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July 2021

Film Review - Hail to the Deadites


What director Steve Villeneuve is trying to do with “Hail to the Deadites” is create a tribute to the concept of fandom, which in this case applies to the continual support of the “Evil Dead” franchise. It started with a 1981 horror film from director Sam Raimi, who worked hard to pull together something nutso for fans of the genre, making his mark through a combination of genre fury and filmmaking creativity, putting one terrific B-movie out into the world. The minor success of “The Evil Dead” has only snowballed over the last 40 years, inspiring two sequels (1987’s “Evil Dead II” and 1993’s “Army of Darkness”), a television series (“Ash vs. Evil Dead”), a remake (in 2013), and countless fan films and assorted endeavors, while merchandising has been nonstop, finding companies everywhere looking to celebrate the world of screen icon, Ash Williams. It’s been quite a ride for the brand name, and while Villeneuve doesn’t have legal rights to analyze such franchise endurance, he does have access to those who love this stuff, with “Hail to the Deadites” his valentine to the faithful. Read the rest at

Film Review - Old


Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan experienced a miraculous career revival with 2016’s “Split,” which brought him critical acclaim and major box office returns, giving him a sense of empowerment after years guiding disappointing or downright terrible movies (such as “The Happening,” “After Earth,” and “The Last Airbender”). The payoff for such success was 2019’s “Glass,” which was meant to be Shyamalan’s magnum opus, offered a chance to revisit previous creative achievements with fresh confidence and proper funding, taking a victory lap with material many had been looking forward to seeing for nearly two decades. And, in the eyes of many, he blew it, fumbling with nonsense and self-importance. Licking his wounds, Shyamalan tries to return to low-budget horror with “Old,” which gives him a collection of crazed characters and the nightmare events of a day at a mysterious beach to work with. However, the helmer is up to his old tricks with the feature, presenting a stilted, lame offering of terror, keeping this film an M. Night Shyamalan experience when that clumsy approach has led to far too many underwhelming viewing experiences. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jolt


A few years ago, director Tanya Wexler found some success with “Buffaloed.” It was a story about a scam artist trying to make her way in the world, with terrible anger issues working against the woman, complicating her relationship with others. It’s awfully strange to see Wexler return to screens with “Jolt,” which takes the same premise of a woman with no self-control and gives it a graphic novel-style spin, with the helmer once again managing a tale of a raging personality going against rivals to get the job done. “Buffaloed” had humor and a bright lead performance from Zoey Deutch. “Jolt” is grim and features Kate Beckinsale, who’s making a return to physical filmmaking after her years in the “Underworld” franchise. Wexler’s challenge is to do something with material normally reserved for Paul W.S. Anderson, and while she tries to stay cheeky with the production, the writing’s shortcomings are impossible to conquer, even with savagery. Read the rest at

Film Review - Val


Val Kilmer has been an extremely popular actor, appearing in blockbusters, critically revered features, and a slew of indie pictures, amassing a large fanbase since he began his thespian journey in the early 1980s. Kilmer also has a bit of a reputation as a troublemaker, known to make life difficult for those working with him, with his antics helping to gradually eliminate job opportunities. Directors Ting Poo and Leo Scott look to alter perception of Kilmer’s enigmatic ways with “Val,” a documentary about the performer’s life and artful achievements. While a standard offering of biographical information, the endeavor has something amazing to work with: boxes of footage recorded by Kilmer over the years, who picked up a camera one day and never set it down. Documenting his experiences all over the world, Kilmer provides startingly intimate access to his days in “Val,” providing fans with a look at the inner workings of his existence, but also supplying evidence that behavioral extremity that fueled destructive gossip was born out of something primal within the professional as he stumbled his way through thick and thin. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mandibles


“Mandibles” presents the return of writer/director Quentin Dupieux, who’s been busy lately, with recent releases including “Deerskin” and “Keep an Eye Out.” The “Rubber” and “Reality” helmer is a blissfully mischievous moviemaker, and his latest is just as bizarre and silly as the rest of his work. “Mandibles” tells the story of two halfwits who discover a giant fly in the truck of their stolen car, learning to live with the creature, with hopes to train it. One might think the tale is meant to represent some type of political commentary or social statement, but no, it’s really about two dudes and their pet fly, which is about the size of a dog. As with anything Dupieux makes, a certain level of surrender is required, and he rewards viewers with several surprises and a dry sense of humor that triggers laughs throughout. Read the rest at

Film Review - Broken Diamonds


The concerns of sibling relationships are complicated by the presence of mental illness in “Broken Diamonds.” It’s the latest from “Camp X-Ray” director Peter Sattler, who’s joined by screenwriter Steve Waverly to help illuminate a feeling of powerlessness felt by the lead characters, who experience the world around them in different ways. It’s not a pounding drama about life and death, but the daily struggle of balance, with Waverly finding a few comedic beats while primarily creating an emotional story about the ties that bind, sometimes to a point of strangulation. “Broken Diamonds” isn’t anything groundbreaking, but it does carry a credible sense of pressure and pain, with stars Lola Kirke and Ben Platt putting in terrific performances that generate a sense of behavioral authenticity, which aids digestion of a somewhat formulaic plot. Read the rest at

Film Review - Settlers


Viewer expectations need to be adjusted when sitting down to watch “Settlers.” It’s being sold as a sort-of sci-fi experience, with the story taking place on Mars, using such isolation to inspire a futureworld tale of human struggle. Making his helming debut is Wyatt Rockefeller (who also scripts), and he works extremely hard to create an atmosphere of threat and mystery with the picture, not interested in the genre potential of the premise. “Settlers” is almost a filmed play, concentrating on behaviors and troubling decisions, with the far away setting not especially important to the material. Those coming to the endeavor looking for an amped-up study of Martian survival are not going to be pleased with the feature, which remains a static viewing experience, with lots of pregnant pauses and hard stares. Rockefeller hopes to detail his dramatics in the dead air of this effort, coming up with something just short of interesting, though technical achievements are outstanding for an obviously low-budget offering. Read the rest at

Film Review - Midnight in the Switchgrass


“Midnight in the Switchgrass” marks the directorial debut for Randall Emmett. If you’ve been wondering who’s behind the gradual rise of VOD productions that basically all have the same titles and feature one or two former stars collecting a big paycheck, it’s Randall Emmett, who, along with partner George Furla, are responsible for productions like “Survive the Night,” “Force of Nature,” “10 Minutes Gone,” and “Out of Death.” Emmett apparently wanted to try filmmaking on for size, and he picks a real bummer of a project with “Midnight in the Switchgrass,” which plays like a particularly clueless “Silence of the Lambs” riff, mixing law enforcement procedural scenes with a developing tale of a serial killer’s love for tormenting women. There’s a whole lot of nothing going on in the movie, which barely puts in the effort to create psychological profiles for its characters, with Emmett getting more of a charge out of terrible dialogue and flat performances. Read the rest at

Film Review - Joe Bell


“Joe Bell” dramatizes the heartbreaking story of Jadin Bell, a teen boy who was bullied mercilessly in small-town Oregon, with his enemies targeting his homosexuality as a reason to destroy him. His father, Joe, eventually took on the challenge of a cross-country walk to attract media attention to the subject of harassment, embarking on an arduous journey of self-inspection and physical exhaustion to feel something during an incredibly dark period of his parental experience. It’s a horrifying tale for many reasons, perhaps not meant for a big screen treatment, but screenwriter Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry (“Brokeback Mountain”) strive to find some meaning in the bottomless abyss of grief, getting the endeavor a certain distance before formula and miscastings ultimately confuse the viewing experience. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Jeremy


In 1973, the state of the teen movies was still being defined. After time with juvenile delinquent and party time endeavors, the subgenre enjoyed a major evolution in the 1970s, with "Jeremy" part of a movement to make pictures for younger audiences about the highs and low of being young. Writer/director Arthur Barron looks to create something intimate with the endeavor, using his experience in documentary filmmaking to capture the nuances of new love as it develops over a few weeks, marrying such excitement with the bustle of life in the center of New York City. Barron's efforts are helped by his eye for casting, with Robby Benson and Glynnis O'Connor providing startlingly unaffected performances, capturing raw emotion the helmer is hoping to communicate. "Jeremy" is simple, comfortable in its limited storytelling goals, with Barron looking to replicate a specific feeling of awakening hormones and new encounters, and he manages to do so with unsettling authenticity at times. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hitcher in the Dark


While credited as "Humphrey Humbert," 1989's "Hitcher in the Dark" is the work of Umberto Lenzi, the man who gave the world "Cannibal Ferox," "Ghosthouse," and "Spasmo." A helmer who always favored quantity over quality, Lenzi liked to move fast and collect whatever footage he could, and that professional drive is most apparent in "Hitcher in the Dark," which plays like a community theater workshop session, only with more lurid writing to power hysterical performances. The general idea here is to offer a serial killer story with deep psychological grooves, turning an encounter between predator and prey into an extended dance of insanity. Lenzi isn't a refined moviemaker, happy to make something goofy as long as it's finished, and that's what happens here, gifting viewers a wild ride of the unsavory and the unintentionally hilarious. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Crazy Desires of a Murderer


Vinegar Syndrome hopes to do the world of B-movies some good by offering 1977's "Crazy Desires of a Murderer" to larger Blu-ray audience, pulling the feature out of obscurity after it was denied distribution in North America for decades. Now that it's here, the picture provides a weird ride of tonal changes, with director Filippo Walter Ratti trying to develop a murder mystery with sexploitation asides, also working in some extreme gore and mild perversion. There's a lot to unpack with the endeavor, which never finds true storytelling stability, but there's just enough oddity to enjoy as Ratti tends to try everything to see what sticks in his film. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Autopsy


1975's "Autopsy" is engineered to capture audience attention right away. The first 15 minutes of the movie offer strange visuals and gruesome events, with director Armando Crispino refusing to delay his vision for horror, commencing the endeavor with multiple suicides, vicious acts of sexual harassment/assault, and the procedural particulars of a morgue. Good luck finishing your popcorn with this initially brutal effort, which eventually settles down into a more palatable mystery, providing its most outrageous actions in the first reel. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Murder Mansion


Why introduce individual characters when they can all join the picture at the same time? That's the general vibe of 1972's "Murder Mansion," which is an Agatha Christie-esque take on the dangers of suspicious people staying inside a spooky dwelling that's also home to a murderer. Director Francisco Lara Polop isn't trying to reinvent the wheel with "Murder Mansion," which offers a routine set-up of evil events and a slow-burn fear factor. The helmer tries to win audiences over with some sense of style, fighting the inherent inertia of the production with a few effective suspense sequences. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Money Plane


Unlike a lot of bottom shelf actioners, "Money Plane" actually has a promising premise. It takes viewers to a casino in the sky where anything goes involving the worst people on Earth, giving them a free space to indulge their awfulness in games of skill and chance. Writers Tim Schaaf and Andrew Lawrence (who also directs) provide a solid reason to track such unrepentant ugliness, which retains a delicious camp factor, but they're mostly interested in following heist movie formula, aiming for suspense that never emerges. There's a circus there for the taking, but "Money Plane" plays it safe, delivering familiar beats of intimidation and brutality, trying to wow viewers with twists and turns when they might be better off with a blunt study of evildoers taking to the sky to make a fortune. Read the rest at

Film Review - Out of Death


“Out of Death” is a nonsensical title for a lazy film, and nobody stops to explain what exactly “Out of Death” means, as the movie is actually quite filled with death. The endeavor is the latest stop on the “Is Bruce Willis okay?” tour of VOD cinema, with the once mighty actor apparently offering the production a single day to complete his work on the picture. And what a day that must’ve been. Making his directorial debut is Mike Burns, who’s previously worked as a music supervisor on these immediately forgettable low-budget offerings, now finally offered a chance to make his own nonsense, with Willis popping up on occasion while an obvious body double does the rest of the work. “Out of Death” hopes to be a scrappy backwoods thriller, but Burns can’t make magic happen, basically reducing the feature to a series of shots of actors running through the woods, periodically stopping for ridiculous exposition dumps and, as the title wrongly states, death. Read the rest at

Film Review - Space Jam: A New Legacy


“Space Jam” was released in 1996, where it did okay at the box office, unleashed on audiences who didn’t quite understand what it was meant to be. Inspired by a commercial and turned into an acting vehicle for basketball star Michael Jordan, “Space Jam” found its groove on home video, where it developed a cult following, reaching viewers capable of looking past the endeavor’s creative shortcomings. It certainly took some time, but “Space Jam: A New Legacy” has finally found its way into theaters, with the feature not really a sequel, but more of a remake, with another basketball star, LeBron James, taking over the Jordan role. The Looney Tunes gang returns to duty as well, adding their animation commotion to the production, which strives to strike the same balance of heartfelt human concerns and cartoon pandemonium, this time enjoying a larger scale and sharp technical achievements. But is it funny? Not really. Read the rest at

Film Review - Die in a Gunfight


Two years ago, director Collin Schiffli made a positive impression with his work on “All Creatures Here Below,” creating a world of cruelty and grittiness that felt authentic, putting in the time to establish characters and the world around them. He’s after something far glossier with “Die in a Gunfight,” which has the unfortunate mission of trying to update “Romeo and Juliet,” endeavoring to reignite an oft-told tale. Screenwriters Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari (“Ant-Man and the Wasp”) handle the family drama and the power of love, but there’s not a vision in play, with the production trying to mirror a Baz Luhrmann-like approach when the helmer already made his mark on the William Shakespeare tragedy. “Die in a Gunfight” hopes to put on a grand display of showy acting and bursts of violence, but it’s mostly an uninspired drag, and perhaps the first “Romeo and Juliet” adaptation where viewers will side with the exasperated parental characters. Read the rest at

Film Review - Pig


“Pig” isn’t an easy film to sell to the public, and marketing materials have tried to push the feature as a revenge picture, with a “John Wick”-esque concept of a reclusive man returning to a world he left behind for the love of an animal. In this case, it’s a truffle pig, with Nicolas Cage tasked with portrayed a deadened man on the hunt for his best pal. Writer/director Michael Sarnoski doesn’t deliver a high-octane offering of action cinema with the movie. He goes deeply dramatic instead, ignoring the potential absurdity of the premise to take the whole mission as seriously as possible, digging into troubled characters carrying their own body weight in grief. “Pig” is an odd picture, but that’s the idea, with Sarnoski trying to approach human emotions from different angles, finding fresh ways to deal with primal hurt, with the endeavor more of a “Ratatouille” riff than a vicious Keanu Reeves bruiser. Read the rest at