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January 2022

Blu-ray Review - Dreams Don't Die


While made-for-T.V. movies generally play to the broadest audience for broadcast dominance, 1982's "Dreams Don't Die" offers slightly edgier fare for younger viewers, exploring the troubles of a street artist in New York City as he deals with reality of his future. Director Roger Young oversees a compelling understanding of maturation and dangerous evening activities, while writer Garry Michael White secures vivid characterization, creating a gripping look at the pressures of oncoming adulthood. "Dreams Don't Die" gets a little lost in its final act, but there's an hour of rich dramatic events and defined personalities to savor, while the setting and subculture are respectfully tended to, adding a lived-in sense of life to the endeavor. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Freedom


In 1981's "Freedom," screenwriter Barbara Turner gifts herself an opportunity to rework the struggles of her life. The picture is based on her daughter's experiences as a wayward youth, trying to make sense of everything while maintaining distance from her mother's presence. Part of this hard-fought maturity involves employment at a traveling carnival, where the teenager was surrounded by other outcasts who understood her, but Turner represents herself as the parent who can't quite get past her child's defenses, watching her figure things out on her own. "Freedom" is very much a traditional television movie, dealing with intimate matters of heart and home, and Turner writes with passion, endeavoring to dial back the clock and manage her daughter's frustrations and denials with a bit more grace. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat


1972's "Fritz the Cat" was something of an experiment, with director Ralph Bakshi using inspiration from Robert Crumb's comic creation to launch an animated experience for adult audiences, picking up an X rating for his troubles. Against all odds, the feature was a massive hit, making millions for producer Steve Krantz. Naturally, he wanted a sequel, and quickly too, but Bakshi moved on to other projects, trying to capitalize on the profitability of "Fritz the Cat." Unwilling to take a creative risk with a follow-up, Krantz turns to Robert Taylor, a helmer who's tasked with matching the raunchy mischief from the first picture, and that's the extent of his job. 1974's "The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat" is nothing more than a rehash of the original endeavor, only this time there's a bit more money to spend on animation efforts, creating a slicker version of the Crumb character, but not a dramatically evolved one. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Fritz the Cat


"Fritz the Cat" was originally created by Robert Crumb in 1965, serving as a way for the artist to release some creative wiggles with decidedly raunchy work that couldn't find a place in the mainstream. For the 1972 film adaptation, Crumb's vision finds a proper guardian in director Ralph Bakshi, another artist interested in challenging audiences, using Crumb's universe to launch what would become an interestingly unwieldy directorial career. With "Fritz the Cat," Bakshi searches for a way to bring adult activities to animation, looking to shake the kiddie reputation of the medium with an X- rated adventure around New York City, following the eponymous feline as he indulges his obsessions with sex, drugs, and troublemaking during the counterculture years of the 1960s. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Pig


"Pig" isn't an easy film to sell to the public, and marketing materials have tried to push the feature as a revenge picture, with a "John Wick"-esque concept of a reclusive man returning to a world he left behind for the love of an animal. In this case, it's a truffle pig, with Nicolas Cage tasked with portrayed a deadened man on the hunt for his best pal. Writer/director Michael Sarnoski doesn't deliver a high-octane offering of action cinema with the movie. He goes deeply dramatic instead, ignoring the potential absurdity of the premise to take the whole mission as seriously as possible, digging into troubled characters carrying their own body weight in grief. "Pig" is an odd picture, but that's the idea, with Sarnoski trying to approach human emotions from different angles, finding fresh ways to deal with primal hurt, with the endeavor more of a "Ratatouille" riff than a vicious Keanu Reeves bruiser. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Duck! The Carbine High Massacre


1999's "Duck! The Carbine High Massacre" is meant to be a provocative effort. Its entire existence is based around its potential to offend people, with director/stars William Hellfire and Joey Smack doing whatever they can to call attention to themselves. The feature looks to recreate the events of the Columbine High School Massacre, with the production proudly declaring in an opening card that it relished the chance to "do it first," beating other companies to the punch. Hellfire and Smack certainly have speed (the endeavor was released six months after the real-world incident), but filmmaking polish is not on their list of accomplishments. Using video equipment, amateur actors, and limited locations, Hellfire and Smack end up with an impossibly dull picture that's solely out to exploit a dire situation, and it can't even do that convincingly. "Duck! The Carbine High Massacre" is like a terrible school play one is forced to sit through because their kid is in it, dealing with an assortment of moviemakers who are just trying to finish the project in a hurry, not perfect it. Read the rest at

Film Review - Moonfall


Director Roland Emmerich became a very big deal after 1996’s “Independence Day,” managing a sci-fi epic that that updated the disaster movie formula of the 1970s, securing some high-flying fun for the summer season. He’s been chasing that career high ever since, put in charge of similar productions trying to summon complete mayhem with a large cast, emphasizing destruction and melodrama in efforts such as “2012,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” and “Independence Day: Resurgence.” Hoping to restore some career luster after 2019’s underperforming “Midway,” Emmerich is back in the blow-up-Earth business with “Moonfall,” which also attempts to marry the spectacle of sci-fi and the threadbare characterization of disaster cinema. “Moonfall” isn’t the worst film Emmerich has made, but it’s close, offering a thoroughly dopey tale of planetary survival with wretched screenwriting that gets worse the harder it leans into its ludicrous ideas. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild


After enjoying some amazing box office returns for most of the “Ice Age” sequels, the last chapter, 2016’s “Ice Age: Collision Course,” couldn’t find its audience, or perhaps the audience was done with the series, which managed to crank out five features highlighting the strange survival games of prehistoric animals and their adventure across a rapidly shifting globe. Blue Sky Animation invested in the brand name, which offered big profits to support the company, but Blue Sky is no more, with Disney handing the keys to Bardel Entertainment (the team behind the recent “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” animated movie), ordering a less expensive version of “Ice Age” for a younger audience. With budget animation and 90% of the original voice cast gone, “The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild” isn’t exactly out to delight longtime fans of the franchise, with the spin-off more of a babysitter than a blockbuster, returning to the world of the second sequel, 2009’s “Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” to get some minor league slapstick going. Read the rest at

Film Review - Home Team


“Home Team” is another simplistic Happy Madison production, with the company hoping to huff some “Bad News Bears” fumes to help inspire an underdog comedy about a disastrous Pop Warner football team and the demands of their new coach. What’s different here is the liberal use of a “based on a true story” label, as the story involves Sean Payton, the controversial coach of the New Orleans Saints. In 2012, Payton was suspended from the NFL for his participation in “Bountygate,” where players were paid to intentionally hurt rivals, but “Home Team” merely uses this situation to make a dreadfully formulaic tale of a dad reconnecting with his son and a coach reigniting his love for football. The feature is predictable and insincere, but its greatest mistake is the lack of a fun factor to make all the familiarity feel less arduous to sit through. Read the rest at

Film Review - Clean


It’s a “John Wick” world, and while the animal loving assassin gears up for another chapter in 2023, there are other actors who want a piece of the action movie pie. For “Clean,” Adrien Brody emerges as a new man of action, crafting his own journey of violence, sharing screenwriting duties with director Paul Solet. Brody hunts for a gritter take on a ruined man confronted with the ugliness of the underworld, looking to cut to the bone with the material, which deals with agonized individuals working through guardianship issues. “Clean” isn’t a consistent film, spending its first half in a psychological abyss before bloodlust begins, and while the endeavor gives the star his juiciest role in quite some time, the picture remains an uneven study of a broken man trying to do the right thing, eventually pulled back into a world of hurt he’s been denying for years. Read the rest at

Film Review - Rifkin's Festival


For his 49th and likely final feature film, writer/director Woody Allen pays tribute to the movies that moved him with “Rifkin’s Festival.” It’s a typical offering of neuroses from the helmer, who takes his act to the San Sebastian Film Festival, creating a tale of lust, marriage, and cinema while taking in the sights of the event and surrounding Spanish experiences. Allen doesn’t push too hard with the picture, delivering the basics of wit and style, with the cast asked to do most of the heavy lifting as the threadbare story wanders around the run time. There are no laughs in “Rifkin’s Festival,” not even a chuckle, but Allen’s attention to the travelogue aspects of the production are appealing, offering a tourism video for Spain and its inherent beauty, also working in a few digs at the underwhelming nature of modern day film festivals. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Elvira's Haunted Hills


1988's "Elvira: Mistress of the Dark" was a goofy film, but it worked well with a lighter sense of humor, with star Cassandra Peterson attempting to create a big screen space for her television persona, wisely electing to surround the oddity of Elvira with conservative, condemning types. Some jokes landed successfully, and Peterson proved she could carry a movie as Elvira, playing up the icon's wackiness and good-natured sexuality. The business of Hollywood prevented Peterson from immediately following "Mistress of the Dark" with something else to maintain cinematic momentum. 2001's "Elvira's Haunted Hills" is meant to restore the marquee value of the eponymous character, but the feature has some trouble with funny business, watching Peterson and co-writer John Paragon deliver weak one-liners and feeble slapstick, while director Sam Irvin goes the cartoon route with material that needs a slightly more refined touch. It's always great to have Elvira around, but her second cinematic adventure is a noticeable step down in quality from the first one. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Blades


There have been many parodies and knockoffs of the 1975 blockbuster, "Jaws," with the brand name itself evolving from something terrifying to pure ridiculousness thanks to a steady downturn in sequel quality. 1989's "Blades" has the imagination to take the premise of an unstoppable killing machine to the open world of a golf course, with the top predator not a shark, but a bloodthirsty lawnmower. Because…why not? Director Thomas R. Rondinella (who co-scripts with William R. Pace) attempt to revive the "Jaws" formula, but they don't play it completely straight, slipping into lampoon territory with "Blades," showing some hesitation when it comes to the presentation of a serious killer lawnmower movie. Laughs are limited in the picture, but the setting allows for a different genre energy, adding some "Caddyshack"-style touches and broad daylight to deal with gruesome events and, well, golfing, blending tournament excitement with growing fears of a lawn care machine on the loose. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Resurrection


They made a kind of magic with 1986's "Highlander" and managed to physically survive the making of "Highlander II: The Quickening," but director Russell Mulcahy and star Christopher Lambert weren't done with each other just yet. For 1999's "Resurrection," Lambert and Mulcahy reteam for a serial killer thriller, using marketplace momentum created by 1995's "Seven" to unleash a similar tale of an urban nightmare that involves the discovery of mangled bodies and the battling of random rainstorms. There's a detective story included to maintain audience interest, but "Resurrection" is trying to generate a disturbing understanding of a dangerous mind and the cop determined to stop a highly orchestrated game of murder. The creative team arrives with enthusiasm, but the derivative elements of the endeavor mangle most of their plans for excitement. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Kid Candidate


Hayden Pedigo is a resident of Amarillo, Texas who wanted to express his sense of humor by making a short film about his run for a city council spot. Inspired by the works of Harmony Korine, Pedigo set out to generate a little absurdity, displaying his acting skills and love of weirdness. And then the video went viral, making him internet famous for a brief amount of time, but just long enough to help him transition from a joke candidate to a real one, beginning his political career by targeting a real city council election. Director Jasmine Stodel follows Hayden around for the documentary "Kid Candidate," tracking his progress from initial intent to election night, examining the taxing experience of a political run, especially one from a twentysomething man who refuses outside money and runs on a platform of progression in the middle of Texas. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - For Madmen Only


Director Heather Ross is trying find a way to make Del Close known to those outside the comedy world. She's upfront about her mission with the documentary "For Madmen Only," suggesting that anyone outside of comedy nerds probably doesn't have a clue who this man is, or understands his contribution to the funny business as we know it (and sometimes loathe it) today. Close is the father of modern improvision, with his "Harold" technique managing to break through and influence generations of comedians, with many of these people now in command of Hollywood entertainment. However, Close was no cheery individual proudly fashioning a new way of long-form improvisation. He was a man with dark sides to him, wrestling with mental illness as he attempted to "follow the fear," giving his sense of humor and stage exploration an atypical level of creative achievement. "For Madmen Only" attempts to understand Close as he was, studying his behavior and the rise of his career, eventually reaching a deity-like space in the comedy world. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - What Really Happened to Baby Jane?


Gay Girls Riding Club was a filmmaking group from the 1960s that wanted to have some fun in front of the camera, creating a series of shorts that spoofed melodramatic and action entertainment of the day, doing so with a cast of actors working in and out of drag. Director Ray Harrison provided creative leadership, working with shoestring budgets to deliver silent comedies (and at least one sound endeavor in "All About Alice"), deploying a large imagination for broad antics featuring a cast of engaged actors. Read the rest at

Film Review - The King's Daughter


In the era of COVID-19, movie release delays have become common. Studios are sniffing around for dates capable of delivering desired box office returns, holding on to valuable pictures until the timing is right. For “The King’s Daughter,” the situation is a lot more complicated, as the feature was originally shot in 2014, spending the last eight years in limbo after jumping around various studios, looking for a company brave enough to finally send it in front of audiences. The day has finally arrived for “The King’s Daughter,” which brings Vonda McIntyre’s 1997 novel to the big screen, presenting material that originally beat out “A Game of Thrones” for a literary prize. Unfortunately, the project has been handed to Sean McNamara, the director of “Cats & Dogs: Paws Unite!” and “Bratz,” and he’s not the kind of helmer who can do much with ambitious fantasy material. The best he can do is offer Pierce Brosnan as a French king and some iffy CGI, basically aiming the endeavor at sleepover crowds looking for an easily digestible take on love, empowerment, and mermaid vivisection. Read the rest at

Film Review - WarHunt


Co-writer/director Mauro Borrelli attempts to blend genre elements concerning witchcraft with meaty World War II action in “WarHunt.” The approach appears to mimic the pages of a graphic novel, where the real and unreal are permitted to coexist, as Borrelli introduces some macabre additions to boost the men-on-a-mission formula, giving the production a few surges of compelling violence. While the film deals with various versions of evil, both political and mythical, the real enemy to “WarHunt” is its limited budget, which prevents Borrelli from really indulging the extremes of the story, or offer the viewer more than basic forest locations, mixed with a few sets. The endeavor isn’t a washout, just hobbled by a lack of funds, keeping drama and action somewhat stagnant when this feels like a premise capable of absolutely rampaging with more generous financing. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Tiger Rising


“The Tiger Rising” is an adaptation of a 2001 children’s book by Kate DiCamillo, who delivered 116 pages of dramatic development and characterization, focusing on the plight of two 10-year-old kids and their shared emotional frustrations. The film version tries to stretch the material into 100 minutes of soft melodrama, aiming to make an old-fashioned family movie with elements of sadness and fantasy, presenting an adventure from a child’s POV. “The Tiger Rising” means well enough, but writer/director Ray Giarratana grows too comfortable with the endeavor’s leisurely pace and broad performances, trusting in simple messages of friendship and forgiveness to carry the effort when DiCamillo’s source material clearly needs a more refined approach to bring it to life. Read the rest at