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November 2021

Blu-ray Review - The Time Guardian


After the success of "Star Wars" in 1977 and its sequels in the early 1980s, film producers scrambled to cash in on a trend, offering all sorts of low- budget productions meant to exploit sci-fi endeavors capable of beguiling audiences with action on a much smaller scale. Australia didn't want to be left out of the fun, turning to the complexity of time travel for their offering of blockbuster entertainment: 1987's "The Time Guardian." Co- writer/director Brian Hannant (co-writer of "The Road Warrior") makes a valiant effort to deliver something big with the picture, filling it with rampaging cyborgs, laser weapons, a massive ship, and a supporting turn from Princess Leia herself, Carrie Fisher. However, the helmer can't quite get the feature out of first gear, fighting to make sense of the story and characterization while visibly struggling with his limited funding, trying not to make the whole thing look ridiculous. He's not entirely successful with that mission, with "The Time Guardian" best appreciated by viewers used to the world of B-movies and their disappointing limitations. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Through the Fire


Co-writer/director Gary Marcum wanted to be a film director in the 1980s, and one of the few ways in for those without connections was the world of horror, offering instant marketplace appeal for any project looking to provide some frights. 1988's "Through the Fire" certainly resembles an effort to play into a trend, though Marcum doesn't have much of an imagination for creepy events, generally preferring to make a sluggish detective story instead. So much for genre thrills, leaving "Through the Fire" a tepid exploration of satanic doom and survivor panic, as Marcum doesn't aim high with the endeavor, more determined to complete the movie than work on its freak-out potential, missing a chance to do something alert with evil events and demonic stalking. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Lamp


1986's "The Lamp" was slightly reworked for American audiences, turned into 1987's "The Outing," a more generic title for an endeavor that's loaded with interesting oddity. Vinegar Syndrome restores the original film for this Blu-ray release ("The Outing" was previously issued by Shout Factory in 2015), presenting fans with a chance to see the feature as it was intended, exploring the wrath of a malevolent jinn trapped in a lamp, waiting for his chance to strike as teenagers spend the night inside a museum of natural science. There's a lot to process with the picture, which follows multiple characters with different motivations, and there's a magical element to the endeavor, with a wish- granting genie transformed into a diabolical, supernatural presence. Director Tom Daley and screenwriter Warren Chaney don't push too hard on the senses with the effort, sticking to slasher cinema formula as they invest ways to eliminate characters and cause on-screen mayhem. And they do a fine job of it, working with the weirdness of the material to deliver some decent grotesqueries and amusing personalities, keeping the production on the move. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Borrower


Director John McNaughton made a strong impression with his filmmaking debut, 1986's "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer." The potent horror movie launched the helmer as someone to watch, but it took some time for McNaughton to follow up his initial offering, returning in 1991 with "The Borrower," which is also a genre offering, but lacks the illness of "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer." McNaughton attempts to get a little broader with his follow-up, ditching grit and shock value for a flatter take on violence, flirting with sci-fi touches for "The Borrower," which tracks an alien serial killer's experience mangling human prey on Earth. It's not exactly a radical step forward for McNaughton, and his limited experience shows throughout the endeavor, which whiffs with dark comedy and seems genuinely confused when it comes to storytelling. It's a scattered feature that never comes together with authority, though it does work as a highlight reel of practical effects, with gory encounters and strange visions easily becoming the best parts of this uneven picture. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Sound and Fury


The kids aren't alright in "Sound and Fury," a 1988 feature written and directed by Jean-Claude Brisseau. He takes viewers to a small area of France, studying the dual experiences of Bruno (Vincent Gasperitsch), a young teen new to the area, and Jean-Roger (Francois Negret), a seasoned juvenile delinquent who becomes his friend. Incredible behavioral darkness ensues, as Brisseau looks into the ways of adult influence and responsibility, embracing the chaos that comes when young men are empowered to be a destructive as possible, losing their precious innocence in the process. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Golden Arm


Many movies have explored the sport of arm wrestling, but there's only one film about the subculture that everyone remembers: the 1987 Sylvester Stallone flop, "Over the Top." The story of Lincoln Hawk and his fight for family and fortune on the arm-wrestling circuit was unintentionally ridiculous, and it provides some inspiration for "Golden Arm," which isn't a parody picture, but generally has the idea to use the sport as a way to showcase an enormous amount of silliness. The screenplay is credited to Ann Marie Allison and Jenna Milly, but their contributions are difficult to find, as "Golden Arm" is more of an improvisational festival, with the cast going riff-crazy to find the comedy of the endeavor, keeping the feature loose when it comes to jokes and rigid when it comes to plot. It's an amusing effort with plenty of arm-wrestling action, but structure isn't welcome, making the whole thing fatiguing long before it ends. Read the rest at

Film Review - Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City


It’s been nearly two decades since the release of the original “Resident Evil” film. Writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson and star Milla Jovovich worked to create their own take on the popular video game franchise, offering a slick adaptation that brought some cinematic excitement to the largely exploratory experience of the game. The hit movie spawned sequels, five of them, keeping Anderson and Jovovich employed for 14 years, fumbling around stories that quickly became secondary to big screen chaos. Now, after a four-year break, the series has returned to theaters, with “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” a fresh start for this world of horror, with writer/director Johannes Roberts in charge of making it all scary again with a faithful take on the source material, working to get gamers excited one more time for the “Resident Evil” universe. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bruised


Halle Berry collected an Academy Award for her work in 2001’s “Monster’s Ball,” portraying a broken character dealing with an enormous amount of grief. The part gave Berry a chance to lose control on-screen, slamming around her emotional range, displaying her ability to dig deep and abandon vanity. “Bruised” is Berry’s directorial debut, and she plays it safe in a strange way, returning to the “Monster’s Ball” era of her career with another turn as a shattered woman clawing around for something to help numb her pain. It’s not the exact same performance, but a similar concept, only this time around, the character has a bit more power to explore, with the picture taking place in the world of mixed martial arts. Berry delivers gut-rot work in the feature, trying her best to make the material meaningful, but “Bruised” is basically a “Rocky” remake with a more violent sense of relationships and sporting achievement, doing little with the opportunities it has to explore different areas of responsibility and sacrifice. Read the rest at

Film Review - Encanto


The year of Lin-Manuel Miranda continues with “Encanto,” which follows “Vivo,” “In the Heights,” and “Tick, Tick…Boom!” as the songwriter takes over big screen musicals for 2021. Offered a smaller role in this production, Miranda’s special ways remain, overseeing a roster of expressive, jubilant tunes to help the feature reach its creative goals. It’s the 60th offering from Walt Disney Animation Studios, and while they don’t stray too far from company formula, they manage to make their best film since “Moana” with “Encanto.” It’s a celebration of family and an interesting dissection of fears, also boasting an incredible lead performance from Stephanie Beatriz, who reaches impossible levels of warmth and personality in her voicework, giving the endeavor a rich sense of humanity as the animation explores some brightly colored areas of magic and music. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Boy Called Christmas


“A Boy Called Christmas” first appeared as a book by Matt Haig, who attempted to manufacture his own origin story for Santa Claus, creating a fantasy adventure that gradually introduced all the elements associated with the magic of Saint Nick. Co-writers Ol Parker and Gil Kenan (who also directs) are in charge of bringing such world-building to the screen, and they arrive armed with a capable cast and excellent technical achievements. “A Boy Called Christmas” doesn’t feel particularly set-bound or hostile, instead trying to work in some valuable ideas on love and loss while managing the discovery of elves and reindeer. Kenan finds the right tone for the feature, and he’s ready to be playful with the effort, creating an engaging family film that works well with the holiday spirit, approaching the Father Christmas tale from an enjoyably weird angle. Read the rest at

Film Review - Clerk


Nobody likes to talk about Kevin Smith more than Kevin Smith, which makes the documentary “Clerk” a bit strange. The filmmaker, podcaster, and comedian has spent over 25 years sharing intimate details about himself on all forms of media, inviting outsiders into his private life, exploring all kinds of topics related to the business of being Kevin Smith. Close friend and documentarian Malcolm Ingram (“Small Town Gay Bar”) clearly thinks there’s more to mine when tracking the life and times of Smith, offering “Clerk,” which is more of a general overview of personal and professional difficulties endured by Smith, who’s front and center for the picture. Those new to Smith’s universe are certainly going to get more out of the movie, which offers a decent education on the helmer’s history and choices. Longtime fans are going to hear some of the same stories here, but Smith’s arc of triumph remains compelling, even in an abbreviated form. Laughs are plentiful and memories are crystal clear, following Smith as he returns to past experiences for Ingram, trying to make sense of a career that’s endured for decades. Read the rest at

Film Review - House of Gucci


For his second film of 2021, director Ridley Scott moves from the chilly setting of medieval France (“The Last Duel”) to the chiller setting of the fashion industry in the 1980s, tracking the house of horrors that was the House of Gucci. “Inspired” by a true story, Scott takes such permission and runs with it, working with a screenplay by Becky Johnson and Roberto Bentivegna that transforms the saga of Patrizia Reggiai and Maurizio Gucci into a Shakespearian display of power plays and escalating madness. “House of Gucci” has it all, with Scott presiding over sex, lies, and murder, but he’s not interested in keeping the downward spiral tightly organized, permitting the feature to succumb to excessive length and intensely showy performances. “House of Gucci” offers an introductory hour of compelling deal-making and subtle manipulations, but it doesn’t sustain such speed, eventually slowing a full stop to enjoy the view. Read the rest at

Film Review - Havoc


A highly respected and Academy Award-winning documentarian, Barbara Kopple wasn't content remaining the world of non-fiction filmmaking, crafting such important pictures as "American Dream" and "Harlan County U.S.A." She wanted something more for her career, soon overseeing episodes of "Oz" and "Homicide: Life on the Street," which brought her additional acclaim. Again, she wanted something more, finally landing a Hollywood studio gig with 2005's "Havoc," which was originally conceived by writer Jessica Kaplan, who pieced together an autobiographical story about suburban privilege and cultural appropriation before screenwriter Stephen Gaghan (fresh from his success with "Traffic") was hired for a rewrite. The creative talent driving "Havoc" is impressive, also offering star Anne Hathaway one of her earliest dramatic roles, but all that muscle can't lift this DOA project off the ground, as noble intentions to address the state of the Kids in America in the early 2000s transforms the feature into an unintentionally(?) hilarious parade of campy performances and ghastly dramatics. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Return to Salem's Lot


The career highs and lows of director Larry Cohen are open for debate, but the helmer certainly created a peak in his filmography with 1985's "The Stuff," which vividly mixed horror and satire, taking on the 1980s with a clear vision for mischief. Never one to feel the pressure of performance, Cohen returned two years later with a pair of sequels nobody asked for, delivering "It's Alive III: Island of the Alive" and "A Return to Salem's Lot." Tasked with providing a follow-up to a 1979 television miniseries without material inspired by Stephen King's 1975 novel, Cohen elects to make the whole thing his way, enjoying artistic freedom as he crafts a riff on the original creation. Of course, Cohen doesn't have much money to do anything special with the material (co-written with James Dixon), so he tries to generate weirdness in his own low-budget way, transforming a vampire story into study of American independence and human survival, filling the production with odd casting choices, which gives the whole thing a strong community theater vibe. Those expecting a direct continuation of the Tobe Hooper T.V. event should be aware that Cohen isn't interested in sustaining the brand name, merely using it to provide his level of genre shenanigans. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Night


"The Night" is an achievement in international filmmaking and distribution, with the Iranian/American co-production actually receiving a release in Iran, where the U.S. hasn't been represented in over 40 years. It's breakthrough work for co-writer/director Kourosh Ahari, who turns to the comfort of haunted house storytelling to help lure audiences into a strange study of guilt. "The Night" doesn't add anything new to the genre, and Ahari isn't attentive to pace, but he has a decent command of unnerving situations and unreality, finding ways to conjure chills and confusion between scenes of absolute stillness. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fire


"Fire" initially appears to be Russia's answer to 2017's "Only the Brave," taking on a similar story of firefighter courage and sacrifice during a dangerous operation in the middle of a raging inferno. Hollywood glossiness is present in the feature, and director Alexey Nuzhny stays true to formula, offering an ensemble piece highlighting distinct personalities and their personal problems, giving the audience a chance to fall in love with these men before they face the ultimate test of their training. Perhaps that's really the major issue with the endeavor: it's not Russian enough. "Fire" has its cultural POV and quirks, but Nuzhny is aiming to make a grand disaster picture, and a few references to "Armageddon" aren't made on accident. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dark Spell


"Dark Spell" is the latest offering from co-writer/director Svyatoslav Podgaevskiy, who previously helmed "Mermaid: Lake of the Dead" and "Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest." The Russian filmmaker is determined to make his fortune in horror, delivering another stab at genre glory in "Dark Spell." The endeavor has more in common with a CW Network program than a true chiller, with Podgaevskiy creating a grim game of love and obsession for a young woman who simply wants eternal devotion from the father of her child. As is the routine in this type of movie, nothing goes as planned, but what's surprising about "Dark Spell" is how unadventurous the production is save for a few grisly moments. It's about a demonic awakening, and yet very little cinematic threat is created, making for a tough sit with a bland effort. Read the rest at

Film Review - No Man's Land


"No Man's Land" begins in a Texas border town on the edge of the Rio Grande, but it largely plays out on the other side of river, in Mexico. This blurring of border and culture inspires parts of the screenplay, credited to David Barraza and Jake Allyn, who labor to build some level of suspense around a central ideal of understanding between fragile communities. It's an immigration story explored from a different perspective, and if "No Man's Land" remained there, providing a strange education for its characters, perhaps the picture might've been meaningful. Barraza and Allyn don't trust such softness of feeling, injected a tedious revenge subplot into the feature, which torpedoes much of its honest intent to study the bitter realities and karmic dangers of intolerance. Read the rest at