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May 2021

Blu-ray Review - Necromancer


In 1989's "Necromancer," revenge is a dish best served in a backyard Satanic-tented garage located in suburban Los Angeles. The highs and lows of low-budget filmmaking are on full display in the picture, which uses slasher formula for a possession story to give audiences some limited thrills while director Dusty Nelson tries to put one foot in front of the other. Production achievements are limited and there's not much of a fun factor to the endeavor, but "Necromancer" does deliver mild levels of aggression and B-movie weirdness for viewers jonesing for something distinctly created for the VHS market in the 1980s. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Action U.S.A.


Co-writer/director John Stewart strives to make his mark on B-movie mayhem with 1989's "Action U.S.A." A seasoned stuntman (with credits on "Phantasm II," "The Hidden," and "Night of the Demons"), Stewart makes his helming debt with the endeavor, commencing a plan to inject as much hellraising as possible into a single feature, creating a film that's more of a demo reel for his capabilities when it comes to planning and executing stunts of all kinds. "Action U.S.A." is no thriller, despite a screenplay that clumsily attempts to create characters and situations of intimidation. It doesn't have the polish for that type of escapism. Instead, Stewart goes smashmouth with the work, packing it with car chases, high falls, explosions, and fisticuffs, on a mission to create excitement with the limited resources he has. He succeeds for the most part, as long as dialogue and drama are ignored. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets


With "Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets," directors Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross present a look at the state of the dive bar nation in 2016, spending the day at the Roaring 20's, a Las Vegas establishment that's working through its final hours of operation. It's not cause for celebration, but observance, with the siblings enduring nearly 24 hours inside the joint, capturing the arrival and slow inebriation of customers who truly have nowhere else to be. It's a documentary (kind of) that doesn't have much more to give than simple experience, gifting viewers time in a small, worn space with a community of drunks as they banter, argue, flirt, sing, and dance, with the helmers creating a tone poem, examining human behavior as it's gradually drowned by gallons of booze. Read the rest at

Film Review - American Traitor: The Trial of Axis Sally


“American Traitor: The Trial of Axis Sally” hopes to refresh viewers on a largely forgotten area of World War II, exploring certain life choices made by Mildred Gillars, an American-born resident of Germany who eventually became one of the leading voices of Nazi propaganda efforts. The screenplay by Vance Owen, Darryl Hicks, and Michael Polish (who also directs) does the expected, working to understand the ways of a hated woman who pledged her allegiance to evil, endeavoring to understand what kind of survival instinct was required during a confusing time of global crisis. “American Traitor” is about Mildred’s experiences in Berlin, but it’s also a courtroom drama, and a particularly boring one at that. Polish tries to generate some level of psychological exploration when dealing with such a controversial person, but the feature is flat-out motionless at times, forcing co-star Al Pacino to summon his hammiest thespian ways to help provide some energy to an otherwise deathly dull film. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Quiet Place Part II


2018’s “A Quiet Place” was the little genre feature that could, besting all expectations to become one of the biggest hits of the year, dazzling audiences with its tight suspense sequences and hurting popcorn sales with its extensive use of silence. It turned actor John Krasinski into a major directorial force, celebrated for his inventiveness while mounting an unusual alien invasion picture. Of course there was going to be a sequel, and “A Quiet Place Part II” picks up exactly where the first movie left off, returning audiences to the war zone of the Midwest, following Evelyn and her family as they carry on without the leadership of her husband. While a little offering of backstory is presented to viewers, Krasinski isn’t straying too far from the original formula, keeping “A Quiet Place Part II” similar in style and tension, only shifting around character position for the continuation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Cruella


Dodie Smith’s 1956 children’s novel, “The Hundred and One Dalmatians,” has proven itself to be quite valuable to the Walt Disney Corporation. The company created a popular and profitable animation adaptation, 1961’s “101 Dalmatians,” and hasn’t looked back, returning to the concept, not necessarily the source material, to inspire sequels, television programs, video games, theme park meet and greets, spin-offs, and something approaching a remake with a 1996 live-action endeavor starring Glenn Close as the wicked villain, Cruella de Vil (and there was even a sequel to that). It isn’t surprising to see Disney returning to Smith’s creation once again for “Cruella,” but this isn’t a continuation of the original story. Instead, screenwriters Dana Fox and Tony McNamara are starting fresh with the feature, giving “Cruella” a “Maleficent” makeover, attempting to transform a woman who once wanted to skin puppies alive and wear their fur into a sympathetic character, asking viewers to endure a 134-minute run time as the producers attempt to position Cruella for future franchise opportunities. Read the rest at

Film Review - Plan B


“Plan B” is a strange film. It begins as a teen horndog comedy before it becomes a road trip movie, eventually transforming into a relationship drama that touches on self-esteem issues, and it concludes with a message on the importance of birth control options for teenagers. Screenwriters Joshua Levy and Prathiksha Srinivasan take the kitchen sink approach to the picture, which is primarily a comedy but gradually loses interest in securing laughs, hoping to reach audience hearts and minds with a tale of acceptance and love. The intent is pure, and “Plan B” is awfully funny at times, but it’s handled roughly by director Natalie Morales, who has trouble smoothing out tonal changes as she falls in love with the main characters, content to go wherever they lead. It’s disjointed and overlong, but the endeavor captures adolescent concerns quite accurately at times, creating its finest moments when it merges horror and heartache. Read the rest at

Film Review - Blue Miracle


If you had “underdog movie about the world of sport fishing” on your 2021 bingo card, you’re in luck with “Blue Miracle.” Screenwriters Chris Dowling and Julio Quintana (who also helms the picture) find a slightly different direction with the material, which is based on the true story of orphanage Casa Hogar and their participation in the 2014 Bisbee’s Black & Blue fishing tournament. The film hopes to provide a lively tale of competition and human connection, also providing messages on self-worth and the pressures of integrity, and while the feature isn’t a challenging endeavor, Quintana captures the heart of the story, offering strong performances and suspenseful fishing action to help deliver some decent family entertainment. Read the rest at

Film Review - Funhouse


Writer/director Jason William Lee is concerned about the state of fame and pop culture, and he tries to work through some of his issues with “Funhouse.” It’s a horror take on the “Big Brother” television franchise, tracking the growing nightmare prepared for eight reality show celebrities who choose to compete in a locked, monitored building for an enormous cash prize. The idea of “Funhouse” isn’t a problem, with the premise creating opportunities to lampoon and lambast what passes for popularity these days. It’s the execution that’s difficult to endure, as the low-budget production struggles with casting limitations, and Lee battles the cheap look of the feature while trying to launch his stinging attacks on the perversity of modern-day notoriety. The movie isn’t an effective takedown of reality show stupidity, but Lee is certainly trying to make a difference with the endeavor. Read the rest at

UHD 4K Review - They Live


After experiencing a little more creative freedom with 1987's "Prince of Darkness," writer/director John Carpenter trades horror for political and social commentary in 1988's "They Live." Endeavoring to inspect the illness of America during the 1980s, specifically the reality of Reaganomics, Carpenter transforms a short story (five pages long!) by Ray Nelson into an examination of class divide, using science fiction as a way into a study of a population unknowingly brought to its knees. With "They Live," Carpenter brings down action and suspense to explore the state of the union, doing so with exciting playfulness and directness as he takes on the strange power plays of the E.T. 1%. Read the rest at

UHD 4K Review - Prince of Darkness


Making his move into larger studio productions during the 1980s, director John Carpenter endured a few box office failures, effectively throttling his rise in industry ranks. Looking to get back to his low-budget roots and obtain more control over his projects, Carpenter turned the late 1980s into an experimental period, with 1987's "Prince of Darkness" the first of a one-two punch (the other being 1988's "They Live") where the helmer made a choice to explore his interests in the world around him. "Prince of Darkness" has the kind of grand title that promises supreme genre chaos, but the master moviemaker doesn't go furious with his tale of Satanic evil in a jar, electing to go cerebral with the work, which merges the slow-burn exploratory habits of a Hammer Films production with the scientific specifics of a college lecture. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Tintorera: Killer Shark


We all know that 1975's "Jaws" was a massive hit, changing the film industry in the process. It's also a masterful suspense effort, with extreme technical skill and intense performances giving it true cinematic power. However, in the wake of such a creative achievement and box office triumph came the rip-offs, with producers from all over the world jumping at the chance to participate in the white-hot trend of animal attack pictures. 1977's "Tintorera: Killer Shark" is a Mexican production endeavoring to be the next "Jaws," with writer/director Rene Cardona Jr. heading into the waters of Cancun to explore the dangers of the depths, with a particularly heavy breathing tiger shark on the loose, terrorizing tourists. "Tintorera: Tight Shark" has the general shape of B-movie cash-in, pitting humans against marine life, but Cardona Jr. largely skips any sort of terror, preferring to use time set aside for a shark attack feature to deal with the emotional aches and pains of a swinging bachelor and his quest to find warm, willing bodies in Mexico. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Black Gestapo


In the wilds of the blaxploitation trend of the 1970s, 1975's "The Black Gestapo" elected to remove the style and the grittiness of these endeavors, going the no-budget route while detailing the rise of fascist power within the black community. The screenplay by Wes Bishop and Lee Frost (who also directs) certainly takes a big swing, but it barely connects with ideas on power plays and criminal activity. Also not helping is overall execution, which is often amateurish, with "The Black Gestapo" more of a Coleman Francis endeavor than a barbed understanding of the black community during a turbulent time. There's sex and violence, but Frost has no coin to do anything of note with the material, which remains in neutral as the cast and crew scramble to figure out what they're doing with a vague tale of insurrection somewhere in suburban Los Angeles. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Bartender


2006's "Bartender" is an adaptation of a manga written by Araki Joh and illustrated by Kenji Nagatomo. Looking to give the material a different life through animation, the producers elect to set a gentle mood of storytelling and cocktail mixing for the show, which examines the inhabitants of the hidden nightlife oasis Eden Hall and its special bartender, Ryu. Over the course of 11 episodes, the program observes the lives of troubled and distressed characters searching for a special level of peace only a perfectly made drink can provide, retaining the page-turning feel of the source material. The stillness of "Bartender" is unexpected, securing a peaceful vibe of communication as Ryu reaches out to his customers, hoping to share lessons with others and delve into the history of certain drinks. It's an incredibly odd show, but always interesting in its somewhat surreal execution and love of spirits, with most of the episodes more focused on the art of drink preparation than the visitors to Eden Hall. Read the rest at

Film Review - Army of the Dead


It’s a big year for director Zack Snyder. In March, the filmmaker brought his full version of the superhero extravaganza “Justice League” to the masses, finally receiving a chance to right a considerable wrong in the eyes of many. And now there’s “Army of the Dead,” which represents a break from costumed avengers, presenting something of a spiritual sequel to his 2004 “Dawn of the Dead” remake. The zombies are similar in ferocity and the end of the world is here, but Snyder is aiming big with the feature, delivering a heist movie with massive scale at times, and he co-scripts material that’s meant to represent the beginning of a new franchise. “Army of the Dead” has plans to be a major event, and the scope of the effort is impressive. Storytelling is another issue, with the production bending awkwardly to transform the picture into a heartfelt relationship tale, a few of them actually, and Snyder asks a lot of his audience when serving up droopy turns of plot and borderline obnoxious characters for nearly 150 minutes. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Dry


“The Dry” is the rare movie to offer two distinct mysteries to solve over the course of the run time. It’s an adaptation of a novel by Jane Harper, presenting a story about a police investigation into a suspicious murder-suicide, also examining unfinished business involving the lead character’s past, constructing two timelines that carry equal suspense. It’s also an Australian production, using the land to generate a sense of danger and denial, with director Robert Connolly creating an evocative sense of remoteness with the picture, which matches the tale’s level of suspicion perfectly. “The Dry” grabs viewers with outstanding intensity, offering a detective story that’s confident with character, not entirely focused on twists. The film really connects at times, but more so when creating motivations, not payoffs. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dream Horse


Toni Collette is not an actress known for her participation in feel-good cinema. While she achieved fame with her sunniness in 1994’s “Muriel’s Wedding,” Collette has generally gravitated toward complex characters filled with misery, dread, and general darkness (her most recent offerings include “Stowaway” and “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”). And she’s usually outstanding in these parts. For “Dream Horse,” Collette portrays Jan Vokes, a middle-aged woman with a desire to feel something again, turning her attention to the care of a special race horse funded by the residents of a small Welsh village. It’s not an especially fresh idea, but that’s what Collette is here for, delivering an unusual performance of emotional processing in a feature that’s looking to lift spirits during impossibly dark times. “Dream Horse” doesn’t go Disney, finding ways to do different things with formulaic material, highlighting relationships as it delivers the essentials in underdog cinema. Read the rest at

Film Review - Drunk Bus


“Drunk Bus” claims to be some sort of true story, examining a burgeoning friendship between a cowardly overnight bus driver on a college campus and the Samoan muscle hired to protect him from the dangers of intoxicated riders and their low impulse control. It’s trying to be a comedy about the craziness of the job and the struggles of empowerment, and perhaps it doesn’t try hard enough. “Drunk Bus” remains periodically engaging with appealing performances, but it’s no farce, which screenwriter Chris Molinaro promises in the feature’s first act before slowly trading a freewheeling tone for a more serious understanding of broken people and their life choices. It’s not an especially deep motion picture, but initial liveliness and characterization is amusing, giving the film a decent launch before it ultimately loses interest in caricature. Read the rest at