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October 2021

Blu-ray Review - Big Bad Mama II


There was a sense of finality to 1974's "Big Bad Mama." And then the feature made some sizable money for producer Roger Corman, inspiring him to attempt a sequel 13 years later, with "Big Bad Mama II" bringing back star Angie Dickinson for another round of Depression-era mayhem. The divide in time between the movies is substantial, which is why Corman orders up more of a remake for "Big Bad Mama II," which tweaks the original plot to handle different dramatic interests for the do-over, though co-writer/director Jim Wynorski is smart to keep his cameras trained on Dickinson for most of the endeavor, who provides another spirited performance as Wilma returns to power, and definitely not as a ghost. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Big Bad Mama


Roger Corman had a thing for movies with "Mama" in the title, and in 1974 he released one of his biggest hits with "Big Bad Mama," not to be confused with "Bloody Mama" or "Crazy Mama." Returning to his love of the gangster genre, Corman offers director Steve Carver a small budget and the star power of Angie Dickinson to make magic happen, with the feature a chaotic offering of violence and combustible character relationships. Carver keeps the picture in a state of unrest for as long as possible, looking to wow viewers with chases and shootouts, but "Big Bad Mama" is really Dickinson's big show, and she delivers a wonderfully enthusiastic performance as the titular criminal. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee


In 2018, a Super Bowl advertisement was created hinting a reboot of the 1986 smash hit, "Crocodile Dundee," was coming in some form, with Danny McBride taking command of the role. It was eventually revealed to be an elaborate ad for Australian tourism, but the weird result of the mini-movie was excitement for a new "Crocodile Dundee" feature. Few could've predicted that response, especially original Mick Dundee, Paul Hogan (who cameoed in the commercial). Instead of capitalizing on the success of the ad with a fresh adventure for the once beloved Aussie icon, Hogan decides to do something smaller, blander, and possibly unfinished. With "The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee," the actor plays himself living in a world of fading fame and sequel frenzy, participating in a comedy (scripted by Robert Mond and Dean Murphy, who also directs) that tries to be silly and self- referential, but mostly ends up uncomfortably odd. "The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee" plays like a tax shelter production, with Hogan offering the least amount of effort in a film that has no clear idea what it wants to be. Read the rest at

Film Review - The French Dispatch


Writer/director Wes Anderson has been away from live-action moviemaking for quite some time, taking a break from his routine to mastermind 2018’s “Isle of Dogs,” an animated adventure. 2014’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” was Anderson’s last traditional endeavor, and it was one of his best, combining his tremendous love for the European experience and silly business with incredibly game actors, launching a lively farce that also increased the idiosyncrasy of his filmmaking vision, miraculously doing so without smothering the picture. The same can’t be said of “The French Dispatch,” which has been a long time coming, and isn’t entirely worth the wait, finding Anderson consumed by his own meticulousness, attempting to plunge deeper into his helming eccentricities and still emerge with a clever study of art, politics, and people. It’s gloriously acted and gorgeously crafted, per usual, but it’s a movie without an entry point, playing strictly for one member of the audience: Wes Anderson. Read the rest at

Film Review - Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin


There hasn’t been a “Paranormal Activity” movie since 2015, but before that, there were so many “Paranormal Activity” movies. The original feature was a massive word-of-mouth hit that came out of nowhere and delighted horror fans, offering a haunted house experience with no-budget filmmaking achievements. Shocked by the profitability of the effort, Paramount Pictures ordered up a franchise, squeezing the brand name for every cent it could collect. Sequels and prequels (five of them) were basically all the same, save for some ill-prepared backstories and character connections, and eventually the faithful gave up the ticket-buying habit, sending the series to the shelf. Well, after a break, the found footage nightmare is back with “Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin,” which seeks to revive the scare zone for a new wave of frights, this time making a move from jump scares to sinister cult business, merging an old trend with a new one as the production tries to A24-up the atmosphere of the endeavor. Read the rest at

Film Review - Antlers


As a director, Scott Cooper is drawn to dark material, last seen on screen with “Hostiles,” a powerfully bleak picture. He’s also interested in character-based storytelling, trying to maintain some level of emotional engagement with the audience as he deals with heavy violence, avoiding pure exploitation. With “Antlers,” Cooper has a more difficult job of approachability, slipping into genre interests with this tale of a small town and the monster that’s bringing death to the community. It’s not a movie that takes it easy on the audience, with Cooper constructing some powerfully macabre imagery and grim turns of fate. However, “Antlers” isn’t here for cheap thrills, it attempts to be deeper than that, which doesn’t always work for the film, though Cooper’s dedication to a cheerless atmosphere of suffering is impressive, finding a few ways to freshen up the creature feature routine. Read the rest at

Film Review - Last Night in Soho


“Last Night in Soho” is director Edgar Wright’s latest attempt to merge the worlds of cinema and music, enjoying a breakthrough with 2017’s “Baby Driver,” and recently on screens with the documentary “The Sparks Brothers.” Wright has always enjoyed a full-on sensorial show, attracted to the marriage of pop sounds and action, but he aims to dial down the ferocity with his newest endeavor, which is more about freak-outs than adrenalized activity. Paying tribute to London of yesterday and Italian genre offerings, Wright creates a visually potent cocktail with “Last Night in Soho,” offering extreme attention to design details with the movie, which is primarily a showcase for technical achievements. Storytelling isn’t nearly as robust, with Wright and co-screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns (“1917”) getting lost in their quest to generate an unsettling mystery that’s capable of keeping up with the extreme visual presence of Wright’s work. Read the rest at

Film Review - Army of Thieves


Last May, director Zack Snyder unleashed “Army of the Dead,” which was presented as a single chapter in a larger story of zombie horrors and character connections. It was a huge film that examined the dangers of a new world order, doing so with Snyder’s signature style and love of an expanded run time. “Army of Thieves” is the first step forward for the “Army of the Dead” universe, or perhaps a step backwards is a more apt description, with actor/director Matthias Schweighofer going the prequel route to explore the formation of master safecracker, Ludwig Dieter. Without horror elements to manage, “Army of Thieves” emerges as more of a playful caper featuring an energetic cast and glossy European locations, providing an entertaining ride of heist activity and near-misses with law enforcement. Zombies aren’t the focus this time around, which works very well for this lively endeavor. Read the rest at

Film Review - Eternals


For obvious reasons, the last four months have been packed with films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, with “Black Widow” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” the MCU was in action and introduction mode, endeavoring to sustain the excitement of superheroes in various forms of conflict, sold with huge CGI-laden set pieces. “Eternals” is a different beast, looking to set a more contemplative mood with its cast of alien personalities and their different powers. There’s also an unusual choice in director, with Chloe Zhao following up her Academy Award-winning work on “Nomadland” with a Marvel extravaganza, and she fights such expectations throughout the excessive 150-minute-long run time. “Eternals” has a lot to process, but there’s not much screen energy this time around, with Zhao gently refusing a zippy pace and defined performances to create her own version of an MCU experience, which involves a lot of windy locations, sparse imagination for action, and a cast of characters who are seldom interesting. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Spine of Night


About a decade ago, I stumbled across a video titled “Mongrel & The Wrath of the Ape King,” which was created by Morgan Galen King. The director was paying tribute to the work of Ralph Bakshi with the short, creating a “Fire and Ice”-style fantasy adventure with the use of rotoscope animation, which offers fluid bodily movement and fascinating strangeness, helping to set the mood of the adventure. It was bloody and gorgeous, dripping with synth and loaded with R-rated content, recalling an era when such creative risks were actually attempted. King has now graduated to feature-length filmmaking with “The Spine of Night,” joined by co-helmer Philip Gelatt, extending ideas found in his earliest works to construct an epic tale of magic and horror with the same visual approach as before. “The Spine of Night” is deep dive genre entertainment, possibly for a very small audience, but it retains King’s love of barbaric storytelling, creating an unsteady but visually arresting picture. Read the rest at

Film Review - Joy Ride


Bobcat Goldthwait has been balancing work between features and television, continuing on his career path as a director. He’s taken on various projects outside of comedy, working to lower his profile as an actor, but “Joy Ride” is a rare on-screen outing for Goldthwait. It’s something of a stand-up film for the longtime performer, who’s partnered up with comedian Dana Gould to make a movie about their longstanding friendship, celebrating their camaraderie as they cross a handful of states on a tour of clubs. “Joy Ride” isn’t meant to be anything outrageous, primarily splitting screen time between on-stage storytelling and the exploration of personal history, adding more dimension to Goldthwait and Gould as they strive to make sense of their lives and the demands of the road, which, at one point in the journey, almost kills the pair as they make their way from town to town. Read the rest at

Film Review - Heart of Champions


We don’t see a lot of sides to actor Michael Shannon. In most of his recent efforts, he’s played villains, working with his natural intensity to create appropriate evilness to help inspire screen heroism. He’s been consistent in these parts, but rarely surprising. In “Heart of Champions,” Shannon is meant to play a source of inspiration, albeit a person haunted by a dark past. Still, the thespian is stretching a bit, joining a Disney-style celebration of teamwork as screenwriter Vojin Gjaja tries to make the ins and outs of collegiate rowing exciting for the screen. Shannon is a major asset to the production, delivering expected severity with a side of benevolence, elevating a frustratingly pedestrian storytelling, with Gjaja much too reliant on cliches to connect the dots on this underdog feature. Read the rest at

Film Review - 13 Minutes


It takes a lot to compete in the disaster movie subgenre, as audiences are used to seeing massive offerings of global destruction and all-star casts sprinting away from a catastrophe. “13 Minutes” is a budget version of a big screen extravaganza, created for the new weather emergency age we live in. Writer/director Lindsay Gossling endeavors to bring attention to American heartland anxieties, where severe storms are growing more common and deadly, ruining the lives of people already dealing with poverty, politics, and mistakes. Gossling attempts to fill the film with as many characters as possible, aiming to create a full understanding of community connection, but this approach offers a more dramatic viewing experience, which doesn’t quite work for the underwhelming screenplay. Tornados spin and hail pelts small-town U.S.A., but “13 Minutes” could use more focused writing, juggling the cinematic intensity of a superstorm and the emotional lives of those stuck trying to make it out alive. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - House of Wax (2005)


For their fifth release, Dark Castle Entertainment returns to remake territory with "House of Wax," which takes its inspiration from a 1953 Andre DeToth film, which was a remake of a 1933 picture, "Mystery of the Wax Museum." Looking to capture some 2005 energy, the new "House of Wax" gathers young stars of the day to provide a fresh sense of peril for viewers, while director Jaume Collet-Serra (making his helming debut) invests in the oily, sludgy textures of the titular gunk, attempting to generate a more claustrophobic sense of danger for his take on the material (scripted by Chad and Carey Hayes). "House of Wax" isn't particularly well-acted or tightly edited, but it does have a visual presence that impresses, with Collet- Serra delivering a pleasingly ruthless nightmare that does especially well with creepy visuals and bodily harm, resulting in one of the best Dark Castle Entertainment offerings. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hunter Hunter


The call of the wild gets incredibly grim in "Hunter Hunter," with writer/director Shawn Linden exploring the savage ways of man and beast in the feature. He doesn't hold back on the hard stuff in the picture, offering a merciless understanding of violence, but not a sustained one. "Hunter Hunter" is slow-burn but effective, with Linden working to understand troubled characters and survival issues while carefully creating a gristly genre film out of the endeavor, and an effective one, sneaking up on viewers with strong writing and a deliberate choice to not take it easy the participants in this suspenseful movie. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Stardust


A true bio-pic on the life and times of David Bowie will probably never be made, forcing the producers of "Stardust" to work around legal issues as they attempt to illuminate a transitional year for the future industry icon. It seems futile to even attempt to do a movie about David Bowie that doesn't feature David Bowie music, but here we are, and "Stardust" gets somewhere interesting when it comes to the psychological state of the musician during a time of tremendous insecurity. Sonically, the picture is almost pointless, with co-writer/director Gabriel Range trying to work around the loss of classic tunes, failing to come up with stimulating replacements capable of identifying Bowie's developing brilliance during a year of career redirection. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Shiva Baby


Emma Seligman makes an impressive filmmaking debut with "Shiva Baby," managing to tap into a mounting sense of panic in a way that rivals seasoned helmers. The writer/director doesn't go big for his first feature, taking viewers into the pressure cooker environment of a funeral gathering, with Jewish families coming together to mourn, but also catch up on gossip and personal achievements, leaving the central character to manage all sorts of judgmental attitudes while dealing with a potentially life-changing reveal of her secretive employment. Offered a house filled with itchy personalities, and Seligman transforms "Shiva Baby" (an adaptation of her 2018 short) into a remarkable suspense picture that's loaded with amazing performances and turns of plot, keeping the endeavor riveting and also darkly comedic. Seligman does a lot with very little here, showcasing a gift for subtle behaviors and broad confrontations. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Baxter


"Baxter" is a 1989 French production adapting the general strangeness of a 1977 book, "Hell Hound." The tale explores the sociopathic interests of a bull terrier who's passed around to different owners during his life, learning to understand how humans act when dealing with various emotional and physical challenges. It's dark material brought to the screen by director Jerome Boivin (who co-scripts with Jacques Audiard), who tries to bring viewers inside the mind of a dangerous yet curious canine, yet avoid horror film formula in the process. "Baxter" is a bizarre endeavor, never quite reaching its thematic goals, but it does have some interesting scenes of mental illness to keep it involving. Read the rest at