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November 2020

Film Review - Sound of Metal


“Sound of Metal” began life long ago with director Derek Cianfrance, who was working on an idea concerning a heavy metal drummer experiencing the life-altering event of hearing loss. The concept was eventually gifted to “The Place Beyond the Pines” co-writer Darius Marder, who makes his helming debut with the picture. It’s quite a first shot fired for Marder, who’s searching for a way to communicate one man’s immersion into the deaf community after a life lived with complete loudness and, in some cases, recklessness. There’s frustration to spare in the feature, which is carried by a powerful performance from Riz Ahmed, who’s tasked with turning anger and confusion into a screen journey that offers no easy answers. “Sound of Metal” has restlessness and definite opinions on technology, and when Marder taps into the pure behavior of personal growth, he makes a hypnotic film. Read the rest at

Film Review - Vanguard


Jackie Chan movies produced in China rarely make their way to American theaters anymore, but “Vanguard” is hoping to offer western audiences a little eastern amplification, delivering an impressively action-packed viewing experience starring a man known for his smashmouth entertainment. In reality, Chan takes more of a supporting part in the endeavor, which reunites him with director Stanley Tong, a frequent collaborator, playing a leadership role in a supercop tale that aims to be globetrotting and explosive. The plot is not exactly the priority here (the celebration of Chinese New Year seems to be the production’s goal), providing only some mild complication for what becomes a series of chases involving good guys and bad guys, with Chan popping into view on occasion to slap stuntmen around. Read the rest at

Film Review - Girl (2020)


“Girl” is a Canadian production about the American deep south. The details of the setting are a little off, but so is everything in film. Writer/director Chad Faust wants to create something noir-ish, with a touch of southern gothic tossed in for taste, but he mostly ends up with a muddled take on fracture family relations with intermittent violence. “Girl” doesn’t have dramatic muscle to lift the endeavor, with Faust stuck going broad to give the picture the emphasis it needs. Instead of creating menace, the effort mostly underwhelms, dealing with hammy performances and static situations, which doesn’t inspire the depiction of mental illness and physical fatigue Faust seems to be reaching for. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Cycle Savages


1969's "The Cycle Savages" tries to tap into an industry trend, presenting the exploits of a biker gang on the loose, causing some amount of trouble wherever they go. Those accustomed to more forceful acts of intimidation and violence might want to take a pass on this film, which focuses on a mad dog gang leader's tireless quest to…break an artist's hands. Yeah, that's it for viciousness in "The Cycle Savages," which seems to be under the impression that slight bodily injury is the key to anarchic horror. The subgenre needs a little more awfulness to truly scratch that exploitation itch. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Best Friends


"Best Friends" has the appearance of exploitation cinema, but somebody forgot to inform co-writer/director Noel Nosseck that his movie should be a little sleazier, or least more suspenseful. The 1975 release tends to go for the heart instead of cheap thrills, following one man's desire to retain the experience of youth while he marches into adulthood. Post-Vietnam War PTSD issues and homoeroticism are a few possible dramatic avenues for Nosseck to explore, but he mostly sticks with a slightly agitated relationship story, which is never memorable enough to leave a lasting impression. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Resistance


Stories concerning the events of World War II are catnip to film producers, gifting them a chance to explore a seemingly simpler time of heroism and villainy, while most of the features pay careful attention to gritty tales of sacrifice during a period of unimaginable violence. For "Resistance," the saga of Marcel Marceau is examined, with the man who became world famous due to his mastery of mime once a French resistance soldier who had a hand in saving a large number of Jewish children during horrific years of Nazi occupation. Writer/director Jonathan Jakubowicz ("Hands of Stone") certainly has a take on WWII challenges and suffering, and while it's unclear just how accurate "Resistance" is, it does offer an unexpected source of conflict, depicting Marceau as a man of honor and creativity looking for safety in war and art. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Swallow


"Swallow" appears intended to be a major showcase for the acting skills of Haley Bennett, who takes a producing role on the picture, gifting herself a little more control over the final product. It's been a rocky road for the talent, who failed to breakout in efforts such as "The Girl on the Train" and "The Magnificent Seven," with "Swallow" delivering a juicy leading part that's completely focused on her abilities, offering a tonal challenge with strange material that deals uncomfortably with obsessive compulsive disorder and depression. The good news about the movie is that it truly makes the most of Bennett's screen appeal, and she delivers refreshingly alert work for director Carlo Mirabella-Davis, skillfully reaching some interesting psychological spaces as the feature conjures plenty of compelling darkness. Read the rest at

Film Review - Freaky


In 2017, director Christopher Landon brought “Happy Death Day” to screens, reworking the plot of “Groundhog Day” to fit the needs of slasher cinema, making a hit movie that played well with young audiences. Delighted to have a financial success to his name, Landon returned to the well less than two years later for “Happy Death Day 2U,” which wasn’t a hit, grossing half of the original film’s take. Hunting for another familiar idea to transform into a ghoulish ride, Landon turns “Freaky Friday” into “Freaky,” fiddling with the body-swap concept to inspire a new round of broad comedy and bodily harm. Landon isn’t pushing himself with the endeavor, which plays at basically the same level as “Happy Death Day,” blending campiness and carnage for a more R-rated viewing experience that frequently teeters on the edge of obnoxiousness. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dreamland


The power of fantasy drives the story of “Dreamland,” which inspects a young man’s very real connection to his deepest desires, suddenly realizing all that’s required for a life lived with adventure and excitement. Such a sobering take on wish-fulfillment is scripted by Nicolaas Zwart, who makes his feature-length debut with the film, blending the escapism of pulp fiction with the hangover of responsibility. The material is interesting, analyzing the creation and breakdown of legends, and director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte brings style to the endeavor, manufacturing a period mood of desperation to best motivate troubled characters. “Dreamland” has atmosphere and a slightly different approach to the deconstruction of heroism, offering viewers tight introspection and games of trust as the picture moves back and forth between drama and suspense. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dating Amber


Director David Freyne made an impressive debut a few years ago with “The Cured.” It was a different take on zombie cinema, turning a pandemic setting into a refreshingly dramatic understanding of characters caught up in an extraordinary situation. Freyne returns with “Dating Amber,” and he loses his horror interests this time out, electing to study the frustrations and fears of two gay teenagers struggling to hide their true selves from friends and family. In a way, the two pictures have a few ideas in common, and Freyne once again showcases a gift for creating vivid personalities. There’s a seriocomic tone to the production that isn’t always smoothly communicated, but “Dating Amber” has a distinct understanding of the stakes involved in the story, with the helmer extremely protective of his lead characters as they experience all sorts of difficulties and tests of courage on their way to finding themselves in the big, scary world. Read the rest at

Film Review - 1 Night in San Diego


Writer/director Penelope Lawson is looking to play into modern comedy trends with “1 Night in San Diego.” She’s made a raunchy comedy that tries to be loose and funny with bawdy characters, sending them on an overnight run of mischief around the titular city. The playfulness of the feature is available in the early going, where Lawson has her freshest ideas and the cast gets used to the tone of the effort. “1 Night in San Diego” doesn’t sustain such energy, but it makes a positive impression overall, offering lively performances from leads Jenna Ushkowitz and Laura Ashley Samuels, and Lawson keeps the weirdness reasonably amusing, offering another night-on-the-town take on comedic chaos that scores just a bit more than it misses. Read the rest at

Film Review - Chick Fight


The physical brutality of “Fight Club” is handed a makeover for “Chick Fight,” which surveys the blood, sweat, and tears of an underground brawling club. A serious study of bare-knuckle liberation and cult formation is jettisoned for the new movie, which tends to play as more of a comedy, hoping to bring laughs to a chilling premise. Director Paul Leyen tries to bring some low-budget style to the endeavor, and screenwriter Joseph Downey labors to sustain character development between scenes of women beating the stuffing out of one another, yet “Chick Fight” has some wily energy to offer with a few sizable laughs. Downey can’t resist the comfort of cliché to complete the picture, but he has some fun along the way, and the cast’s enthusiasm for the material certainly helps the cause, especially when staleness sets in. Read the rest at

Film Review - Echo Boomers


Co-writer/director Seth Savoy makes his feature-length directorial debut with “Echo Boomers,” setting out to inspect the state of the millennial nation with this tale of bad deeds orchestrated by frustrated characters. The production tries to go topical with the plight of the wandering twentysomething, exploring how workplace denial and the weight of debt transform purity of intent into bad deeds done in the name of entitlement. There’s probably a documentary to be made about the subject, or even a dramatic undertaking with a real sensitivity to the ways things are for an entire generation. Unfortunately, Savoy chooses to make a valentine to Gen Y ingenuity with “Echo Boomers,” and he uses the hoariest of gangster cinema cliches to piece it together. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dead Reckoning


How long ago was “Dead Reckoning” shot? Production was in full swing when Barack Obama was the U.S. President, that’s how old the picture is. And there’s a good reason for its substantial delay, as there’s little use for a half-speed thriller with a teen romance angle in the marketplace, forcing the producers to VOD-ize the title (the film was previously called “Altar Rock”) and emphasize the participation of B-movie action star Scott Adkins, who’s not in the feature for very long. Pandemic release scrambling has brought “Dead Reckoning” to audiences, and they don’t deserve such punishment, with the feeble, personality-free endeavor doing next to nothing with elements of terrorism and personal loss, finding director Andrzej Bartkowiak asleep at the wheel while the effort drags from one scene to the next. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Thirteen Ghosts


After scoring a slight box office success with 1999's "House on Haunted Hill," Dark Castle Entertainment returned to the William Castle well for 2001's "Thirteen Ghosts." The original 1960 picture is best known for its gimmick, with "Illusion-O" offering moviegoers a chance to "choose" whether or not they wanted to see poltergeists through a special 3D "ghost viewer." "Thirteen Ghosts" isn't nearly that innocent, trying to pummel its audience with sustained graphic violence and aggressive sound and visual design achievements. It's an R-rated update of enjoyable nonsense, with Dark Castle trying to keep matters deadly serious as they present their take on Castle's creation, making something gruesome and noisy to reach demanding audiences of the era. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Old Dracula


"Old Dracula" (which is the North American title, released elsewhere as "Vampira") is Britain's answer to "Young Frankenstein," with director Clive Donner aiming to pants the vampire genre with a mild comedy starring David Niven. While it seems like a farce, and initially plays like one, the production elects to mute its silliness with a semi-horror take on bloodsucker business, trying to be a little bit scary while maintaining gentle yuks. It's an oddly restrained offering, with Donner perhaps unprepared to take the material where it needs to go, while the whole endeavor seems a little out of time, dealing with swinging sixties playful in 1974. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Taste of Cherry


While a respected filmmaker during the course of his career, 1997's "Taste of Cherry" brought Abbas Kiarostami's work to a worldwide audience, collecting awards and rave reviews for his mediation on life and death. Never one to conjure a volcanic viewing experience, the helmer remains within his creative boundaries for the endeavor, which provides a minimalist moviemaking effort, while the story touches on the depths of experience, existentialism, and resiliency. There's an emotional side to "Taste of Cherry," but Kiarostami elects to head into a more reflective place of thought, delivering an intriguing portrait of a man experiencing life for perhaps the first time as he orchestrates his own demise. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Sorority Sweethearts


After dealing with the voyeurism impulse in "I Like to Watch," co-writer/director Paul Vatelli is back with a more traditional adult film endeavor in 1983's "Sorority Sweethearts." The helmer heads to the American college campus to inspire carnal delights, containing the action to a sorority house where students and the housemother come into contact with sexual thrills as they try to reverse all disappointment previously tied to a weekend of cancelled plans. Read the rest at

Film Review - Let Him Go


In 2005, writer/director Thomas Bezucha brought “The Family Stone” to screens. Pre-release anticipation was limited, with the feature sold as yet another dysfunctional holiday gathering comedy. Once the picture made it to theaters, it revealed itself to be a deeply moving study of character and emotion, overcoming its gaudy “wrapping” to be a perennial Christmas Day watch for many fans. “Let Him Go” has the same issue, sold as a stern revenge story concerning a custody entanglement between midwestern families, only Bezucha isn’t making that movie. He’s more interested in the feelings and frustrations involved in the fight, spotlighting the relationships in play as longstanding unions are tested in full. “Let Him Go” is an examination of marriage and parenthood, and the helmer takes his time with this adaptation of a Larry Wilson novel. The reward for patience is a chance to spend time with richly defined characters, outstanding performances, and, when the moment comes, exquisite suspense. Once again, Bezucha surprises in the best possible way with one of 2020’s best films. Read the rest at