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January 2021

Blu-ray Review - The Heavenly Kid


What makes 1985's "The Heavenly Kid" at least passably interesting is the way it tries to play into the teen horndog cinema trend of the day while also questing to be a bit sweeter than the usual routine. Co-writer/director Cary Medoway attempts to remain above the nonsense that usually emerges with lustful ways, bending the tale to be more about characters than basic adolescent gratification. It doesn't make the movie a classic, but it doesn't push the effort along with a compelling level of gentleness, even when it deals with leering camerawork and, well, lots of death. Medoway provides a pleasant ride with a strange situation of angelic protection and leadership, landing the essentials of the endeavor thanks to a capable cast and screenwriting (sharing duties with Martin Copeland) that's aiming a bit higher to connect with viewers, going for the heart instead of just the crotch. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Marksman


“The Marksman” is co-written and directed by Robert Lorenz, a longtime Clint Eastwood collaborator who last helmed “Trouble with the Curve” for the screen icon. It makes sense that his follow-up would be “The Marksman,” with star Liam Neeson currently experiencing an Eastwood-style career stretch filled with action pictures of limited distinction, keeping himself employed by playing seasoned tough guys who find themselves in difficult situations. Neeson was last seen in the recent “Honest Thief,” and he basically makes the same moves here, portraying a flawed but noble man put in charge of the protection of innocents. The material commences with a study of Mexico/U.S. border complications, but once free of mild politics, Lorenz keeps the endeavor formulaic, leaning on Neeson to hit beats of anger and paternal warmth, which he is more than capable of achieving, and with little effort. Read the rest at

Film Review - Locked Down


Last month there was “Songbird.” It was a tale of lovers separated by the continued devastation of COVID-19, offering viewers a look at the near-future where things remain horrible around an increasingly policed and hostile world. It was the first major offering of pandemic exploration during a pandemic, and it was a terrible film. Now there’s “Locked Down,” which isn’t a slice of dystopian misery, but an in-the-moment take on COVID-19 habits and relationship realizations, with writer Steven Knight (“Serenity,” “The Girl in the Spider’s Web”) basically mounting a play about the pressure cooker environment of cohabitation during a time of inescapable living situations. Director Doug Liman is known for his restless style and tight storytelling abilities, but he can’t get past the inherent heaviness of “Locked Down,” which tries to play brightly, at least passably so, but it’s dealing with grimness, and not well, with Knight offering scattered ideas and characters existing in a global health situation that still has yet to take a defined shape. Read the rest at

Film Review - Outside the Wire


A famous film nanny once sang, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” This Disney line is the general idea driving “Outside the Wire,” which delivers big, bruising action sequences and tense chases featuring a good amount of CGI while trying to deliver a story about American military terrors, underlining the cruelty of drone technology used in far off places. It’s a big message handled by Mikael Hafstrom, the director of “1408” and “Escape Plan,” who tries to mask the feature’s inherent darkness with some highly choreographed violence and broadly written ideas on moral redemption. The production delivers a diverting endeavor with pleasingly smashmouth encounters and a driving plot. It’s not something to be taken seriously, but Hafstrom sweats to sustain his overall message, and his dedication is laudable. Read the rest at

Film Review - Monster Hunter


Paul W.S. Anderson like to direct movies based on video games and work with his wife, Milla Jovovich. The couple had a thing going there for quite a while, churning out features based on the “Resident Evil” franchise, with Anderson personally in charge of four installments, turning heavy CGI and nonsensical plotting into a family business. He became very skilled at disappointing audiences. After 2016’s “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” failed to interest American audiences, it seemed as though the collaboration was over. Enter “Monster Hunter,” another video game title that’s been transformed into celebration of Jovovich’s action hero capabilities, only this time the story’s been simplified and the enemy turned into behemoths. “Monster Hunter” is an improvement on most of the “Resident Evil” sequels, but Anderson stays within his interests as a filmmaker, preferring the creation of eye candy over telling an exciting story. Read the rest at

Film Review - Stallone: Frank, That Is


Director Derek Wayne Johnson is a fan of the iconic 1976 feature, “Rocky.” Sharing that love seems to be an obsession in recent years, creating “John G. Avildsen: King of the Underdogs,” which celebrated the career of the “Rocky” helmer. Last year, Johnson constructed the documentary short, “40 Years of Rocky: The Birth of the Classic,” which showcased rare behind-the-scenes moments from the 1976 shoot. Running out of topics when it comes to all things Rocky Balboa, Johnson finally turns his attention to Stallone. Well, Frank Stallone. It’s a bit a stretch to give the singer/actor his own documentary, but Johnson isn’t easily defeated, piecing together “Stallone: Frank, That Is,” which is more of a loving tribute to the career resiliency of the subject than a gritty examination of a life lived in the shadow of his brother, Sylvester. The idea is to present Frank as more than just a famous last name, and while Johnson doesn’t cut too deep with the effort, he does present an appreciation for a man who’s been hustling his entire life. Read the rest at

Film Review - Some Kind of Heaven


“Some Kind of Heaven” is a documentary that often plays like a scripted film. It’s the feature-length directorial debut for Lance Oppenheimer, a South Florida native endeavoring to explore the weirdness of The Villages, a Sunshine State retirement community that’s experienced a population explosion over the last three decades. With its various activities, community interaction, and promise of Floridian paradise, The Villages is a ripe topic for screen exploration, with Oppenheimer achieving access to the strange personalities who populate the place. He also takes a chance on storytelling, presenting an unusual balance of mockery and sensitivity with “Some Kind of Heaven,” which remains focused on the unusual lives it’s capturing, but also becomes a Christopher Guest movie at times, with the helmer occasionally unsure how to approach off-beat personalities living in a plastic wonderland. Read the rest at

Film Review - Don't Tell a Soul


Writer/director Alex McAulay goes small scale with “Don’t Tell a Soul,” which partially takes place in the woods, where a nervous teenager converses with a security guard he accidentally led into an open well during a foot pursuit. It’s a premise that’s built for low-budget filmmaking, giving the viewing experience over to heated exchanges and surging emotion due to dwindling energy. It’s a static feature, but it’s not sluggish, with the helmer working on ways to open up the psychological scope of the picture without spending precious cash on the production. “Don’t Tell a Soul” eventually gives in to the demands of thriller cinema, but for the first two acts, McAulay offers enough reasons to stick around, carefully developing his characters while adding necessary strangeness to the central survival plot. Read the rest at

Film Review - Rock Camp


There’s a place one can go to experience the ultimate music escape. It’s called Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp, and ever since its debut in 1997, it’s been the subject of playful mockery. There’s something about the idea of amateur musicians paying a small fortune to play with successful rock stars for a few days that leaves itself open for jokes, with commercials, media commentary, and even “The Simpsons” poking fun at the event. “Rock Camp” is a documentary that hopes to illuminate the process for outsiders, with directors Renee Barron and Douglas Blush permitted access to the experience, allowed to detail the rehearsals and camaraderie of the Camp as it heads to Las Vegas. There’s a bit of a promotional vibe to “Rock Camp,” which is inevitable with this type of escapism, but the helmers do a fine job getting to the heart of Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp, capturing the joy of performance as the campers make time with the rock gods and work on their own contributions to the event. Read the rest at

Film Review - Flinch


“Flinch” is a crime story that’s built with parts from other crime stories. Writer/director Cameron Van Hoy primarily lifts from the work of Michael Mann and Nicolas Winding Refn, attempting to shape a kissing cousin to the 2011 film “Drive” with this hot neon, deep synth take on the psychological struggles of a small-time crook with a growing heart. Derivativeness is a problem in “Flinch,” as much of the movie is routine, with Van Hoy having a difficult time trying to make his tormented characters more interesting than they actually are. Style helps the feature, which depicts underworld happenings in Los Angeles, but there’s little more to the effort, which loses forward momentum the more it relies on recycling to fill the run time. Read the rest at

Film Review - Horizon Line


It’s difficult to tell why “Horizon Line” was pushed into production, but I’m sure a feature like 2016’s “The Shallows” and its tremendous success helped the cause. While the new film doesn’t have a shark threat, it does detail a situation of tropical island survival that largely takes place inside an airplane, focusing on immediate crises and longstanding pains of the heart. It’s meant to be close-quarters panic with battered and overwhelmed characters, but “Horizon Line” isn’t the pulse-pounder once expects it to be. Director Mikael Marcimain delivers straightforward entertainment, bringing a mild amount of tension to the skies, but the screenplay (by Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken, “10 Cloverfield Lane”) doesn’t have much of an imagination for this type of disaster movie, dealing with banal relationship issues while halfhearted performances can’t sell the urgency of the moment. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Death Before Dishonor


In the post-Rambo haze of the mid-1980s, Cannon Films was hunting for heroes, and ones who could believably mow down enemy forces and still pay tribute to American patriotism. For 1987's "Death Before Dishonor," the production talked Fred Dryer into making the leap from his small screen success on the T.V. show "Hunter" to a big screen actioner where he was the main attraction. Suiting up to play a Marine on the warpath, Dryer singlehandedly keeps the feature together, offering full commitment to the militaristic elements of the production, and he's an ideal tough guy for Terry Leonard, a stunt man (most famous for his work on "Raiders of the Lost Ark") making his directorial debut. "Death Before Dishonor" is crude entertainment, but as these one-man-army efforts go, Dryer is capable of summoning the right amount of fury to help the feature find its way to a satisfying conclusion. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Suckers


The world of used cars has been explored before in film, with 1980's aptly titled "Used Cars" using the unscrupulous behavior of salesman and their lust for money to inspire a farce about the business and all the crooks involved in it. The Robert Zemeckis feature had a lot of fun using exaggeration to manage unpleasant business, with star Kurt Russell delivering one of his best performances as an auto lot hustler who can't help himself when it comes to opportunity. For 1999's "Suckers," co-writer Joe Yannetty offers a more realistic take on the car sales game, putting years of experience on the page for co-writer/director Roger Nygard, who tries to transform the awfulness of the industry into an approachable picture highlighting a collection of reprehensible characters. It's a tonal tightrope walk Nygard can't complete, but "Suckers" does have a lived-in feel that keeps it compelling for its first half, presenting an insider look at the gamesmanship of being a salesman, where nothing is off the table when comes to completing a deal. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Attack of the Crab Monsters


These days, directors are lucky to put out a picture every two or three years, taking a significant amount of time to perfect their endeavors, slowly adding to filmographies. In 1957, Roger Corman put in the work, overseeing the release of eight movies, refusing to slow down while in the midst of creative and financial opportunities. "Attack of the Crab Monsters" is one of these offerings, with Corman and screenwriter Charles B. Griffith attempting an atomic age creature feature, looking to the sea for inspiration as automobile-sized crabs become the source of all agony. However, "Attack of the Crab Monsters" isn't entirely consumed with destruction, with the production trying to introduce a little sci-fi to help with the oddness of a short but punchy effort. Read the rest at

Film Review - Shadow in the Cloud


“Shadow in the Cloud” has a difficult time deciding what kind of film it wants to be. The screenplay by Max Landis and Roseanne Liang (who also directs) is all over the place in terms of story and tone, with one side of the picture a study of the female military experience in World War II, while the other side is a monster mash highlighting a battle between panicky U.S. flight officers and giant bats hungry to feast on the innards of a massive B-17 bomber. While “Shadow of the Cloud” strains to be accepted a B-movie fun, Landis and Liang don’t have a viable game plan for big thrills, often resorting to cheap elements of suspense just to fill a 70-minute-long endeavor. The effort feels like a short stretched thin to meet feature-length requirements, and it’s awfully strange to watch Liang bend over backwards to transform the production into a celebration of womanly power in WWII while offering a completely fictional tale of survival. Read the rest at

Film Review - Skyfire


Simon West is the latest filmmaker to realize his career isn’t working out so well in Hollywood (his recent output includes duds such as “Stratton,” “Gun Shy,” and “Wild Card”), making a move to China to help boost his employability, bringing some western technique to eastern audiences (Renny Harlin made a similar relocation a few years ago). West’s debut endeavor for China is “Skyfire,” which pits scientists and businesspeople against a raging island volcano, revisiting a natural disaster scenario that overwhelmed multiplexes a few decades ago with the release of “Dante’s Peak” and “Volcano.” West isn’t one to put his stamp on anything, and he goes through the motions on “Skyfire,” which hopes to dazzle audiences with grand spectacle and massive amounts of property damage, but offers little else worth paying attention to. Read the rest at

Film Review - Redemption Day


The screen needs new action heroes. Liam Neeson is clinging on to his standing as a senior brawler, still churning out thrillers where he’s bashed and bruised while on the hunt for justice. There really isn’t much more than that out there, leaving an open space for different types of good guys. While late to the party, actor Gary Dourdan (who achieved fame with his years on “C.S.I.”) offers steely stares and muscle flexing with “Redemption Day,” which presents him as a haunted military man out to rescue his kidnapped wife in the wilds of Algeria. The ingredients are there for old-fashioned escapism, but co-writer/director Hicham Hajji (making his helming debut) doesn’t necessarily want brawny chaos. He’s looking for political commentary, transforming “Redemption Day” into a series of conversations sold at half-speed, weirdly skipping excitement at almost every turn. Read the rest at

Film Review - If Not Now, When?


It’s always a positive thing to see performers taking control of their careers, pushing themselves to do something that represents their interests. Actresses Meagan Good and Tamara Bass elect to make such a move behind the camera, making their feature-length directorial debut with “If Not Now, When?” Intentions are pure, with the pair trying to secure something of a remake of “Waiting to Exhale,” giving them ample opportunity to act and provide material that explores the trials of women struggling to maintain their strength during turbulent relationships and personal issues. That it’s not a more inventive character study is incredibly disappointing, with Good and Bass playing an easy game of melodrama to get through the story, while the low-budget reality of the production tends to diminish its screen power. Read the rest at