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September 2021

Blu-ray Review - Alien from L.A.


She was a major force in the modeling world of the late 1980s, wowing fans with her clear beauty, which gave her industry authority and newsstand omnipresence. But someone, somewhere wanted Kathy Ireland to be an actress, trying to transfer a person who made a living off her looks into a dramatic force for the big screen. 1988's "Alien from L.A." is her debut feature, with director Albert Pyun trying to do something with Ireland's lack of thespian training, keeping her front and center for this loose riff on "Journey to the Center of the Earth" and "The Wizard of Oz." "Alien from L.A." has all the usual low-budget Pyun hustle, with the helmer trying to turn a few sets and a truckload of costumes into fantasy world where everything looks the same, and it has Ireland, who understandably isn't trying that hard to come up with a performance, whining and squeaking her way through a movie that isn't terribly exciting, even when it tries to be. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Alley Cat


1984's "Alley Cat" hopes to compete in the exploitation market, presenting a lead character who's not one to accept trouble from others, using her karate training to make sure predatory men don't mess with her twice. The production tries to work in some violence, nudity, and aggressive behavior to offer fans a decent ride, but the picture doesn't get messy despite plenty of opportunity to do so. It's something of a relief to see such restraint, with the directors (Victor M. Ordonez, Ed Palmos, and Al Valletta) actively working to make their R-rated vigilante story approachable to a slightly wider audience. It's not a Disney production, but "Alley Cat" doesn't revel in ugliness, providing B-movie entertainment with some fun fight scenes, an energetic lead actress with a loose command over her accent, and a somewhat timely condemnation of the American police and justice system. It's not an especially good film, but with this type of escapism, anything that isn't downbeat or too fetish-y is most welcome. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Champagne and Bullets


The title "Champagne and Bullets" doesn't make much sense. The movie includes the consumption of champagne, but very few bullets are fired, though a character orders "bullets" at a bar, which may be a reference to specialized drink. Who knows? One would hope writer/star/co-director John De Hart would, but he's got bigger fish to fry as the mastermind of this crazy picture, which shows almost no sense of leadership or forethought. De Hart oversees one of the great make-em-ups of the 1990s with "Champagne and Bullets," building himself a vanity film that celebrates his songwriting, singing, acting, and sexuality, planning to transform himself into a screen icon with the endeavor, which is as clumsy and misbegotten as can be. Make no mistake, this thing is awful, but one doesn't come to the feature with hopes for directorial finesse. Amusement with a "Birdemic"- style ride is the desired result, and the effort delivers plenty of that. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Daydreamer


Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass have created a great number of classics throughout their partnership, using interest in stop-motion animation to make the holidays a little brighter with television specials such as "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town." They've also dabbled in theatrical endeavors, with "Mad Monster Party" a cult favorite. For 1966's "The Daydreamer," Rankin/Bass aim for a more storybook tone, exploring the world of author Hans Christian Andersen through a mix of live-action and stop-motion animation, working to bring some magic to this musical, which visits several of Andersen's famous works. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Prince's Voyage


The world as we know it today inspires the world of tomorrow in "The Prince's Voyage." It's a French production from co-directors Jean-Francois Laguionie and Xavier Picard, who construct a fantasy tale of suspicion and exploration featuring a cast of cultured and contained primates. It's not a new take on "Planet of the Apes," but it shares the same sense of exploration and confusion, with "The Prince's Voyage" offering a refined understanding of societal fears as the characters manage a situation of discovery that could lead to some form of evolution, but only manages to inspire doubt and denial instead. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Eyes of Tammy Faye


In 2000, directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato created “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.” It was a documentary about the crazy life of Tammy Faye Bakker who, as a child, caught the spirit of Jesus and never looked back, building an empire with her husband, televangelist Jim Bakker. The picture was intended to humanize Tammy Faye, highlighting her determination to do something with her media power while the pair experienced the highs of fame and fortune, and the lows of betrayal and fraud. It was a compelling overview of Tammy Faye without fully identifying her headspace during years of unrepentant greed. The same outcome is found with “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” a dramatic adaption of the documentary written by Abe Sylvia, which also struggles to capture the subject’s core reality. However, while the endeavor is missing necessary sharpness, it does have mighty performances from Andrew Garfield and especially Jessica Chastain, who offers captivating commitment to Tammy Faye’s strange ways, elevating the effort with her sheer enthusiasm for the acting challenge. Read the rest at

Film Review - Cry Macho


At the age of 91, Clint Eastwood is still trying to do something with his big screen career. He’s always working, last seen helming “Richard Jewell” in 2019, and his 2018, his starring turn in “The Mule” was largely interpreted to be his final role as an actor, making one last appearance in a part that celebrated his tough guy history, conservative politics, and sexual appeal. The movie was a success, but Eastwood apparently wasn’t ready to give up on his thespian dreams, returning with “Cry Macho,” which offers the star a chance to suit up again as an aging cowboy. However, instead of returning to the drug running, posing, and menage a trois of “The Mule,” Eastwood the actor plays a broken man trying to complete a simple mission, while Eastwood the director maintains as low a profile as possible with this vanilla endeavor, which is about a weightless as film as the helmer has ever made. Read the rest at

Film Review - Prisoners of the Ghostland


Director Sion Sono has generated plenty of conversation and controversy over the course of his career, making features such as “Antiporno,” “The Forest of Love,” and “Why Don’t You Play in Hell?” He’s a filmmaker who loves extremity and idiosyncrasy, building a fanbase that expects the helmer to deliver something wild with his offerings. For his English-language debut, Sono doesn’t throttle his instincts with “Prisoners of the Ghostland,” which strives to be an extended tour of strangeness and ugliness, with the production finding an appropriate leading man in Nicolas Cage. The actor has his moments of delirium, but he makes for a fantastic focal point in a movie that’s not especially invested in structure. Sono makes a beautiful picture with “Prisoners of the Ghostland,” but he keeps the endeavor enigmatic to the end, which doesn’t always balance with the exploitation appearance of the effort. Read the rest at

Film Review - Lady of the Manor


After years playing sidekicks, weirdos, and unthreatening “good guy” boyfriends, actor Justin Long decides to make his move behind the camera, offering “Lady of the Manor,” his co-directorial debut, sharing work with his sibling, Christian Long. Using his career experiences, Long (who also co-scripts with his brother) keeps things very vanilla for the picture, which puts in a basic effort to be something of a stoner comedy, but with mystery elements thrown in to form the faint outline of a plot. The Longs are here to screw around, presenting a playful ride of improvisational comedy and vulgarity, and while they don’t deliver much originality, they do have Melanie Lynskey in the leading role, and she treats the acting opportunity with care, supplying a wonderfully daffy turn in a feature that simply doesn’t work without her. Read the rest at

Film Review - Collection


Marianna Palka has made some interesting movies lately, catching attention with efforts such as “Bitch” and “Egg.” They were character-driven tales of troubling behavior and mental strain, executed with sharp writing and performances, while Palka committed in full to a few wilder ideas, making memorable features during her career ascent. The helmer attempts to mount a larger picture with “Collection,” moving from indie film idiosyncrasy to a formulaic drama about financial woes handed to predatory debt collection figures, resulting in all kinds of relationship troubles. While watching “Collection,” one slowly gets the feeling the material (from screenwriter Todd M. Friedman) was meant to be something more expansive and meaningful, making sense of characters and their unexpected connections. Palka gets the endeavor going with engrossing displays of mental illness, but crude editing eventually kills whatever vision she originally had for the material. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Nowhere Inn


Annie Clark is St. Vincent. Or perhaps St. Vincent is Annie Clark. Either way, one woman is a Texan who’s worked for nearly two decades to become a successful musician, while the other is a successful musician who’s worked for two decades to stymie access to her real life, preferring to present herself as an art-rock alien. “The Nowhere Inn” is a fitting tribute to the world of St. Vincent, with the faux documentary never far from strangeness or a bit of inscrutable business, while director Bill Benz attempts to create something of a comedy out of everything. For those unfamiliar with St. Vincent and her wily ways, or for those who wish to learn more about her as a performer and everyday human, “The Nowhere Inn” is going to be a mighty frustrating sit. It’s an elusive endeavor, and not always in the best of ways, but Benz certainly makes a visually compelling feature, and Clark (or is it St. Vincent?) tries to bring her multiple personalities to the big screen, at times making quite an impression with her enigmatic ways. Read the rest at

Film Review - Last Night in Rozzie


Emotional wounds from the past are reopened in “Last Night in Rozzie,” which brings viewers to a Boston neighborhood to witness one man’s effort to navigate a tricky situation of trust, managing a friendship that’s been dormant for decades. Screenwriter Ryan McDonough looks to create a character study with the endeavor, which examines dual experiences for most of the players, analyzing lies told to comfort and deceive, and there’s a homecoming aspect to the story to strengthen its unease. “Last Night in Rozzie” is a modest drama, directed by Sean Gannet with care for performances and Bostonian flavors, and it generally connects as something similar to a detective story, portioning out pieces of personal history to give the tale a decent level of dramatic escalation without the satisfaction of a great ending. Read the rest at

Film Review - Best Sellers


This is why Michael Caine is Michael Caine. The iconic actor remains attentive to the challenges of his vocation, and he works to offer something compelling for “Best Sellers,” which needs all the personality it can get. Caine portrays an aging, reclusive author returning to the grind of book promotion with his much younger publisher, and the role welcomes a basic sense of crusty bitterness to help launch a mild comedy. Caine delivers all this and more in the part, giving director Lina Roessler something to use as she attempts to master the material’s bend from jokiness to sincerity. The journey isn’t quite as compelling as initially hoped for, but there’s Caine, who becomes the highlight of “Best Sellers” due to his excellent casting, providing something emotional to a production that isn’t always sure where it wants to be in terms of tonality. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Surf II


As many have already reported over the years, "Surf II" is not a sequel. There is no "Surf," with the film's title presented as an introductory joke for the picture, hoping to offer a little mischief as a way to identify silliness to come. It's not a successful gag, inspiring more confusion than knowing chuckles, but writer/director Randall Badat (who would go on to write "Hear No Evil" and "The Cutting Edge 3: Chasing the Dream") doesn't spend much time on wit in "Surf II." He's blasting the screen with wackiness instead, looking to update the Beach Party genre for an "Airplane!" audience, delivering a feature that's big on energy but strangely low on laughs. It does have a manic spirit, and that's good enough to support a viewing, especially for surfing fans who enjoy a little humor with their displays of sporting skill. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - Six-String Samurai


"Six-String Samurai" emerges from the minds of co-writers Lance Mungia (who also directs) and Jeffrey Falcon (who also stars), with the pair trying to find their way into Hollywood via the creation of a cult-ready action fantasy that follows a Buddy Holly lookalike and his effort to protect a child from enemies in post-apocalyptic Nevada. The 1998 picture tries to be ultra-cool and super strange to attract a knowing audience, and there's certainly a fanbase for the endeavor. "Six-String Samurai" is specialized entertainment, but it's not an especially engaging feature, with the production turning to repetition and slow-motion to avoid becoming the inspired short film it was destined to be. There's not a lot of story to snack on here, just plenty of style and rockabilly music, with a 90-minute run time presenting a noticeable challenge for Mungia, who's just not able to pack this movie with enough incident. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Winterbeast


"Winterbeast" was completed in 1992, but began life in 1986, with director Christopher Thies and producer Mark Frizzell setting out to create a horror picture with no money and a plan to manufacture monsters using stop-motion animation, with Frizzell a student of the artform. The pair spent years putting the film together, finding time here and there to do something with premise and hire patient actors looking to contribute to the cause. What they ended up with is barely a movie at times, packed with as much filler as the production can get away with. Still, "Winterbeast" is charmingly rough around the edges, especially when it focuses on just being a creature feature, getting away from a barely realized story and loose characterization. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Fatal Exam


1990's "Fatal Exam" (which was shot in 1985) is writer/director Jack Snyder's pass at a haunted house movie, working with the bare minimum of production support to create what appears to be a horror/mystery feature. It's Snyder's helming debut, and it really shows throughout the endeavor, which takes a basic premise of spooky events set inside a remote house and somehow believes that viewers need 114 minutes of screen time to make it from one end of the story to the other. "Fatal Exam" is a sleeping pill, and it's very odd to see the production deny its inert reality, marching forward with a sluggish arrangement of staring contests and enormous exposition dumps. 114 minutes, people. Bring a pillow. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Beyond Dream's Door


1989's "Beyond Dream's Door" represents Jay Woelfel's directorial debut, working to bring a 1983 short film up to feature-length standards and impress the world with his helming skills. The picture is a descent into nightmares and dreamscapes, following a young college student as he battles with unreality, pulling others into his survival challenge. Woelfel comes prepared for war, serving up a professional-looking movie that's loaded with moving cameras and dramatic lighting. There's just no story to follow or characters to connect to, with the abstract nature of the endeavor growing wearisome as it becomes clear "Beyond Dream's Door" is really just an overlong directorial showcase for Woelfel, who works extra hard to deliver a visual experience. Read the rest at