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April 2021

Film Review - Secrets of the Whales


James Cameron likes water. More specifically, he’s fascinated by the depths of the ocean, spending his career exploring strange deep-sea discoveries (1989’s “The Abyss”), aquatic tragedies (1997’s “Titanic”), and has personally spent time in various submersibles, using his incredible wealth to fund voyages into oceanic darkness, offering viewers a chance to experience the underwater world alongside him. Heck, the man even made a movie about flying fishes (1982’s “Piranha II: The Spawning”), so clearly there’s something about this Earthly kingdom he can’t flush out of his system. For “Secrets of the Whales,” Cameron takes an executive producer position, overseeing the creation of a four-part documentary on these magnificent creatures, with directors Brian Armstrong and Andy Mitchell doing the heavy lifting, sending cameras to the far reaches of the world to capture the behavior of whales, getting to understand what makes them tick and identify how much in common they have with humans.

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Film Review - Wildcat


“Wildcat” is a great example of misleading movie marketing. The production knows it doesn’t have an exciting picture, but there’s no way to sell a story about an American prisoner suffering inside an Iraqi safe house for 90 minutes. That static nature of the material doesn’t lend itself to outside interest, resulting in the creation of a poster that features a tank, marching soldiers, and a fresh image of star Georgina Campbell (none of these elements are present in the effort), and the trailer attempts to portray the endeavor as some type of tense thriller, with plenty of charged confrontations and physical activity. “Wildcat” barely moves during its run time, as writer/director Jonathan W. Stokes is focused on creating a study of endurance in the face of Middle Eastern evil, keeping the script to silences and monologues. It’s a supremely dull offering, but for those electing to watch the film, keep in mind the final cut isn’t anything like the movie the studio is trying to promote.

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Film Review - Here Are the Young Men


“Here Are the Young Men” is an adaptation of a novel by Rob Doyle, which is the first of many problems facing the production. It’s book that takes 304 pages to work through the angst and anger of juvenile characters on the precipice of adulthood, embarking on a destructive summer before responsibility seeks to divide them, possibly forever. Doyle had the benefit of pages to work out these personalities and their tenuous grip on sanity. Writer/director Eoin Macken has 95 minutes to make it through some impossibly bleak and surreal storytelling, and it’s a marathon he can’t complete. “Here Are the Young Men” has ideas on the nature of masculinity and psychopathic tendencies, even squeezing something resembling a commentary on media influence, but Macken is working uphill with this material, struggling to make sense of motivations and subplots, and his taste in casting leaves much to be desired.

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Film Review - Boys from County Hell


It’s not easy to introduce a vampire film to the masses these days, as the subgenre is loaded with competition, with each endeavor attempting to have fun with monster thrills while dealing the challenge of familiarity. Just last week there was “Jakob’s Wife,” a clever reworking of master/slave relationships, and now there’s “Boys from County Hell,” which brings bloodsucking problems to rural Ireland, combining beer-soaked camaraderie with the dangers that come with a creature of the night. Writer/director Chris Baugh has the right idea with the picture, but doesn’t give the effort enough urgency. “Boys from County Hell” delivers violence and retains interest in becoming a creature feature, eventually, but the path to a payoff is unexpectedly slow, and Baugh struggles with tonality, bringing together fantasy survival challenges and the real-world pain of personal loss, making for quite an uneven movie at times.

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Blu-ray Review - Fade to Black


1980's "Fade to Black" offers a fantastic idea for a serial killer story, examining the mental fracture of a film fan who's been rejected by his one true fantasy, taking out his rage on those who've wronged him, becoming screen icons to psychologically deal with his capacity for vicious violence. Writer/director Vernon Zimmerman only manages to get halfway with the concept, but the weirder side of the feature is quite interesting, hinting a wonderfully bonkers picture if Zimmerman paid a little closer attention to structure and casting. What's presented here has its moments, but it barely feels like a completed movie. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Don't Panic


After making some noise with 1985's Mexican horror film, "Cemetery of Terror," writer/director Ruben Galindo Jr. tries to deliver something more Americanized for 1988's "Don't Panic." Unfortunately, the helmer doesn't have a game plan for the picture, which slaps together teen romance, family issues, and pieces of "A Nightmare on Elm Street," presented as a random ride between dimensions of reality featuring teen characters. The unintentional laughs come fast and furious with "Don't Panic," finding Galindo Jr. struggling to make sense of anything in the feature, fumbling with scares and unavoidable silliness as he attempts to pay tribute to the genre gods with this sloppy effort. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Rental


The company Airbnb has done a remarkable job transforming the vacation rental marketplace, and it's even more impressive how much it's influenced genre entertainment. Over the last few years, terror from the depths of luxury living has been explored in "Trespassers," "Welcome Home," "Tone- Deaf," and the recent "You Should Have Left." And now there's "The Rental," which also examines an unfolding nightmare facing a group of travelers looking for the perfect getaway, only to come up against an insidious enemy. The effort marks the feature-length directorial debut for Dave Franco (who co-scripts with Joe Swanberg), and he's done his homework, endeavoring to provide a spooky ride of mysterious events while gently working in a greater appreciation for character connections. He's making a relationship movie with a body count, and it's effective, more so when dealing with people and their problems than acts of murder. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Cemetery of Terror


1985's "Cemetery of Terror" represents the directorial debut for Ruben Galindo, Jr., and he keeps it simple for his first at-bat. It's a tale of resurrection and mayhem involving a large cast of young actors, and most of the feature involves looking for trouble and finding it in increasingly graphic ways. It's not a roller coaster ride, but "Cemetery of Terror" overcomes initial stasis to provide some excitement and gruesome events for genre fans, with the helmer finding his groove late in the movie, suddenly aware he has to offer a little more than banal conversations to delight the audience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Trigger Point


Older action heroes have been created with Liam Neeson and Keanu Reeves, and now it’s Barry Pepper’s turn to throw bits of blue steel around the frame while taking out numerous bad guys. In “Trigger Point,” Pepper portrays a disgraced CIA agent out to clear his name, racing around upstate New York, taking time to engage in shootouts and charged confrontations. Screenwriter Michael Vickerman is tasked with generating a world for “Trigger Point,” creating a fresh franchise for Pepper that’s intended to carry on in multiple sequels. Trouble is, the first installment isn’t all that inspired, with director Brad Turner trying to do something with tight COVID-19 filming restrictions (the movie was shot six months ago), ordered to manufacture some mayhem with writing that doesn’t have interest in such a mood, while Pepper’s hard focus eliminates any personality, making the endeavor glum, with only a few lively elements to keep it passably engaging. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jakob's Wife


The trials and tribulations of a longstanding marriage are filtered through genre filmmaking in “Jakob’s Wife.” It’s a pairing of domestic disappointment and vampirism that gives the material a special twist, with writers Kathy Charles, Mark Steensland, and Travis Stevens (who also makes his directorial debut) doing something inventive with horror formula and marriage therapy, coming up with an oddball chiller that attempts to offer a little heart before it sucks it dry. Terrific performances from star Barbara Crampton and Larry Fessenden carry the endeavor, which isn’t always confident with tone, losing its way at times. However, the movie is memorable and periodically wicked, managing to bring something different to screens as the story examines common relationship problems while keeping things drenched in blood. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Rookies


Chinese comedies can be very odd, and “The Rookies” is no exception. It’s an action film with heavy doses of slapstick, trying to merge the worlds of Michael Bay and Jerry Lewis for an extravaganza that’s simply out to entertain, nothing more. Of course, when one considers a freewheeling adventure with wacky personalities getting into all sorts of scrapes, a scene that details one character getting her legs cut off doesn’t seem like a natural fit for the picture that hopes to be hilarious, but this is how “The Rookies” works. The spy movie deals in all sorts of extremes, including casting, with Milla Jovovich collecting a big payday to appear in a few scenes, adding some western star power to an eastern endeavor that’s primarily about grand chases and scenes of silliness. Well, not the dismembering part, but the rest is eager to please. Read the rest at

Film Review - Vanquish


I’m not sure who’s funding this next generation of VOD films, but they’ve developed a soft spot for George Gallo. Forever billed as the screenwriter of “Midnight Run” and “Bad Boys,” Gallo has recently revived his dormant directorial career, trying to make a noir-ish mystery with 2019’s “The Poison Rose” and make some funny with 2020’s “The Comeback Trail” (which is currently awaiting a U.S. release). For 2021, Gallo teams with writer Samuel Bartlett for “Vanquish,” which is meant to be a lean, mean actioner following an enforcer as she endures dangerous situations to help retrieve her kidnapped child. What’s really going on in “Vanquish” is absolutely nothing. Gallo doesn’t have the first clue what to do with material he co-wrote, pumping in acidic stylistics and clumsy stunts to give the effort some edge, but it doesn’t take. The feature is a complete bore, marching from one dim-witted scene to the next, almost coming across as an attempt from Gallo to win a wager for the world’s most inert movie. Read the rest at

Film Review - For the Sake of Vicious


“For the Sake of Vicious” is a collaborative effort from writer/directors Gabriel Carrer and Reese Eveneshen. The twosome attempt to live up to the promise of the title, but there’s something of a story to work out before the carnival of pain begins, with the filmmakers showing less interest in dramatic development. The picture isn’t a striking example of low-budget imagination, finding an already thin plot stretched awkwardly to a short 76-minute-long run time, but once “For the Sake of Vicious” starts to get mean, it perks up substantially, wisely doing away with the demands of screenwriting to create a rough revenge tale featuring the repeated slicing, hammering, and blasting of participants, making the feature much more effective as a visceral viewing experience with limited dialogue exchanges. Read the rest at

Film Review - In the Earth


The big selling point of “In the Earth” is the story of its creation. Feeling restless during the first few waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, writer/director Ben Wheatley decided to keep marching forward with his filmmaking career, electing to bring a small crew and group of actors into the deep woods to realize a horror movie about the damaging effects of isolation and the mysteries of nature. “In the Earth” plays into the whole iffy idea of a COVID-19 picture released during COVID-19, and I’m not sure there’s going to be much of an audience for the endeavor, but timing is the least of feature’s problems. After attempting to broaden his career with last autumn’s “Rebecca,” Wheatley’s back to his usual helming habits with his latest effort, trying to summon a brain-bleeder with moments of extreme violence, laboring to transform the world around us into a blistering cinematic threat. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Banishing


It’s difficult to label “The Banishing” as an unnerving horror movie, but it’s an effective one with periodic moments of successful unease. What writers David Beton, Ray Bogdanovich, and Dean Lines do particularly well is avoid predictability within a premise that’s been seen hundreds of times before. The material deals with the serpentine ways of the Catholic Church and the dark corners of a haunted house, yet “The Banishing” doesn’t surrender itself entirely to formula, with the screenplay working smartly with known quantities to manufacture a descent into Hell that doesn’t go exactly how one expects it to. Director Christopher Smith (“Black Death,” “Detour,” and “Severance”) also has the benefit of a talented cast doing a fine job capturing the Hammer Films atmosphere of the endeavor, giving the drama some needed authority to sustain audience interest. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Rest in Pieces


Director Jose Ramon Larraz ("Vampyres," "Deadly Manor") tries to put together a haunted house experience with 1987's "Rest in Pieces." It's an admirable quest, but quite a difficult one to pull off without a decent budget or a professional cast. It's an uphill climb to frights for the production, which tries to generate some murderous events, but only between scenes of people unpacking luggage. It's difficult to understand what was going through Larraz's mind with "Rest in Pieces," which plays like a movie that had a screenplay, but still scrambles to find things to do to fill the run time, while the helmer's choice of a lead actress is downright bizarre, putting a lot of faith in Lorin Jean Vail and her complete inability to act. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Other Side of Madness


There have been many movies and television programs devoted to the exploits of the Manson Family. Just last year, for the 50th anniversary of the Tate-LaBianca Murders, the film industry issued three pictures about the event, with two compelling overviews ("Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" and "Charlie Says") and one that was compete garbage ("The Haunting of Sharon Tate"). The particulars of cult power and ghastly crimes has been catnip to the storytellers for decades, but 1971's "The Other Side of Madness" is unique due to its timing. Director Frank Howard and producer Wade Williams jumped at the chance to explore the grim ways of the Manson Family before trials were even completed for the killers, giving them a shot to capitalize on a gruesome story, giving the gods of exploitation cinema an offering of in-the-moment horror. Of course, Howard and Williams forgot to create a screenplay for their endeavor, making "The Other Side of Madness" more of a curiosity than a compelling sit, with the feature mostly wandering around the era, going procedural without getting too specific about anything. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Summerland


Playwright Jessica Swale makes her directorial debut with "Summerland" (also scripting the effort), and she remains within the theatrical realm with the period British drama. Swale aims to examine characters as they react to hardships and surprises, using a fractured sense of time to dig up compelling motivations for the players as they embark on complicated tests of courage and responsibility. "Summerland" tries to be big, dealing with World War II survival challenges and the open world of the English countryside, but Swale is more successful with intimacy, tapping into silent fears as her personalities struggle to confront a few unthinkable turns of fate. It's a satisfying feature that ultimately takes on a bit more than it can handle, but Swale keeps the film sincere, also supported by a capable cast who makes certain the heart of the material is protected. Read the rest at