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October 2021

Film Review - The Electrical Life of Louis Wain


Co-writer/director Will Sharpe sets out to create the most English feature in the history of filmmaking with “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain.” It’s an impossible task, but Sharpe is committed to the cause, with the Victorian England study of artist Louis Wain trafficking in repressed emotions and grungy locations, and it deals with a tale that’s packed with absolute misery at times. And yet, the subject represents a lighter side of artful pursuits, with Wain famous for his whimsical paintings of cats. Sharpe offers many technical achievements with “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain,” and he’s certainly eager to get inside the man’s head and discover a pained, obsessive existence. Parts of the picture are successful, while the rest takes a large amount of patience to get through, especially when the helmer gets lost in the Britishness of it all, blending lyrical style with bleak content. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ron's Gone Wrong


Earlier this year, there was “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” which presented a highly comedic and visually active take on the dangers of technology facing a disconnected family. “Ron’s Gone Wrong” features a different story but basically contains the same idea, examining the demanding digital realm for children, especially those who don’t have the ability to naturally grasp the process of making friends. It’s the first offering from Locksmith Animation, and the company plays it safe with “Ron’s Got Wrong,” which checks off all the boxes for animated entertainment in this day and age, remaining formulaic to a fault. The production tries to squeeze some meaning out of its take on the dangers of social media, but directors Sarah Smith and Jean-Philippe Vine make something noisy and insincere instead, working a little too hard to be cuddly with a tale that demands a more delicate approach. Read the rest at

Film Review - Night Teeth


“Night Teeth” seems to be an attempt to build a new franchise featuring vampires in Los Angeles, detailing their hostilities with humans and their quest for fresh blood. There’s plenty of world-building in place, as screenwriter Brent Dillon is in charge of turning a little idea on rideshare horrors into a battle for control of the city, featuring a plethora of supporting players and extensive backstory with the lead characters. Dillion tries to kickstart something big with the material, and director Adam Randall (“I See You”) keeps it stylish, aiming to bring a little graphic novel energy to the film. “Night Teeth” is a handsome picture, offering eye candy while the writing aims to be epic and intimate, coming up a little short in both departments. Still, it’s an entertaining ride with the creatures of the night and their mounting frustrations with their enemies, with Randall keeping matters lively as he sorts through exposition and character introductions. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Human Nature


Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman went from industry struggle to Oscar-nominated glory with 1999's "Being John Malkovich." His specialized brand of quirk and surrealism found an audience with the picture, which, against all odds, made money, turning Kaufman into a critical darling and the "it" man of the indie film world. His reputation took a hit with 2001's "Human Nature," which was pushed into production after "Being John Malkovich" proved to be profitable, finding producers eager to ride the Kaufman wave to another specialty cinema sensation, fueled by the writer's obsession with oddity and the peculiarities of human behavior. "Human Nature" isn't nearly as unusual as his previous work, and he finds a less disciplined collaborator in director Michel Gondry, who works ridiculously hard to transform his helming debut into a cinematic playground of tricks and fantasy, which doesn't always mesh with Kaufman's self-conscious probing of damaged people. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Lady in Red


1979's "The Lady in Red" has something to work with, using a screenplay written by John Sayles, who clearly wants to make his mark with a gritty, pitiless gangster story told from the perspective of a woman involved in the fringes of the violent culture. Sayles aims to create characters and threats, aiming to deal honestly and epically with the lead character's descent into hell. Unfortunately, "The Lady in Red" is a Roger Corman production, which means down-and-dirty filmmaking and a general muting of Sayles's ambition for the project, though elements of his vision remain intact in a feature that gradually loses its initial spark. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Crazy Mama


After making a strong impression with his quickie work on 1974's "Caged Heat," director Jonathan Demme stuck with producer Roger Corman for 1975's "Crazy Mama." A tale of a dire financial straits temporary alleviated by old-fashioned robbery, "Crazy Mama" is a wild burst of screen energy, dealing with criminal interests, family business, and road trip activity, with Demme aiming to ride the picture as hard as possible before the production eventually tries to find a resolution. It's a chaotic endeavor, but this Demme's happy place, working to generate as much commotion as possible before viewers catch on to the thinness of the material. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Treasure of the Amazon


Prolific director Rene Cardona Jr. elects to claim part of the jungle adventure gold rush of the early 1980s with "Treasure of the Amazon," one of three movies he made in 1985. Cardona Jr. is not one to offer hospital corners on his pictures, and this messiness extends to "Treasure of the Amazon," which attempts to create three distinct plotlines about outsiders in the deep jungle hunting for gold and diamonds, tracking separate games of survival as the teams are hit from all sides by danger. The feature isn't a good example of multi-character storytelling, but it does remain on the move, with Cardona Jr. interested in exploitation elements to hold attention, working to give his jungle event some cheap thrills. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Cyclone


For his second film of 1978, director Rene Cardona Jr. gets away from the unsatisfying mysteries of "The Bermuda Triangle," and tries to latch on to the disaster movie trend with "Cyclone." Of course, he's a little past the peak of the subgenre's popularity during the 1970s, but Cardona Jr. comes armed with a small-scale overview of human suffering, taking a second bite of the Andes Mountain Disaster after overseeing 1976's "Survive!" Instead of revisiting high-altitude danger, "Cyclone" visits the vastness of the ocean, tracking the physical exhaustion and thinning patience of characters lost at sea. Cardona Jr. doesn't have enough cash for the Irwin Allen treatment, but he creates passable misery with the picture, which has some fine moments of agitation contained within a bizarrely long run time. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Bermuda Triangle


Considering the potential of a story set inside the Bermuda Triangle, it's very disappointing to watch Rene Cardona Jr.'s take on the myth. Instead of dialing up the suspense while managing a ship-based tale of familial troubles colliding with the unknown, the helmer mostly manufactures a soap opera with "The Bermuda Triangle," filling a bloated run time with unexciting events happening to uninteresting people. Sure, there's a cursed doll in the mix (making this play like an "Annabelle" sequel), but the director oversees a strangely casual chiller that's more about banal conversations than nail-biting sequences of survival. Read the rest at

Film Review - Halloween Kills


2018’s “Halloween” was more than just another installment of the long-running franchise. It was an attempt to get the brand name back on track, with co-writers Danny McBride and David Gordon Green (who also directed the effort) clearing away most character connections and pretzeled storylines, aiming to get back to basics with a follow-up to the original 1978 horror classic. “Halloween” struck gold at the box office, but it didn’t feel all that fresh as a movie, going through the motions of slasher cinema while star Jamie Lee Curtis clearly enjoyed a chance to reprise her role as the traumatized Laurie Strode. Stumbling into a major hit, McBride and Green (now joined by Scott Teems) suddenly have a chance to keep going with the series, resurrecting Michael Myers and his undying evil for “Halloween Kills,” which gets away from the solo flight of misery, out to examine mob mentality and the true source of wickedness in Haddonfield. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dune (2021)


Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel, “Dune,” has been hailed by many as a master class on literary world-building, offering a sophisticated tale of war, family, and spice. It’s no surprise to see filmmakers chase the material for dramatic exploration, including a 2000 T.V. miniseries and, most famously, a 1984 extravaganza from David Lynch, who made a valiant attempt to make sense of Herbert’s details while offering mainstream audiences a potent dose of his artful insanity. The book has been adapted once again, this time for co-writer/director Denis Villeneuve, who aims to make a more faithful version of “Dune,” but still retain the bigness of the project, which visits multiple planets and oversees enormous battles. Scale is the selling point of the feature, with Villeneuve doing a masterful job bringing viewers into the heart of these conflicts. Storytelling remains a bucking bronco, but when this picture rears back and aims for widescreen glory, it actually achieves it. Read the rest at

Film Review - Needle in a Timestack


“Needle in a Timestack” is an adaptation of a short story written by Robert Silverberg, originally published in Playboy Magazine in 1983. The tale explores a world of tomorrow, where time travel is more than a common occurrence, it’s a source of sabotage, putting characters on a disorienting journey through the power of memory and the trouble of relationships. The futureworld has been updated by writer/director John Ridley (who collected an Academy Award for his work on “12 Years a Slave”), who dials down the strangeness of such a new reality, working his way underneath the gimmick to understand the tough feelings associated with friends and lovers. Unfortunately, Ridley is in no hurry with the picture, which is excruciatingly paced at times, but he does retain the strangeness of Silverberg’s central premise, achieving unusual intimacy with the paranoia and exhaustion of time manipulation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hard Luck Love Song


The screenplay for “Hard Luck Love Song” attempts to stretch the lyrics of a Todd Snider song to a feature-length movie. It’s not an easy process, as there isn’t enough material in the tune to fill a short film, but writers Craig Ugoretz and Justin Corsbie (who also directs) are determined to make it work, padding the effort with hard stares and pregnant pauses. The production also deals with the crusty edges of humanity, enjoying the process of working through troubled lives as characters fight to gain some clarity and freedom. It’s all meant to carry a certain cowboy poetry, but the film unfolds at a leisurely pace, making it difficult to remain invested in an endeavor that’s in no hurry to do anything besides stew in day-old soup with battered personalities. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Eye of the Tiger


Not really cut out for roles that require a great deal of warmth and gentleness, actor Gary Busey goes full exploitation for 1986's "Eye of the Tiger." The screenplay (by Michael Thomas Montgomery) plays to the performer's strengths, tasking him to play a hardened man whose hunt for some type of domestic heaven is destroyed by the deadly ways of a local biker gang that controls the town. Director Richard C. Sarafian (who worked with Busey in 1984's "The Bear") doesn't pretend he's makes a Shakespeare adaptation with the endeavor, diving into merciless violence and heated confrontations, while the material adds a few fantasy touches to make the whole thing wonderfully absurd. "Eye of the Tiger" is slight but entertaining, with Busey offering a steely turn that helps the feature reach its potential as bottom shelf escapism with noticeable hustle and plenty of angry encounters. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Donny's Bar Mitzvah


Crudeness should have a level of wit to it, helping viewers work through gross-outs and general raunch knowing there's some light at the end of the tunnel. Writer/director Jonathan Kaufman skipped smartness when he put together "Donny's Bar Mitzvah," which is meant to deliver a mockumentary- style faux documentary romp about the titular teen and his special party, which, rather quickly, spins wildly out of control for a collection of characters. Kaufman intentionally aims for the bottom of the barrel with this endeavor, which is relentless in its pursuit of vulgarity. It's a chore to sit through, with the helmer's greatest sin being a lack of invention when it comes to jokes, which there aren't any. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Martha: A Picture Story


Martha Cooper was once a young woman with a dream to become a working photographer, facing a male-dominated industry that wasn't particularly interested in her talents. Cooper ultimately didn't allow such discouragement to break her spirit, and "Martha: A Picture Story" charts her rise in the industry, gaining widespread respect and fame for her interest in the world of street art, with this artful "writing" finding an unusual guardian in Cooper, who fell in love with the subculture in the 1970s and never looked back. Director Selina Miles is offered access to Cooper, splitting time between interviews and photographic activity as the subject continues her research into the ways of graffiti and its creators. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Adoration


Director Fabrice du Welz was last seen on screens with 2017's "Message from the King," a largely forgettable endeavor that provided the helmer with a taste of Hollywood-style filmmaking, working with a decent budget and big stars, including Chadwick Boseman. Feeling a bit burned by the experience, du Welz returns to more personal storytelling with 2019's "Adoration," which has more in common with early efforts like "Alleluia" and "Vinyan." He's not making a horror movie with the offering, but "Adoration" triggers a few chills as it examines the ravages of mental illness and the destructive purity of a boy's heart. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Kindred


Co-writers Joe Marcantonio and Jason McColgan try to summon the spirit of early Polanksi with "Kindred," which shares a great deal in common with "Rosemary's Baby" and a few other paranoid offerings from the director. Marcantonio also makes his feature-length helming debut with the endeavor, aiming to give the audience a deliberately paced ride of panic and despair, hoping to reach a dark psychological space with the movie, which deals intimately with imprisonment and manipulation. "Kindred" isn't a particularly long picture, but it could still do with another editorial pass, with Marcantonio trying a bit too hard to prove himself with dreamscape imagery and prolonged suspense, missing a chance to manufacture an impressive nail-biter with real snowballing potential. Read the rest at