, becoming a top-shelf screen Santa, exuding yuletide spirit while sneaking in some singing chops as director Clay Kaytis worked in a musical number to add a bit of the unexpected. For “The Christmas Chronicles 2,” Russell returns with possibly even more energy than before, going wonderfully big as Santa, this time joined by Goldie Hawn as Mrs. Claus for a second North Pole emergency, with director Chris Columbus (who co-scripts with Matt Lieberman) summoning a hearty fun factor with this lively adventure. Read the rest at

Film Review - Happiest Season


Co-writer/director Clea DuVall attempts to find the real meaning of Christmas with “Happiest Season,” which isn’t quite the festive bonanza it initially appears to be. DuVall and co-writer/co-star Mary Holland only deal with holiday happenings periodically, creating a film that’s more interested in addressing the stress of a closeted life and the pressures of family expectations, using the gentleness of the season to highlight the power of love as it’s tested from all sides. “Happiest Season” is a little unwieldy, with DuVall frequently unsure if she wants to make something wacky or profound, leaving the feature unsteady at times as it samples every mood available. There’s a level of sincerity to sections of the endeavor that keep it alive, feeling as though the writers are pouring their own experiences with coming out into the mix, securing a defined perspective of fear while playing with Christmas movie formula that’s not nearly as compelling as the rest of the picture. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hillbilly Elegy


“Hillbilly Elegy” is an adaptation of a 2016 memoir by conversative author J.D. Vance, which has developed a fan base on both sides of the political spectrum, with readers beguiled by the writer’s evocation of life in Kentucky and his drive to better himself through experience. And now it’s a film from director Ron Howard, who strives to bring Vance’s education to the screen, with the story offering numerous scenes of tragedy, hostility, and forgiveness, allowing screenwriter Vanessa Taylor a chance to milk charged moments for everything they’re worth. Howard aims for Oscar bait with the endeavor, which delivers a large amount of hysterics from actors who should know better, while the tale of misery turns into punishment for viewers. Netflix didn’t want me to review “Hillbilly Elegy,” and now I understand why. Once again: not every book needs to be a movie. Read the rest at

Film Review - Buddy Games


After riding an acting career that’s had its ups and downs, Josh Duhamel aims to reclaim some creative power with “Buddy Games,” making his debut as a writer/director. He’s created a raunchy comedy about best friends working things out during a custom competition, doing whatever he can to play into genre trends as he gathers a group of actors to deliver games of improvisation and manage the helmer’s appetite for gross-out situations. “Buddy Games” is a juvenile picture, but that’s Duhamel’s mission, working with WWE studios to manufacture a prime slice of broheim entertainment. That the film is spectacularly unfunny doesn’t seem to stop the production, which is determined to whiff with simple goals, seemingly obsessed to reach the bottom of the barrel when it comes to ideas for silly business. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Graveyard Shift


After scoring a significant success in 1989 with "Pet Sematary," Paramount understandably wanted to remain in the Stephen King business. "Graveyard Shift" was the next slice of horror to be served to audiences, only this picture was an adaptation of a 1970 short story, challenging screenwriter John Esposito to expand on a brief tale of a subterranean nightmare involving the discovery of mutated rats. Lacking significant source material to truly inspire a layered genre experience, "Graveyard Shift" works as an entertaining creature feature, though one where monstrous happenings are surprisingly less interesting than workplace intimidation. The film crawls to a close, but director Ralph S. Singleton provides a compelling first half, allowing strange performances and grimy sets to carry the viewing experience before wicked things with wings arrive to supply a more traditional gore fest. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Torment


"Torment" is a mostly engaging, slightly unnerving suspense offering for about half of its run time. If one were to stop watching midway through, a positive impression is made, with co-writer/directors Samson Aslanian and John Hopkins ("The Dorm That Dripped Blood") managing to get a very low budget chiller up on its feet with a disturbing antagonist and a plot that sets up a somewhat unique cat and mouse game. "Torment" doesn't have enough creative gas (or budgetary coin) to go the distance, but there's a promising beginning, and that's nearly enough to support the entire endeavor, which finds a way to a few Hitchcockian highs before losing interest in a distinct battle between a criminal and the cop on his trail. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Phantom of the Opera (1962)


Returning to Gaston Leroux's original 1910 novel, Hammer Films tries to put their stamp on "The Phantom of the Opera," looking to compete with previous adaptations, including a 1925 silent picture starring Lon Chaney, Sr. For the 1962 version, Hammer hires Herbert Lom to become the titular character, and he does a terrific job in the part, gamely following the screenplay's interest in darkness, losing some of the romantic, obsessive aspects of the source material. Director Terence Fisher can't redefine the work to inspire a new classic, but he gets surprisingly far with his vision, which merges Hammer's gothic horror interests with little elements of Hitchcockian suspense, delivering a movie that's lovely to look at and retains a good amount of dramatic tension as it labors to find new ways to deal with old business. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - P.O.W. the Escape


Trying to keep a good thing going after finding success with 1984's "Missing in Action" and its 1985 prequel, Cannon Films returns to war with 1986's "P.O.W.: The Escape," replacing the world-saving ways of Chuck Norris with the pale heroism of David Carradine. The decline in star power is noticeable, finding Carradine barely committing to a lackluster screenplay, unwilling to put in his best effort to help director Gideon Amir, who comes armed with all the blanks and explosions an action movie helmer could ask for, somehow forgetting to put just as much labor into characterization, making "P.O.W.: The Escape" nothing more than a theme park stunt show. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fatman


“Fatman” is a Christmas movie that fits the tone of 2020, offering a frequently grim take on the magic of Santa Claus, his north pole operation, and those who feel spurned by the spirit of holiday giving. Writer/directors Eshom and Ian Nelms (“Small Town Crime”) create a dark vision of seasonal concern, but they don’t suffocate the viewer in the process, preserving bits of humor and heart as they construct a different take on holiday figures and iconography. Mel Gibson is hired to portray the titular character, and it’s appropriate casting for the production, which feeds off the star’s sandpaper-like screen presence, giving the helmers permission to take “Fatman” wherever they need to go, keeping things unpredictable and menacing. The feature has its shortcomings, but it’s an appropriate fit for today’s world, mixing simmering rage with a dollop of optimism. Read the rest at

Film Review - Television Event


In 1983, ABC produced “The Day After,” a television production that aimed to expose the true savagery of nuclear war for a primetime audience used to dealing with escapism. The gamble paid off for the network, which attracted 100 million viewers the night the movie aired, becoming a hot topic for some time after its debut. “Television Event” is an Australian documentary that looks into the creation of “The Day After,” with director Jeff Daniels (not the actor) detailing the origins and legacy of the project, it’s production issues, and eventual airing, looking to understand how a small but weighty idea to bring global destruction to television screens was actually achieved during the height of a new cold war. Daniels is focused and honest about creative battles and growing network fears, creating a riveting study of a landmark film. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jiu Jitsu


The world didn’t need more “Kickboxer” sequels, but producer Dimitri Logothetis felt differently, helping to bring 2016’s “Kickboxer: Vengeance” to the screen. Not content to watch from the sidelines, Logothetis assumed directorial command of 2018’s “Kickboxer: Retaliation,” taking control of martial arts action and thickly sliced brutality. Surprisingly, the helmer didn’t tank the assignment, coming up with an impressively violent endeavor that entertained in a way few “Kickboxer” follow-ups have. Now Logothetis turns his attention to “Jiu Jitsu,” which is also an offering of bone-crunching mayhem, this time involving the worlds of comic books and science fiction. It’s a bit a stretch to buy anything “Jiu Jitsu” has to offer, but if you’re a fan of “Predator” and its many sequels, writers Logothetis and Jim McGrath are basically remaking the 1987 offering, skipping on the grit, grunts, and compelling blend of fantasy and intensity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist


Last year, director Alexandre O. Philippe (“The People vs. George Lucas”) issued “Memory: The Origins of Alien,” which strived to understand the creation of the 1979 horror classic without peeling back all the layers of the filmmaking process. It was an elusive documentary and unsatisfying overall, coming across as more of a college lecture than an unmissable breakdown of production achievements and cultural imprint. Philippe is back with “Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist,” and he’s still in a philosophical mood, attempting to approach an iconic picture from a few different angles, breaking the home video supplement routine. With “Memory,” Philippe had actors, widows, and historians, and he still didn’t manage to get beneath the skin of his subject. With “Leap of Faith,” he has Friedkin, a blunt director who’s always interested in a chance to talk about himself, bringing his distinct personality to the endeavor, with Philippe wisely sticking with his subject, refusing to go elsewhere to analyze the making of 1973’s “The Exorcist.” Read the rest at

Film Review - Run (2020)


In 2018, writer/director Aneesh Chaganty made an industry splash with “Searching,” one of a few computer desktop-based thrillers to pop in in recent years as more and more filmmakers turn to the secrets of technology to inspire chills. “Searching” won praise from audiences and made some money at the box office, proving there was interest in the helmer’s way with tightly confined terror and paranoia. He’s moved past the CPU and cell phones, but Chaganty remains in tight spaces with “Run,” which returns him to the fury of disoriented parents and their concern for children, only here he’s masterminding more of a Hitchcockian viewing experience. The feature only deals with a handful of characters and a situation of domestic clarity, but the production gets the material going with imaginative set pieces and interesting sinister business. It runs out of gas in the final act, but “Run” is quite the ride for its first hour. Read the rest at

Film Review - Embattled


It’s been a long time since actor Stephen Dorff has delivered an alert performance. He’s been working the B-movie circuit for some time, flirting with a few softer diversions (including Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere”), but he’s mostly stuck with playing hardened guys in criminal situations. For “Embattled,” Dorff is once again tasked with portraying a nasty human being, but the screenplay by David McKenna (“American History X,” “Blow”) doesn’t permit the character to act as flypaper for cliches, putting in the effort to create dimensions for a seasoned MMA fighter struggling with ego and anger issues, gradually recognizing the emptiness of his life. The role is a perfect fit for Dorff, who gives one of his finest performances, and it’s a strong film overall, exploring forms of violence and neglect, but also taking a look at the true formation of masculinity and family. There are plenty of hard hits and trash talking, but “Embattled” goes beyond the sport’s aggression to grasp the wounded hearts in play. Read the rest at