Previous month:
June 2021
Next month:
August 2021

July 2021

Blu-ray Review - Pinocchio


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

Blu-ray Review - Queer Japan


Director Graham Kolbeins finds an interesting subject matter for his documentary, "Queer Japan." He travels to the country to explore its burgeoning LGBTQ+ culture, getting past the image of a reserved, conservative Japan to detail the inner workings of what many hope is something of a revolution, offering an equal presence for all. Kolbeins captures the lives of those who crave the same ideal, exploring artists, politicians, and activists as they attempt to be seen in their own special ways. "Queer Japan" offers numerous interviews with a wide range of people, offering a heartfelt understanding of need and representation, with Kolbeins working to identify what makes these individuals and gatherings so special, offering exposure to subcultures previously concealed. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Nightbeast


1982's "Nightbeast" was intended to be writer/director Don Dohler's return to sci-fi/horror after achieving some success with 1978's "The Alien Factor." Production challenges were plentiful, but Dohler managed to squeeze out another E.T.-on-the-loose adventure, this time focusing on action and sexploitation to keep audiences interested. As with "The Alien Factor," the appeal of "Nightbeast" isn't found with filmmaking polish, but general low- budget craziness, finding Dohler in an angrier mood this time around, ready to make something R-rated and ridiculous, offering scoring duties to a teenage J.J. Abrams, who comes armed with a synthesizer and a handful of genre ideas. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Last Mercenary


Jean-Claude Van Damme has made some very heavy films in recent years, using his naturally gruff screen presence to support dark tales of crime and revenge (“We Die Young,” “The Bouncer,” “Black Water”). While he’s skilled at playing dangerous men, it’s nice to see Van Damme break away from his usual gloom, with “The Last Mercenary” a pleasant reminder of his lighter side. The action hero leaves a good portion of the comedy to the rest of the cast, but he’s the big draw in the picture, portraying a former secret service agent trying to save the world while connecting with his lost son. Director David Charton comes to play with “The Last Mercenary,” keeping the French production in a constant state of wildness and wackiness, which offers a few big laughs as the production aims to please. And there’s Van Damme, who delivers one of his best performances in years in the movie, hitting hard when necessary, but also eager to get a little loose, which is highly amusing. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jungle Cruise


Disney struck gold with 2003’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” which proved to the studio that audiences were willing to line up for features based on theme park attractions. And it ended up being the only brand name to attract an audience (sorry “Country Bears”), putting the company in a position to relentlessly merchandise and sequelize the film, ending up with five Jack Sparrow cinematic adventures. Interested in a fresh I.P. to transform into a major movie event, Disney turns to a classic ride with “Jungle Cruise,” which has been operating in Disneyland for 65 years. There’s not much to the experience, with guests enjoying the sights of a cartoony jungle and the sounds of their wisecracking skipper, but that’s not stopping the screenwriters (Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra, and John Requa), who make a direct effort to revive the “Pirates of the Caribbean” atmosphere for “Jungle Cruise,” once again hitting the water with heroes, villains, and the cursed for a shockingly familiar viewing experience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ride the Eagle


There have been a few movies made about the COVID-19 global pandemic and, really, who wants to sit through that story right now? “Ride the Eagle” isn’t about a health emergency, but it represents what filmmaking is like these days, with co-writers Trent O’Donnell (who also directs) and Jake Johnson (who stars in the picture) working with the bare minimum in actors and events to create a tale of human beings in isolation striving to make connections previously thought to be impossible. There are no grand dramatic stakes in “Ride the Eagle,” and the production sticks close to interiors for much of its run time, but the screenplay creates an intriguing intimacy with lonely characters, while the production makes an interesting choice to be as broad as cinematically possible while dealing with a few real emotional challenges of life. Read the rest at

Film Review - Monuments


As the world awaits a new chapter in the Indiana Jones saga, set for release next year, fans might have to tide themselves over with “Monuments,” which has nothing to do with high adventure and big thrills, but writer/director Jack C. Newell is prepared to show his love for the film series throughout this unusual picture. The production has plenty of quirk to go around, but Newell mostly concentrates on the grieving process, creating a journey for the lead character as he confronts the pain of loss and the panic of sharing such an event with others. Mix in some psychological fracture and references to the cinematic odysseys of Henry Jones, Jr, and here’s one bizarre endeavor. Thankfully, “Monuments” is sold with a decent sense of humor, credible heartbreak, and sharp editing (from David Burkart), keeping this oddball effort on the move as Newell works to figure out just what kind of movie he’s ultimately making. Read the rest at

Film Review - Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage


The idea behind “Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage” is to better understand the disaster that developed during the troubled music festival. It was intended to be a celebration of music and art, and one that mirrored the original Woodstock experience, which occurred in 1969. That iconic counterculture gathering became part of Americana, playing up the wonders of the hippie generation and the unique community experience. Woodstock ’99 ended up a horror show of widespread violence, and director Garret Price (“Love, Antosha”) makes an early attempt to understand how promoters Michael Lang and John Scher couldn’t make perceived magic happen all over again, watching as their event was eventually transformed into a riot. “Peace, Love, and Rage” has the footage and the time to dissect the Woodstock ’99 nightmare, but Price is often distracted, straining to connect this experience to the world of 2021, not 1969. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Exchange


Director Dan Mazer has scored some creative successes over the years, helming “I Give It a Year” and “Dirty Grandpa,” but he’s best known for his work with Sacha Baron Cohen, becoming a consistent collaborator over the last 20 years. He’s participated in the making of “Ali G Indahouse,” the two “Borat” movies, and various television endeavors, including the recent “Who Is America?” It makes sense to find his latest effort, “The Exchange,” offering some Cohen residue, highlighting the strange adventures of a French exchange student as he studies North American life, with sexual ideas often clouding his mind. Mazer comes close to unleashing a new Borat, but “The Exchange” pulls back on unstructured comedy, having more fun creating absurdity and culture shock jokes, at least until formula creeps in to smother the spirit of the picture. Read the rest at

Film Review - Nine Days


Edson Oda makes his directorial debut with “Nine Days,” and he picks quite a subject to study for his introductory feature. The film is about the ways of life and death, with Oda (who also scripts) offering a stylized look at the order of the afterlife. It’s not another “Soul,” but it’s about souls, examining the trials of spirits being prepared for the pure experience of living, with one man making tough decisions about potential. “Nine Days” goes poetic and deliberate with its existential exploration, with Oda mixing a little Malick and Gondry into his cinematic cocktail, which is filled with deep feeling and interesting ideas about how life is lived, sometimes in the shadows. It’s not an urgent movie in any way, but Oda has strange ideas and a strong cast of performers who work hard to make the helmer’s vision come through with clarity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Twist


Does the world need another adaption of “Oliver Twist”? Probably not, with the 1838 book by Charles Dickens repeatedly returned to through television, radio, theatrical, and film versions since the book’s publication date. A few of these offerings have become beloved (including 1968’s “Oliver!”), one was Disneyfied (1988’s “Oliver & Company”), and many have been simply tolerated. What “Twist” brings to the table is a modern-day take on a world of partnership and poverty, bringing Dickens to today’s London, with the subculture of graffiti inspiring a heist picture that’s also mildly obsessed with demonstrations of parkour. Director Martin Owen seems to have an update of 1995’s “Hackers” in mind with the endeavor, trying to stylize the misadventures of young people and criminal activity. “Twist” has a capable supporting cast, but it’s all empty calories and glossiness, forgetting to add interesting characters to a tale that’s been done to death. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Boy Behind the Door


Two months ago, writer/directors David Charbonier and Justin Powell made a positive impression with “The Djinn,” a horror feature tracking a night of survival for a boy trapped inside an apartment with a malevolent spirit. For their second picture of 2021, “The Boy Behind the Door,” the helmers do away with supernatural interests to make a straightforward suspense endeavor about two boys trapped inside a house with malevolent people. It’s not a huge creative leap forward for Charbonier and Powell, who seem to have a tremendous fondness for tormenting innocent kids onscreen, but they also know how to create some viable thrills and chills. “The Boy Behind the Door” definitely has the dramatic goals of a short film, but Charbonier and Powell work hard to extend the tension of the movie, coming up with a few effective cat-and-mouse sequences to juice up a mostly static effort. Read the rest at

Film Review - Masquerade


Home invasion movies can be made quickly and cheaply, which seems to be the motivation behind the creation of “Masquerade.” Writer/director Shane Dax Taylor isn’t trying to cook up his own “Panic Room” with the picture, merely working to slap together some low-wattage thrills with what appears to be an unfinished screenplay. Taylor really doesn’t have much to work with in “Masquerade,” which is playing the long game when it comes to surprises, and even then, the climax is not worth the wait. If extended scenes of house exploration and attic hiding are your thing, perhaps there’s something of worth here. For everyone else, the endeavor is perhaps most interesting as an example of independent film financing, with the producers putting their money behind a feature that has no polish, no tension, and carries visible stretchmarks as it tries to reach an 80-minute-long run time. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Fear


For his first screenplay, writer Ron Ford tries to get ambitious. For 1995's "The Fear," Ford hopes to examine the power of phobias and the pain of trauma, mixing deep-dive psychological scarring with the premise of a killer mannequin on the loose, attacking characters unwisely looking for a special weekend inside a cabin in the woods. There's one half of the picture that's aiming to be a sensitive study of broken people and their problems, and the other half is a slasher-style event featuring a menace carved out of magic wood. "The Fear" is definitely weird, and its level of oddness helps the viewing experience, as Ford struggles to create suspense with the effort, more interested in knotted character business than essential shock value. While some form of vision is there, keeping the feature compelling in a small way, the movie still struggles to define itself, with director Vincent Robert visibly struggling to manage a plethora of subplots, creating confusion along the way as the material throws a lot at the audience, hoping something will stick beyond the central image of a malevolent mannequin. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Forest


"The Forest" is a 1982 release looking to participate in the great horror movie gold rush of the early 1980s. Writer/director Don Jones collects a small amount of money and heads to the Sequoia National Park in California to create a genre picture that plays into slasher trends of the era, but also wants to try a few different ideas, including the addition of a ghost story to a tale of outdoor survival. Jones doesn't have the time or coin to provide hospital corners on the effort, which is prone to padding and pausing, but he has a strange vision for "The Forest" that's almost worth a sit, working to change a few elements of intimidation to help the material reach different areas of fear. That's not to suggest anything in the feature is suspenseful, but Jones takes a different route to scares at times, ending up with a lumpy oddity that merges the afterlife, cannibalism, and camping, making for a passable bottom shelf offering. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Raw


In 2016, there was so much pre-release hype collected over "Raw," which shocked some audience members to a point of physical illness during its film festival debut, offering the type of "dare to see it" publicity every movie studio dreams about. The reality is, "Raw" isn't that extreme, and those who embrace the horror genre on a regular basis are likely going to feel underwhelmed by the grisliness of the effort, which is regulated to only a few brief scenes. Thankfully, the rest of "Raw" is interesting enough to pass, with writer/director Julia Ducournau picking apart femininity and sexual awakening with this tale of cannibalism, constructing a stylish coming-of-age chiller that's big on bodily fluids and Italian cinema worship. The endeavor is certainly graphic, but it's also patient with its reveals, which doesn't always mesh with its shock value intent. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Widow


"The Widow" is a Russian film from director Ivan Minin, who oversees a dark journey into the thick of a Saint Petersburg forest, tracking the panic of a search and rescue team and their encounter with a dangerous spirit known as the "Lame Widow." The screenplay tries to summon a spooky mood for the picture, but it's pulling from a lot of different movies to do so, with "The Blair Witch Project" clearly an influence on the endeavor. It's difficult for a genre feature to emerge with complete originality, but "The Widow" isn't even trying at times, once again presenting a group of hapless victims who find themselves in deep in the middle of nowhere, fighting a force they don't understand. Minin isn't exactly making something special here, mostly concerned with creating any sort of fear factor. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Madame


Filmmaker Stephane Riethauser offers personal therapy with "Madame," a documentary exploring his relationship with his grandmother, Caroline, identifying the parallel journey of their lives. It's a relationship saga first and foremost, but Riethauser is also using screen time to deal with his own baggage as a young man raised to fear his sexuality, which complicated a search for identity for decades. It's an intimate collection of feelings and desires, and "Madame" has a lot to say about the pain of conformity and the bravery of resistance, spotlighting a woman who managed to survive the stress of expectations, sharing wisdom with her beloved grandchild, who was right there with a video camera to capture their special relationship. Read the rest at

Film Review - Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins


In 2009, “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” attempted to be the big-budget, live-action spectacle fans of the original cartoon series from the 1980s were waiting for. But something went horribly wrong in the execution, leaving the faithful befuddled with the overly CGI-ed mess that ended up on-screen. Producers attempted to apologize to loyal toy buyers with the more straightforward 2013 sequel, “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” but that feature didn’t create the box office magic it was meant to, while audience response was tepid at best. Making a third attempt to get something going with the “G.I. Joe” brand name, the money men go the reboot route with “Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins,” which shoos away the grand clash between the G.I. Joes and Cobra to explore a small story about a boy seeking revenge on his father’s murderer. It’s not hard to top previous adaptation attempts, but “Snake Eyes” goes flat instead of plastic, dealing with a bland leading man and a weird screenplay that isn’t sure if it wants to be a gritty study of global terrorism or a fantasy film, complete with a magic jewel and house-sized anacondas. Yo Joe? Read the rest at