Previous month:
November 2020
Next month:
January 2021

December 2020

Blu-ray Review - Pandemonium


Film historians often celebrate the rise of fantasy moviemaking in the 1980s, with many productions chasing the success of "Star Wars," feeding an audience hungry for space opera escapism. Less emphasized is the rise of slasher cinema, thanks to the unexpected domination of "Friday the 13th," and many producers were also looking to replicate the comedic formula of "Airplane!" Horror and broad comedy were subjected to a mass milking by the industry, with some going a step further and combining the two genres, hoping to appeal to more ticket-buyers. 1981 presented "Saturday the 14th" and "Student Bodies," and 1982 delivers "Pandemonium," which offers a take on a serial killer with a taste for young victims, but also includes pie-in-the-face jokes. Screenwriters Jamie Klein and Richard Whitley try to create something of a story to support all the slapstick, but the general velocity of "Pandemonium" is managed by director Alfred Sole ("Alice, Sweet Alice"), and he's not afraid to try anything for a laugh, hoping the feature will magically fall into place by sheer will alone. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Indecent Exposure


1981's "Indecent Exposure" has the right idea for adult entertainment, at least for the first two acts. It's a production from director Gary Graver that's trying to break out of cheap sets and bedrooms, with writers C.W. O'Hara and Harold Lime concocting a road trip for their characters, permitting some sense of freedom as the production visits a few corners of California to have a little fun with predatory personalities. There's enough forward momentum and location variation to carry the viewing experience, which goes from light, silly escapism with sexual encounters to a darker probing of psychology in its last act. Why? Even after watching the entire film, it's difficult to understand the dramatic intent. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Children of the Sea


While "Children of the Sea" initially promises to be a coming-of-age adventure for a young girl introduced to magical oceanic elements, the picture gradually takes the story in a different direction, aiming to offer a "2001"-style viewing experience instead of something more grounded. An adaptation of Daisuke Igarashi's manga, "Children of the Sea" is an incredibly ambitious tale of human connection to earthly wonders and life, with director Ayumu Watanabe aiming to respect what the author is trying to communicate and give the feature a cosmic life of its own. Read the rest at

Film Review - We Can Be Heroes


While marketing materials push the idea that “We Can Be Heroes” is a sequel to 2005’s “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl,” it’s not the continuation most fans are hoping for. In fact, Sharkboy doesn’t have any lines and isn’t played by original actor Taylor Lautner, and while Taylor Dooley returns to the role of Lavagirl, she’s in the feature for roughly five minutes. What “We Can Be Heroes” really becomes is an opportunity for writer/director Robert Rodriguez to return to his childlike filmmaking POV after years away from family entertainment, putting him in charge of a CGI-intensive riff on “The Avengers,” only starring a group of pre-teen superheroes. Unlike “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl,” the new movie is actually entertaining, with Rodriguez unsteady when it comes to portioning out action sequences, but he’s much less infantile this time around, returning to his “Spy Kids” (just the first picture) roots with a lively wish-fulfillment fantasy for young viewers. Read the rest at

Film Review - Wonder Woman 1984


The superhero Wonder Woman received her first big screen vehicle in 2017, with director Patty Jenkins delivering a satisfying but bottom-heavy endeavor, and one that transformed the character into a cinematic titan, ready to be explored in sequels. Three years later, and “Wonder Woman 1984” has arrived to scratch the itch for more things Diana Prince, with Jenkins returning to helm a second solo adventure for the truth-seeking warrior. As with most follow-ups to major hits, the producers are a little terrified to do anything different, and they fall for a common comic book movie trap by offering two villains for the protagonist to battle over a whopping 150-minute-long run time. Wonder Woman isn’t really the focus of “Wonder Woman 1984,” which is a shame, but Jenkins gets a chance to create a few incredible action sequences while the screenplay figures out how to juggle three major subplots. Read the rest at

Film Review - Soul


While Pixar Animation productions tend to earn high praise with almost every release, it’s the work of director Pete Doctor that’s been the consistent standout for the company. The driving force behind “Inside Out,” “Up,” and “Monsters, Inc.,” Docter has repeatedly pushed Pixar into different creative directions, generating exciting, hilarious, and profoundly emotional movies along the way. His latest is “Soul,” which at first glance might appear to be an “Inside Out” riff, returning to the world of human beings and their struggling inner lives. While the features share some similarities in tone and theme, “Soul” aims for the bigger picture, with Docter and his team crafting a film about the gift of life and how the joys of existence are often drowned out by the drive to find purpose. Once again, the helmer has found a way to explore daily existence with animated buoyancy, and while the endeavor takes a strange detour at the midway point, Docter remains attentive to his message of appreciation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fatale


After turning a profit with their low-budget offering from 2019, “The Intruder,” director Deon Taylor and screenwriter David Loughery have teamed up again for other generic offering in “Fatale.” These guys don’t enjoy pushing themselves when it comes to a creative approach to thriller cinema, and while “The Intruder” didn’t do anything with its crazy-stalker-on-the-loose premise, “Fatale” does even less with its take on “Fatal Attraction” formula. A growing sense of unease never arrives in the picture, examining one adulterer’s fight to keep his one-night stand from ruining his life, with Loughery coming up short on ideas for suspense sequences and troubling confrontations. Taylor is basically asleep behind the camera, giving the endeavor a Lifetime Movie vibe with flat performances and no particular sense of style. Read the rest at

Film Review - Pinocchio (2020)


1883’s “The Adventures of Pinocchio” is a beloved book from author Carlo Collodi, bringing a vivid tale of behavior and consequences to readers of all ages. It’s also a public domain tale open to anyone with interest in adapting the work. Over the decades, numerous versions of the story have been manufactured for film, radio, television, and the stage, with no shortage of creative people looking to leave their fingerprints on Collodi’s most famous creation. Perhaps sensing he has to come up with something memorable to compete in a crowded marketplace, co-writer/director Matteo Garrone (“Gomorrah”) tries to respect the source material with his version of “Pinocchio,” restoring Collodi’s plotting and darkness while delivering a vivid study of animal kingdom activity. Those accustomed to the softness of previous takes might be overwhelmed by this picture, which is imaginatively made with amazing technical achievements, but not an endeavor that touches the heart. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ma Rainey's Black Bottom


“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is an adaptation of a 1982 play created by acclaimed writer August Wilson (“Fences”), which went on to a successful Broadway run, bringing the history of the titular singer, the “mother of the blues,” and her struggles to the masses. For the material’s big screen debut, little has been changed, with director George C. Wolfe (“Nights in Rodanthe”) retaining the theatrical nature of the work, putting gifted actors in Wilson’s sweatbox environments and filming the heavily rehearsed results. The screenplay (by Ruben Santiago-Hudson) preserves as much fire-breathing as possible from the original work, delivering a haunting overview of the black experience in the late 1920s, making specific points about exploitation and survival. A few moments get away from Wolfe, but the inherent authority and rich characterization in Wilson’s effort remains. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Jackson County Jail


Drive-in sleaze from the 1970s gets a cold slap across the face in 1976's "Jackson County Jail," which presents a more sobering understanding of injustice in America's southland. Director Michael Miller ("Silent Rage," "National Lampoon's Class Reunion") and screenwriter Donald E. Stewart are faced with the demands of exploitation cinema, and try to deliver some awfulness to sufficiently rile up viewers. However, the ultimate aim of "Jackson County Jail" is to manufacture a more character-based survival story, delving into broken people as they come up against an unthinkable future while on the run from the law. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Caged Heat


Every career has a beginning, and for the late Jonathan Demme, his start arrived with 1974's "Caged Heat." While producer Roger Corman had already exhausted his interests in women-in-prison pictures, Demme attempts to do something a little different with his take on bad ladies behind bars. Exploitation interests are met, but "Caged Heat" comes at the audience in a slightly different manner, with Demme upping some sense of humor and horror while introducing semi-documentary technique to the endeavor, making it far more interesting than it has any right to be. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell


Feeling the need to squeeze out one more horror adventure with Victor Frankenstein, Hammer Films offers "Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell" to the mid-1970s, with audiences largely interested in more demonic happenings at the local theater. A sequel to 1970's "The Horror of Frankenstein," "Monster from Hell" doesn't stray far from the "Frankenstein" formula, once again putting Victor in contact with scientific evildoing, only here he's joined by a fan and the monster is an ape-like creation who, true to the brand name, doesn't take kindly to the pains of life. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - A Different Story


"A Different Story" was originally released in 1978, a much different time in entertainment, with Hollywood trying to get their minds around the selling of stories about gay characters to the general public. Instead of aiming higher with ambition and respectfulness, writer Henry Olek and director Paul Aaron (who would go on to take his name off "Morgan Stewart's Coming Home") elect to make a drippy dramedy with "A Different Story," turning human emotion and sexuality into a pliable thing to fit the needs of a failed sitcom. It's not a hateful feature, just overly careful not to offend a largely heterosexual audience by changing the homosexual experience as the production sees fit. Read the rest at

Film Review - Breach


If one squints hard enough, “Breach” could be considered a throwback to the mid-1980s, where filmmakers armed with no budget and a few familiar faces in the cast could cobble together an “Alien” rip-off for the expanding VHS rental market. But that takes a lot of work, and “Breach” doesn’t put in the effort. Screenwriters Edward Drake and Corey Large collect all the deep space travel cliches they can hold in their hands for the picture, combining the blue-collar aches and pains of crew life with the threat of a monster who develops inside human bodies. There’s nothing new here, forcing director John Suits (“Pandemic”) to dial up obnoxious shaky-cam visuals captured on limited sets and pretend he’s making something special with a premise that’s been done to death. Read the rest at

Film Review - Wolfwalkers


While major animated releases from studios such as Pixar and Dreamworks manage to dominate the box office and command critical conversation, some of the finest examples of the medium have been produced by Cartoon Saloon over the last decade. They’ve churned out magnificent efforts such as “Song of the Sea,” “The Secret of Kells,” and “The Breadwinner,” invested in the art of challenging audiences with unusual tales of resilience and wonder, digging into extremes of fantasy and reality to inspire their stories. The artistry and integrity of this company is astounding, and for 2020, they offer “Wolfwalkers,” once again crafting a story that welcomes hearty emotion and real suspense for family audiences, also delivering a visual feast of 2D animation that supplies some of the most striking imagery of the film year. “Wolfwalkers” is stunning and sincere, preserving Cartoon Saloon’s position as the most exciting animation studio working today. Read the rest at

Film Review - Another Round


After trying his luck with a more spectacle-oriented tale of a submarine disaster with 2018’s “The Command” (a.k.a. “Kursk”), director Thomas Vinterberg returns to his indie roots with “Another Round.” The filmmaker goes bleak with a story concerning four men and their abuse of alcohol for therapeutic purposes, creating a screenplay (with Tobias Lindholm) that examines the state of emotional stasis facing some middle-aged men, who play an extended game of justification just to feel again. Vinterberg make a semi-return to his Dogme 95 roots with the endeavor, going raw and real with the feature, which touches on a few areas of dark comedy before returning to the messiness of people dealing with personal issues and troubled relationships. In a career full of interesting movies, “Another Round” emerges as one of Vinterberg’s finest efforts. Read the rest at

Film Review - Greenland


“Greenland” strives to be more of a thinking person’s disaster movie, but it really can’t help itself at times. Scenes of mass destruction involving the arrival of a massive comet are periodic, giving fans of this type of entertainment what they want as characters try to outrun or outdrive certain doom. The screenplay by Chris Sparling (“Buried,” “ATM,” “The Sea of Trees”) doesn’t remain on big screen catastrophe for very long, making a push to understand the human element involved when encountering the end of the world. “Greenland” isn’t fresh filmmaking, but it does everything a little bit better than the competition, delivering a reasonably tense viewing experience that keeps moving along, cooking up a compelling series of mental and physical challenges for characters on the run to survive an extinction level event. Read the rest at