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August 2021

Blu-ray Review - Smile


Finding success making Robert Redford movies such as 1969's "Downhill Racer" and 1972's "The Candidate," director Michael Ritchie found his hot streak cooled some with 1975's "Smile," which was basically balled up and thrown away by the distributor during its initial theatrical release. Such cruel treatment robbed Ritchie of another hit, but it didn't stop the feature from becoming something of a cult title, gaining admiration and building a fanbase over the last 46 years. While not Ritchie's finest endeavor, "Smile" showcases his skill with actors and controlled chaos, examining the nervous energy of a California beauty pageant and all the contestants, judges, and crew who create an event intended to celebrate femininity, only to bring out the worst in people. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Wildcats


In 1976, director Michael Ritchie created "The Bad News Bears," which went on to become a comedy classic and a beloved sports-themed film. It dealt honestly and hilariously with the realities of team sports, capturing a refreshingly honest underdog movie experience. In 1986, Ritchie returns to the same concept with "Wildcats," this time joined by Goldie Hawn, who plays the coach of a struggling high school football team, tasked with whipping slackers into shape, a job the character isn't sure about. For his second time around, an older Ritchie doesn't have the same dedication to nailing the nuances of the sport or the team dynamic, put in charge of Hawn-branded entertainment, which was big business in the 1980s, finding the actress riding the success of "Private Benjamin" into several cheery knockoffs. "Wildcats" isn't nearly as sharp as it could be, with Ritchie and writer Ezra Sacks ("FM," "A Small Circle of Friends") playing it safe with the material, dealing with broad humor and cliched personal problems. The whole thing is meant to be held together by Hawn's charm, and there's plenty of that, but the production is missing a strong screenplay, giving the sport and its participants some needed Buttermaker-approved grit. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - All-American Murder


During his interview for the Blu-ray release of 1991's "All-American Murder," actor Charlie Schlatter reveals that he initially met with director Ken Russell about the project, excited that the mastermind behind the psychedelic highs of "Tommy" would be in charge of a minor whodunit with surges of graphic violence. Whatever occurred behind the scenes isn't clear, but Russell eventually left the project, quickly replaced days before shooting by Anson Williams, who made a name for himself as Potsie Weber on classic show "Happy Days," spending a full decade making comedy for network television. Williams transitioned to T.V. direction after "Happy Days" ended, banging out episodes of shows like "L.A. Law," "Hooperman," and "Just the Ten of Us." "All-American Murder" is Williams's feature debut, and if there's anybody in the business who's the exact opposite of Ken Russell, it's Anson Williams. After watching the picture, one gets a sense of what the gonzo "Altered States" and "Crimes of Passion" moviemaker could've done with the material. Williams doesn't embarrass himself, but it quickly becomes clear this type of film is beyond his skill set, unable to sustain initial interest in the details of the central crime. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - Fanny Lye Deliver'd


Making his first film since 2008's "Soi Cowboy," writer/director Thomas Clay pours everything he's got into "Fanny Lye Deliver'd," a 17th century drama that takes its time to get anywhere. Clay has constructed a true cinematic journey, creating a picture that's all about language and screen details, working to make this tale of Puritan living feel as authentic as possible. There's a rough side to the endeavor, which takes a significant amount of screen time to discover, as Clay is more interested in building tension gradually, eventually reaching a point of fury that's realistically motivated. A sort of period version of "Funny Games" is exposed, and Clay indulges himself with acts of sexual and physical violence. But there's something about "Fanny Lye Deliver'd" that suggests he'd rather shoot farm life routines and landscapes all day, with the limited story served up here almost becoming a burden to the moviemaker. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Summer Camp Girls


1983's "Summer Camp Girls" presents an odd take on the seasonal getaway, rethinking the pleasures of the open world with friends and counselors by turning the whole experience into a prison-lite event for a group of 18-year-old girls discarded by their elite families. Hope for a "Meatballs"-esque take on camp shenanigans isn't rewarded, but director Gary Graver and writer Harold Lime try to sustain something of a fun factor to the picture, which deals more with nutty seductions than juvenile pranks, trying to maintain some heat for adult cinema fans. Read the rest at

Film Review - He's All That


It was a small Miramax release crafted expressly for teen audiences, released over the Super Bowl weekend. 1999’s “She’s All That” wasn’t meant to be much, but it found success with its “TRL”-approved casting, a lay-up premise involving young love, and a soundtrack that made “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None The Richer a staple of school dances and pop radio countdowns. The feature isn’t a classic, but it’s remembered fondly by those who were there in the moment and rented the picture a thousand times afterwards, reconnecting with its cartoon highs and lows. A remake has taken a surprisingly long time to surface, but “He’s All That” is here to revive tingly feelings, though it’s designed for a generation that’s probably never even heard of the original film, once again working through the saga of a cruel wager that turns into attraction, with the production strictly aiming this thing at social media-obsessed pre-teens. Read the rest at

Film Review - Vacation Friends


“Vacation Friends” follows marketplace trends, emerging as yet another comedy that’s trying to be as crude as possible to inspire laughs. The screenplay (credited to five people) doesn’t aim high, comfortable with formula and simple characterization, trying to remain as digestible as possible while still loaded with rough language and shock humor, keeping up with R-rated interests. And yet, while there’s nothing original about it, “Vacation Friends” manages to sneak in plenty of charm from its engaged cast, and co-writer/director Clay Tarver launches a few clever sight gags, trying to have as much fun as possible with dreary writing. There’s nothing here that’s revelatory, but this isn’t a mean-spirited endeavor, remaining cheery and occasionally strange enough to engage. Read the rest at

Film Review - Candyman (2021)


“Candyman” began life in a Clive Barker short story, which was adapted by writer/director Bernard Rose in 1992, who expanded on the author’s ideas and conjured a delicious gothic mood, landing a minor hit with horror audiences. Sequels followed, but few viewers cared to follow the exploits of the eponymous ghost, leaving the brand name dormant for decades. “Candyman” has been resurrected by co-writer/producer Jordan Peele and co-writer/director Nia DaCosta, who hunt for way to return the nightmare to screens, but with a more defined take on racial injustice. They’re making a direct sequel to the first film, and one that’s more interested in feeling the brutality of the black experience than providing genuine scares. DaCosta makes a handsome picture, and Peele’s social concerns are present, but Rose offered a special level of cinematic pressure with his initial offering of Candyman, which this follow-up lacks. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mosquito State


A full sensorial immersion appears to the be the creative goal of “Mosquito State.” Co-writer/director Filip Jan Rymsza creates an itchy nightmare realm for the feature, filling it was insects and insanity, using claustrophobic audio and visual elements to make sure viewers are pushed all the way back into their seat. The material is unusual (think a cross between David Cronenberg and Adam McKay), presenting horrors of mind, body, and the American financial system with a distinct lean toward the mysteries of unreality. “Mosquito State” offers a fascinating look at various forms of control and the mental illness such command inspires, and while it doesn’t offer frights, there’s a level of unease to the work that’s keeps it involving, even when Rymsza gets a little carried away trying to make an art-house version of a disaster movie. Read the rest at

Film Review - Rushed


Siobhan Fallon Hogan has been acting for decades, perhaps best known for her stint on “Saturday Night Live” and movies such as “Men in Black,” where she played a highly confused farmer’s wife dealing with a sugar-swilling alien. Along the way, Hogan made contact with Lars von Trier and his Zentropa Films, opening the door to a semi-dramatic career in offbeat and sometimes violent features. Channeling that energy for her screenwriting debut, Hogan reteams with Zentropa for “Rushed,” which takes a look at deadly hazing practices at U.S. fraternities, using headline news to provide inspiration for a unique take on a mother’s anguish. The European backing for the endeavor immediately conjures expectations for a stark exploitation effort with screaming participants and bladed weapons, and while Hogan eventually gets raw, she doesn’t start there, managing a more emotional odyssey for the writing, offering an original take on the mourning process. Read the rest at

Film Review - No Man of God


Filmmakers have repeatedly returned to the story of Ted Bundy, a serial killer executed in 1989. Bundy presents a particular psychological puzzle to dramatize, emerging with a cool demeanor of superiority, only to contain a burning sense of madness within. “No Man of God” is the first of two Ted Bundy movies released this month, and director Amber Sealey and writer Kit Lesser (a pseudonym for C. Robert Cargill, who’s taken his name off the picture) try to make a respectable, dramatic offering of character examination, using the true story of Bundy’s interactions with F.B.I. profiler Bill Hagmaier to inspire a theatrical two-hander concerning the monster’s denial and eventual confrontation of his heinous acts of savagery. “No Man of God” is not a thriller, sticking with conversations and confrontations as years pass, making the endeavor about fine acting as it struggles with sluggish pacing. Read the rest at

Film Review - Together


“Together” joins a growing number of movies that dramatize the experience of living through the COVID-19 pandemic, presenting viewers with a reminder of the way things were and how they are now, but with help from the sharpness of screenwriting and power of performance. What screenwriter Dennis Kelly basically offers here is a theatrical experience, using the two-hander format to analyze the changing mood of society and the growing medical emergency as a couple manages their flailing relationship smack dab in the middle of a hellish event. “Together” is a simple staging of anxieties and hostilities, but Kelly brings depth to impossible feelings of frustration and grief, also having an enjoyable time dreaming up arguments for actors Sharon Horgan and James McAvoy to play with as they go head-to-head for 90 minutes of screen time. It’s an outstandingly acted offering of confessional fury, but it’s difficult to understand who the audience is for this cathartic endeavor, and why it’s being produced now, when this global battle for stability is far from over. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Show


To many, Alan Moore is a legend in the comic book business. He’s been the driving force behind such famous works as “Watchmen,” “Batman: The Killing Joke,” and “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” His contributions to the art form and his deconstruction of the superhero experience has inspired generations of artists, but he’s been very outspoken about the movies adapted from his own material. Critical of “Watchmen” and “V for Vendetta,” Moore is more than happy to share his opinion about way the film industry treats his material, but “The Show” provides a rare opportunity to watch him manufacture an original tale for the big screen. Moore isn’t straying far from what he knows about corrupt and troubled human beings, but he also doesn’t have the budget to do much of anything with “The Show,” which is basically a T.V. pilot for an English version of “Twin Peaks,” dealing with eccentrics, lunatics, and the puzzling ways of dreamscapes. Moore is no David Lynch, leaving the picture quite an endurance test for those who don’t worship the comics industry deity. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - King Kong (1976)


Producer Dino De Laurentiis wanted to make the big hit of 1976 with his remake of "King Kong," keeping publicity fires burning for a full year before the film's release. It was hype on a grand scale, only requiring a movie that could match such marketing fury. "King Kong" isn't quite the towering adventure promised by De Laurentiis, but the picture offers tremendous scale, with budgetary bucks spent to inspire awe with enormous sets and exotic locations. And then there's the eponymous ape, who's less impressive, emerging mostly as a man-in-suit, competing with the stop-motion animation miracles found in the original 1933 classic. "King Kong" strives to be a sincere retelling of the adventure tale, aiming for spectacle and updated villainy, and it works for the most part, always most compelling when digging into the mystery of King Kong, not showcasing full body displays of him. Read the rest at

Film Review - Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings


For the 25th movie of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the company looks to one of its lesser-known characters to help take the brand name forward. Not that Shang-Chi is an obscure superhero, but he doesn’t quite have the marquee value of previous avengers, presenting a challenge for the production to deliver a memorable introduction for a wide audience. And “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” does just that, presenting an interesting new face on the scene, and the urban and mystical realms he inhabits. Television star Simu Liu gets a critical career at-bat with the eponymous role, and he makes a strong impression, becoming a compelling focal point for the feature while producers fill supporting parts with screen legends, familiar Marvel faces, and comedians, working extra hard to make sure the launch of Shang-Chi goes down smooth with comic book maniacs and the people who love them. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Cellar


"The Cellar" had a rocky ride to a release. Screenwriter John Woodward was initially hired to direct the feature, adapting a short story from author David Henry Keller. The job proved to be too much for him to handle, with Woodward fired after a few days on the set, replaced by Kevin Tenney, who previously helmed "Witchboard" and "Night of the Demons." Tenney's job involved reworking the script and managing a speedy shoot for the low- budget picture, emerging with his version of a tale involving a family's fight for survival against an evil Native American-bred entity living in the muck under their rural Texas house. Tenney tried to deliver something sellable, but the producers didn't trust his vision, eventually restructuring the story and adding scenes to beef up the mystical aspects of the endeavor, eventually getting the film out into the world on VHS to inspire sleepover rental choices everywhere. Now, with this Blu-ray release, viewers are invited to see Tenney's original version of "The Cellar," which isn't a satisfying genre offering, suggesting the material simply wasn't meant to be, no matter the edit. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Frat House


1979's "Frat House" was created to capitalize on the raging success of 1978's "Animal House." The adult film industry wasn't about to let a collegiate setting for tomfoolery and bedroom antics go to waste, inspiring the production to generate its own sense of playfulness, with the full title of the endeavor being "Natural Lamporn's "Frat House." See what they did there? Writer/director "Sven Conrad" (aka David Worth, who would go on to helm "Kickboxer") doesn't have the time or money to really give the Universal Pictures release a proper pantsing, but he organizes a lighthearted effort that's more in love with silent comedies than National Lampoon, dealing with pure zaniness between scenes of sexual gymnastics and disco fantasies. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Heavenly Desire


1979's "Heavenly Desire" isn't a remake of 1978's "Heaven Can Wait," but the production certainly wouldn't mind if the Warren Beatty hit came to mind during the viewing experience. It offers a return to limbo for two characters caught between places of eternal rest, only here the goal for the duo is entrance to a place called "Hooker Heaven," which is actually Hell. There are many unanswered questions found in the picture, but director Jaacov Jaacovi doesn't offer much more than lighthearted adult entertainment with a slight spiritual twist, working in as much slapstick as possible while aiming to deliver a film with some noticeable heat. There's strangeness all around "Heavenly Desire," which tends to find its rhythm with nonsense, keeping things peculiar without blocking the bedroom view. Read the rest at