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December 2021

Film Review - Munich: The Edge of War


It’s not easy to come up with suspenseful tales concerning World War II events these days. With so many shows and movies produced about the global conflict, it often feels like every topic has been covered, often repeatedly so. “Munich: The Edge of War” returns to the violence of Germany and British caution, but the production is no documentary, taking inspiration from a 2017 novel by Robert Harris, who’s well-versed in WWII history and filmmaking, with his books previously turned into features such as “Enigma” and “Fatherland.” Harris arranges a tale of spies and diplomatic pressure points, and director Christian Schwochow hits the highlights of anxiety and discovery, overseeing a lively understanding of the events leading up to The Munich Agreement, keeping the effort on the move and well-acted, helping to understand and appreciate another part of the wartime puzzle. Read the rest at

Film Review - Cyrano


Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play, “Cyrano de Bergerac,” has been transformed for stage and screen numerous times, with many productions endeavoring to rework the aesthetic elements of the original material while preserving its emotional core, unwilling to surrender the near-miss love adventure of the plot. “Cyrano” is an adaptation of a 2018 musical by Erica Schmidt (who provides the screenplay), who also retains the core dramatic elements of Rostand’s work, updating the rest to fit the needs of modern musical theater. Helping the cause is director Joe Wright, who knows how to create wonderful imagery, offered an Italian playground to dream up his take on the famous story of unrequited love. His command of singing and sincerity is a little less confident, as “Cyrano” often feels like two different movies competing for screen time, keeping the film unsteady as it strives to be heartbreaking. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jockey


Movies about horse racing typically follow the heat of competition, focusing on animal training and the families in charge of finding and shaping winners. These productions have been successful in their own ways, including last summer’s “Dream Horse,” but “Jockey” isn’t interested in the process of industry participation. Co-writer/director Clint Bentley focuses on the inner turmoil of those who guide the process, creating a character piece about a jockey who’s facing the end of his career, examining how he deals with the final moments of the life he’s always known. “Jockey” goes deep but doesn’t reach for melodrama, as Bentley is much more interested in moments of introspection, trying to get inside the minds of those who choose to put their bodies at extreme risk, often for the benefit of others. It’s a rare picture about a seldom-understood topic, and Bentley offers material that feels deeply researched and genuine. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Pufnstuf


Producers Sid and Marty Krofft finally landed a hit show with 1969's "H.R. Pufnstuf," which brought audiences to the oddity of Living Island, inhabited by a mix of fantasy characters and the witch who wanted to kill them all. Trying to capitalize on this creative momentum, the Kroffts quickly put a film version of "Pufnstuf" into production, looking to make some money on the matinee circuit, adding a few guest stars to boost the marquee value of the picture. Director Hollingsworth Morse was put in charge of making magic for the big screen, tasked with opening up the world of "H.R. Pufnstuf" to a certain degree while keeping young audiences entertained with non-stop wackiness. The gamble didn't result in huge box office returns, but it did produce one of the strangest movies of 1970, finding the Kroffts doubling down on weirdness to make the endeavor stand out from the competition, sold with their usual blend of broad performances and floppy, full-body puppetry. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - Terminal Island


Director of "The Student Nurses" and "The Working Girls," Stephanie Rothman is tasked with making an exploitation film with 1973's "Terminal Island," only she has limited interest in the traditional extremity of the subgenre. Also co-scripting the endeavor with Charles S. Swartz and James Barnett, Rothman strives to keep her distance from pure ugliness, more interested in the psychological weariness of the characters as they manage an impossible situation of imprisonment. This creative approach splits "Terminal Island" into two moods, as Rothman labors to make something passably meaningful with the premise, while the other side of the feature plays B-movie games of violence and revenge, content to recycle scenes of confrontation. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Commando Ninja


We've watched as Canadian and American filmmakers have created valentines to the old-school world of action cinema from the 1980s, but 2018's "Commando Ninja" comes from France, with writer/director Benjamin Combes trying his hardest to funnel his adoration for everything from that decade and beyond into 68 minutes of silly fun. Blood flows and references fly in the feature, which barely has a plot or a point, simply summoning some mild conflict to help launch a series of inside jokes and cinematic tributes, primarily to the Arnold Schwarzenegger years of baddie-bustin', muscle-pumping mayhem. "Commando Ninja" is no gem, but there's appeal in its goofiness, watching Combes labor to fit something recognizable into every frame of this picture. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Vigil


"The Vigil" tracks the experiences of a shomer hired to watch over the body of a recently deceased man. The production explains what a shomer is at the beginning of the movie, helping those unfamiliar with Orthodox Jewish rituals to better understand the position, which carries immense importance when protecting the dead from evil spirits looking to claim them. There's a distinct religious angle to writer/director Keith Thomas's picture, but there's just as much pure genre filmmaking in play. "The Vigil" is a ghost story, exploring spooky encounters and darkly lit rooms, and it's a highly effective one, well-crafted on a low budget. Thomas wants a little more from the event than simple frights, weaving in elements of guilt and shame to supercharge the haunting that brings the lead character to the edge of sanity. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - WNUF Halloween Special


2013's "WNUF Halloween Special" is an offering of strangeness from director Chris LaMartina. Inspired by the business of local television in the 1980s, LaMartina has elected to recreate the viewing experience, using unknown actors and large amounts of stock footage to manufacture a holiday special involving a reporter and his quest to get to the bottom of a murder case by visiting a haunted house. And most of the picture plays out with a great level of realism, exposing LaMartina's quest to trick casual viewers and delight those with fond memories of small-time television production and numerous commercial breaks. "WNUF Halloween Special" is an inspired gem that doesn't offer much more than immersion into a bygone world of evening news and station personalities, with the endeavor toying with the specifics of the business while gradually creating a tale of Halloween horror. It's found footage with purpose, securing knowing laughs and a few blasts of nostalgia while aiming to be weird and real without ruining the whole thing with excessive winks. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Matrix Resurrections


1999’s “The Matrix” was a true cinematic journey. It delivered on its “Alice in Wonderland” promise, creating a sci-fi world of action and intrigue, with Neo taking viewers on a hunt for power and purpose as writer/directors The Wachowskis turned the movie business upside down with their vision for rebellion and use of cutting-edge visual effects. “The Matrix” became pop culture for the next few years, and sequels were ordered into production, with 2003’s “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions” ambitious projects missing Neo as the audience surrogate, now transformed into the God-like figure. The follow-ups were flawed but undeniably exciting at times, with The Wachowskis focused on expanding their central idea into an epic war between the humans and machines, creating a massive conclusion to a saga that began with a simple question of identity. The franchise was put to bed, but nothing this profitable stays asleep forever, with “The Matrix Resurrections” arriving 18 years later to restart the cycle all over again, though this new chapter is definitely not as exploratory as “The Matrix,” instead serving as a continuation of “Reloaded” and “Revolutions.” Read the rest at

Film Review - The Tragedy of Macbeth


The Coen Brothers are no more. A filmmaking team since 1984’s “Blood Simple,” Joel and Ethan Coen have generated a richly varied and respected career, delivering a few masterpieces along the way. Having worked together on titles such as “The Big Lebowski,” “No Country for Old Men,” “Raising Arizona,” and their last collaboration, 2018’s “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” the Coen Brothers have now gone their separate ways, ending a tremendous run. Joel Coen remains interested in the work, and he returns to screens with “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” which he writes and directs, emerging as a solo act with this adaptation of the William Shakespeare play, “Macbeth.” Coen doesn’t come empty handed, helping his creative success with lead performances from Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand, and there’s renewed artistry with technical credits, which give the picture a stage-bound feel that dips into Bergman-esque visuals, yet feels entirely fresh for the dramatic challenge. “The Tragedy of Macbeth” is striking and powerful, with Coen finding his own way with the feature, which emphasizes the madness and violence of the play, joined by a newfound level of claustrophobia. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Girls School Screamers


Hoping to make his dreaming of film direction come true, John P. Finnegan elected to try his luck with genre moviemaking in the mid-1980s, hoping to ride a trend of spooky tales aimed at young audiences. His initial offering is 1985's "Girls School Screamers," which isn't nearly as relentlessly icky as similar features, aiming to dial down grotesqueries to play up suspense elements of the screenplay (which he wrote). There's a vague sense of Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock in play during "Girls School Screamers," which gets off to a relatively strong start, doing well with character introductions and storytelling, getting things up and running with decent efficiency and personality. Finnegan doesn't maintain early momentum, leading to an underwhelming second half of simplistic scares and kooky gross-outs, but he shows some life with parts of the endeavor, and that's good enough to please when it comes to this style of entertainment. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Percy


1971's "Percy" is an adaptation of a novel by Raymond Hitchcock, and let's all be thankful for that. The story of a man who undergoes a penis transplant, emerging from the surgery with a desire to find the original member donor, isn't something that would likely pair well with an original screenplay, as the premise leaves itself wide open for raunchy antics and crude comedy. With some literary guidance, the screenplay (credited to Hugh Leonard, with uncredited work from Terence Feely and Michael Palin, which explains a distinct Monty Python reference early in the picture) actually remains relatively calm considering the weirdness of the story, trying to find emotions to work with, not broad antics involving the cravings of fresh genitals. That's not to suggest "Percy" is a particularly satisfying movie, but it's definitely not the wild ride initial scenes promise it to be. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Fool for Love


1985's "Fool for Love" is a continuation of director Robert Altman's interest in theatrical projects, allowing him to keep creating movies that favor his artistic strengths, including his work with actors. Teaming with Cannon Films (in a rare non-Chuck Norris production), Altman turns to a play written by Sam Shepard for inspiration, persuading the playwright to appear in a leading role, co-starring with Kim Basinger and Harry Dean Stanton in this story of an impossible relationship and all the psychological disease contained within it. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - Deadlock (1970)


1971's "Deadlock" is writer/director Roland Klick's version of a spaghetti western, with the German production heading to Israel to deal with rising tensions among three men looking to take possession of a suitcase filled with cash. However, Leone-esque swells are few and far between in the release, as Klick is pursuing more of a slow-burn endeavor, reveling in extended scenes of intimidation and cruelty. It's not a freak-out from the helmer, but a movie that requires patience it doesn't always earn, finding Klick getting lost in the process of making "Deadlock" instead of working to generate tension within his story. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Fantasm Comes Again


1976's "Fantasm" was a small movie that made big money, reaching its intended audience with its collection of softcore titillation. 1977's "Fantasm Comes Again" isn't a continuation of the original feature, which tried to sell itself as a psychological experience, but more of a rehash, with director Colin Eggleston ("Long Weekend") and writer Ross Dimsey trying to get away with the same viewing experience, armed with a larger budget and room to experiment with vignettes concerning forbidden desires. Read the rest at